I spent the early part of this week at the annual Lutheran Campus Ministry staff retreat, which was a blessing for a number of reasons. Chief among them was our ability to have conversation around realities of racism in our world, and how we as campus ministers may become parts of active movements seeking to bring true equality to our nation.
Rev. Leroy Cannon and many members of Christ Mission in Columbia, SC led us deeply into this realm, as did Rozella White, the ELCA Program Directory for Young Adult Ministry. We began watching the movie Selma and spoke of how that moved us as well as where we saw God. From this point, we delved into a Bible study on Galatians 3: "26 You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise."
What struck me in the midst of our conversations here was the theme of belonging. Our identity as children of God provides our foundational character for us across cultures, vocations, genders, and the like. As we continued to talk about this content, I suddenly realized that we need more than a theoretical framework for our equality. What we need is the active decision that I belong with people who aren't like me precisely because we are all children of God.
Jews and Greeks belong to Christ and belong with one another. People of African descent and people of European descent belong to Christ and belong with one another. Women and men belong to Christ and belong with one another. Those once oppressed by slavery and those once forcing that oppression belong to Christ and belong with one another.
Sometimes, this necessarily means change. There can be no enslavement of God's children due to race, or debt, or any other reason. The same is true for prejudice, for oppression, for all things that demean the image of God we all carry.
At other times, though, this means that I must realize I'm better off in the presence of those who are necessarily different than me, precisely because they carry a different refraction of God's light, a different perspective on God's image. I'll never be black, but I belong with my black sisters and brothers because they are God's children and uniquely carry the vitality of that identity in ways I can't understand without them. My white, male, middle class self belongs with the women who are children of God, LGBTQ+ children of God, the children of God from across time and space who simply aren't like me. And I belong with them.
This isn't about ownership in the way that I own this computer. Instead, it's about identity. My identity as a child of God is wrapped up in my sisters and brothers and God who parents us all. Without any of them, I am less myself, less of who I ought to be for God and for all creation.
So, we need to make choices - I need to make choices - that reflect this belonging. The church must choose to live differently, in ways that not just admit the integrity of those not like us but embrace the identity of those not like us as something we need to become who God calls us to be: God's children, not divided but life situations, but each unique and united by the Holy Spirit, the Living God.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.