It is interesting to observe the struggles a society put itself through when it fails to recognize and take to heart the wisdom of Scripture. The news cycles for the last week or so have been monopolized by concerns about white folk using shoeblack, burnt pumpkin and other means to give themselves a blackened complexion to mimic a black individual. Most, if not all, blacks have been understandably offended. This continues to emphasize—to many—the importance of identity politics where all Americans regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, social and economic status are legislatively to be treated as equals under the law. [President LBJ’s dream, The Civil Rights movement of the mid-60’s, interrupted sadly by the war in Vietnam.]
Such rights are already guaranteed in Christ for all believers who take seriously their inheritance in the Savior’s death and resurrection. Identity politics is a non-sequitur for true followers of Christ because in Him these divisions do not exist. [Galatians 3:28] Christians who are true Bible believers are color blind, gender indifferent, and genuinely excited over the ethnic diversity that our God is calling together. [Mark 13:27]
Christian fellowship is unique to true christians. God created this quality when He created the church. [Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 John 1:7] To be precise, grammatically, look at our word fellowship:
…which … according to John’s teaching, consists in the fact that Christians are partakers in common of the same mind as God and Christ, and of the blessings arising therefrom. [Thayer’s Lexicon. p. 352]
By a use unknown to professional authors. fellowship in the New Testament denotes also the contribution as exhibiting and as an embodiment or proof of such fellowship [2 Corinthians 8:4]. (This language is far stronger, more emphatic and binding in principle than the Old Testament tithe, but don’t tell the preacher.) This definition of fellowship: sharing, contributing, partaking together of like Christian agape or love, “foster[s] a mutual love” according to scholarship. [Thayer’s]. Fellowship, as a concept, represents an acceptance or a bond of unity unknown, unidentified, prior to the writing of our Bible.
Christian love, in a sense, ignores cultural differences and at the same time embraces them. These differences are not abrasive interactions to create a stress that breaks us apart. These differences become, in a sense only God could engineer, the glue that solidifies our unity. We need the ministry we provide for one another; we come to thank God for the very believers that are so diverse. Christian fellowship in God’s design represents a society that, we can say, defines acceptance in the absolute terms of the heaven we long to be a part of. It is the only real utopian concept reachable ..and it is only in Christ!
Christian fellowship is far more than social networking. It is not a cultural unity that requires legislation to—may I say, artificially—hold it together. It is not only the recognition of peoples of differing lifestyles and views but the genuine acceptance and interest in these differences. We come to see these differences as essential to our own well-being! The burden of legislation to somehow control a clash of differences or offensive behavior has to be overwhelmingly unsuccessful, because the level of unity required is only guaranteed in Christ. [John 17:21]
And so, what about “blackface.” The answer is as simple as the heart that longs for this fellowship with God and others: Just don’t!
There are things that offend me and some of these things have not been sufficiently understood to know why I am so bothered. But if I am, I am. And I appreciate believers who empathize enough to walk around these issues and keep me safe. Whether its pork to a believer of Jewish practice or a shot of whiskey to a recovering alcoholic, or to me my many phobias and idiosyncrasies that make me a bit gentler to handle, we need each other’s fellowship as part of the healing—as the real expression of who we are together in Christ.
Blackface is understandably beyond inappropriate and offensive. It is never the path to unity and fellowship. On some level mimicking, like sarcasm and trying to create a laugh, produces the opposite results because the “clown” in this case has no real connection with what he or she is attempting to portray.
Other times, like crimes against an individual or a culture, it is painful to be reminded of yesteryear’s abuses. We do not want symbols paraded in front of us that recall the anguish of being abused, rejected, marginalized, or treated as an outsider by the very society we long to be an essential part of.
Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. 1 Corinthians 8:13.