There’s a beautiful moment in the Book of Galatians in which Paul affirms the unity of the people of God across all of society’s divides. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free,” Paul writes, “Nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
It’s a way of emphasising our unity as Christ’s family, but there’s a risk here. Because it would be easy to read this and ignore the fact that our identities are rooted in our ethnicity, our gender, our social context. These things are important, and while it’s true that faith in Christ will result in a restructuring of our personal identity, it takes a very privileged position to be able to dismiss out of hand our race, our gender, our sexuality and our class.
Each of us have multiple identities, and we can’t pretend those identities don’t matter, not when the leading cause of death for young black men is homicide, not when so many transgender people commit suicide, not while rape culture is still a thing, not while…
Our identities affect our lives. They affect how we interact with the world, they impact how people respond to us, positively or negatively. We can’t fall into the trap of believing that our identities don’t matter; we can’t blithely erase someone’s identity because in doing so we erase a part of them and their story with God.
So when we quote Galatians, I don’t think it’s about erasing identity, it’s about erasing division. We’re called to come together as one, as equals before Christ, and sometimes that means acknowledging our differences and embracing them, not seeing them as something that divides but as a way of achieving unity in diversity. We haven’t always been good at that. But we need to figure it out, because as Paul says, we are one.
We are one…so we need to dismantle the structures that see innocent black men getting shot by police.
We are one…so women should be able to walk across a car park at night without fear of getting raped.
We are one…so children shouldn’t be sexual assaulted as their churches cover everything up.
We are one…so poorer communities need some support and investment rather than being written off.
We are one…so attitudes towards sexuality shouldn’t lead to a spoke in suicides.
We are one, so we need to be able to see the needs and feel the pain and listen to the lament of our brothers and sisters, and then work together to heal those wounds and demolish structures of injustice, because if we don’t the humanity of us all is eroded.
We are one, so the things that divide us need to be nailed to the Cross with Christ do that we can be transformed into his diverse and inclusive family, joined together through grace.
And then our identities will no longer divide, and we can then begin to celebrate each other instead.