One of my readers sent me two very interesting links. The first is on the phenomenon of “subcultural segregation,” especially of the politically like-minded, and the second is on a similar topic, but more applied to the overall quality of civic life in our culture.
Let me translate some of these ideas out a bit: For a Jesus follower, spending all our time in various club-like enclaves with people who are just like ourselves is simply not an option. We must cross the cultural and subcultural barriers that are around us, and we must make intentional, missional efforts to do what Jesus did in going to/relating to Samaritans, Gentiles, women, lepers, Romans, sinners and people from various circles on the cultural map.
The Galilee of Jesus’ day was a multicultural place. To function in his world, Jesus was constantly confronted with the need to deal with other cultures, other languages, other customs and comfort zones. Into this world, the Pharisees, zealots and Essenes had put forward their own options for dealing with those who were different. Those options ranged from asserting a new encyclopedia of rules, declaring “clean and unclean” zones/persons, withdrawing into subculture ghettos of their own and declaring those who were different worthy of violent response.
As a result, some of the most controversial and incarnationally revealing things Jesus did were simply actions of eating with sinners, touching lepers, speaking to women, walking through communities and taking a public stand against the religious ghetto-think of his time.
The articles linked above suggest that America, with all its proclaimed cultural diversity, has increasingly become a place where people congregate with those of similar color, culture, language, politics and consumer choices. Similarity in political-religious viewpoints, lifestyles and “values” are defining aspects of where people choose to live, recreate, work and do business. This flocking together with mirror versions of ourselves feeds the culture war, and feeds many other negative, anti-Jesus-shaped trends in modern religious life.
It’s a painful truth that many of us don’t want to think about.
I live and work in a multi-cultural environment. I’m forced every day to deal with people of different colors, origins, religions and ways of thinking. The commitment to cross these cultural barriers is one of the most Jesus-shaped things our community does. Of course, as you might expect, it’s also one of the things our critics have the most to say about it. There are many Christians who would look at our multi-cultural ministry and criticize us for being too open to people of different color and culture.
But what are they really saying? That Jesus sent his disciples out to form a suburb? We all know better. The only way to stay safe in our subcultural comfort zones is to change Jesus to suit our “lifestyle” concerns.
I’ve learned in my life that when Christians speak of Jesus you must ask some basic questions.
Are they speaking of Jesus as he really was, or as they imagine him to be?
Does this Jesus bless and approve of a privileged status for one group, color, denomination or nation?
Does this Jesus call us to discipleship or simply preside over a way of life we’ve come to call the “Christian lifestyle?”
Does this Jesus cross barriers, or does he send us back to hang with our own kind?
Does this Jesus have a mission, or just a moral agenda?
Does this Jesus show us where the Kingdom of God calls us, or does he spiritualize the Kingdom so that we never have to really think about it unless we’re about to die?
Is this Jesus a white, American Christian? Or a middle-eastern Jewish teacher?
Does this Jesus leave me alone? Or does he call me into community?
Does this Jesus give me a spirituality that makes me a “good Christian” on my own comfortable terms, or does he offer me a spirituality grounded in grace, but calling me into the tension of discipleship beyond the boundary lines drawn by religion?
Does this Jesus serve as the official spokesperson for organized religions lobotomized version of the Kingdom and the King, or is this the Jesus who started a world changing, cross-cultural movement of people filled with the power of the Kingdom of God?
If there is anything more important than this in the current situation, I don’t know what it would be. Look at the difference between Jesus and other religious leaders on just this one issue, and then wonder how Christians have come to be some of the most ghetto ensconced, subculture defending, behind-the-walls-of-the-sanctuary people on the planet.