In my teenage years and early 20s, I had a mentality of victimhood.
My mother would tell me about entering buildings from the back and drinking from the colored fountain. She was a free woman being treated as a second-class citizen. In spite of the changes in society since then, I believed that white people ran the world and were trying to enslave black people to their way of thinking and living. It didn’t help that there were a few people who thought it was more professional for me to wear my hair straight instead of in an Afro.
After Jesus Christ worked in my heart and began to change my wrong thinking, the problem of identity still raised itself. I would say things like “I am a Christian woman first who happens to be black” and “Just because I’m black does not mean I vote Democrat.” Many times, these phrases would get frustrating answers. Some people praised me because I was hitting on what many of them thought it was past time for black people to know. “It is not the 1950s anymore and it is time for black people to move on,” one woman said to me.
Bear with me as you read this. I am not here to stir up white guilt, nor am I here to play the black victim card. This article isn’t about race relations or the sin of racism. I am here to show that, while followers of Jesus belong to one family called the body of Christ, there are members of this family who struggle to know how to appropriately celebrate their cultural identity.
Merriam-Webster defines culture in many ways. One definition says culture is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization. Paul acknowledged his own culture in Romans 9. Paul was a Jew called by God to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, a different culture from his own.
In Romans 9, Paul is seen in extreme anguish and deep sorrow. I would almost compare it to Jesus on the night before He was crucified when He was in the garden of Gethsemane praying to His Father in heaven asking Him if this cup could pass from him. Jesus had the sin of the entire world on Him. The weight of this task was so great that He sweat drops of blood (Luke 22:44). I can’t say Paul was in that exact position, but that’s about as close I can think of when Paul says to God that he wishes he could die and go to hell just so that his brethren within the Jewish culture would come to Jesus.
Why am I bringing this up?
There are times when we find ourselves believing that people of other cultures should adopt the characteristics of our own as if there is something special or superior about our culture. This can happen for many reasons. Some might get caught up in their cultural or ethnic identity. Some might be uncomfortable with the differences between their culture and others. Others might even equate their particular culture with biblical living. However this happens, the result is the same: we sacrifice our spiritual kinship with other Christians in favor of our earthly preferences.
The question then becomes how do we acknowledge our respective cultures (which were given to us by God) while making much of the new identity we have in Christ Jesus? Let’s look at Philippians 3 where Paul, in modern terms, is blunt with the reader and puts us all to shame when it comes to boasting in one’s flesh.
Paul lists out his lofty achievements as a Jew (Philippians 3:4-6) and demolishes his entire resume by stating in verse 8 that he “counts them all as rubbish so that he may gain Christ.”
The Greek word for rubbish means garbage, trash, or manure; in other words, animal feces. Paul is stating he sees his fleshly culture as manure and rejects it so that he gains a position as a child of God.
There is nothing wrong with acknowledging your earthly culture as it lines up with Scripture. Paul knew he was a Jew and owned that identity, but he boasted more of being a bondservant to Christ. Nothing compares to being a part of God’s royal priesthood.