Why Discipleship Is Incomplete Without Talking About Ethnic Identity
Our ethnicity is part of our identity in Christ. Ignoring it means we ignore part of how God has “fearfully and wonderfully” made us.
Rarely have I ever read a book or listened to a talk on discipleship that included a section on ethnicity. It is almost as if when people become believers we treat them as the blood of Christ has washed away their ethnicity (I actually read a commenter say this on a blog recently). Many times people will quote Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek…” to say that our ethnicity no longer matters as believers.
While it should no longer serve as something that divides us, there are (at least) two problems with the interpretation that our ethnicity becomes irrelevant after conversion:
- Galatians 3:28 goes on to say, “…nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Obviously becoming believers does not remove our gender (if so, then why do we have men’s and women’s ministries?). So the verse must be pointing more to division than to the removal of gender or ethnicity.
- In Revelation 7:9-11 John describes a crowd of believers in heaven, “ I looked again. I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there-all nations and tribes, all races and languages.” The word for races in Greek is literally ethnos, where we get our word ethnicity. Whatever our glorified bodies will look like, they’ll still maintain enough visibile evidence of ethnicity that John could tell just by looking at the crowd.
God has created each of us with an ethnicity. We’ll still have that ethnicity when we get to heaven. We’re willing to talk about becoming “men or women of God”, then why not “Godly Latinos”? Why not what it means to be an Asian American who is a follower of Christ? He’s given us our ethnicity for a reason, so what keeps us from talking about it?
I think part of why we ignore ethnicity in discipleship is as a result of the highly individualistic culture we have here in America. It is hard to think of people belonging to groups. We tend to over-emphasize the uniqueness of the individual at the expense of understanding group dynamics.
We ignore ethnicity in discipleship because we equate ethnicity with heritage. For many people from the majority culture, this can be a problem. If our families immigrated to the US so long ago many of us don’t know our exact cultural heritage. We can falsely believe that we don’t have a culture because we don’t know our heritage.
In Destino we believe that rather than ignoring our ethnicity it is something that God has given us to embrace. It is not the main thing that defines us, our identity as followers of Christ has priority. But it is part of how God has created us. So we talk about ethnic identity at all of our venues. It is part of our discipleship process. Many times students can be running from their ethnic identity not out of pursuit of Christ, but fleeing the shame they associate with people from their ethnic background. We want to help them face that shame and see that God has created them Latino, Caucasian, Native American, African American, or Asian American for a reason.
We’ve begun to use a resource in Destino called The Ethnic Identity Model that we’ve adapted from Orlando Crespo’s book, Being Latino in Christ. The goal of the model is to be able to help a student/disciple identify where they are in their ethnic identity journey and what steps they need to take to move towards wholeness. Because no one’s story is the same, no two ethnic identity journeys are the same. Our life experiences take us on different turns, but we’re all on a journey.
We have the privilege over the next two weeks of hearing from five different Latino/a bloggers about their ethnic identity journeys. Our hope is that as you read their stories you will begin to see firsthand what a crucial role ethnic identity wholeness plays in helping someone grow into full maturity in Christ. We’re so grateful for the vulnerability these staff and students are showing by putting their stories out there.
Our authors this week are:
Please stop back over the next few days to hear their stories and interact with what God has been doing in their lives in the area of learning to embrace their ethnic identity. Read The Ethnic Identity Model and engage with your own journey.
photo courtesy: kate.gardiner