(6)WHEREAS, Scripture recognizes that society sinfully groups people “according to the flesh” (2 Cor 5:16) whether Jew, Gentile, slave, free, black, white, rich, or poor (Gal. 3:18; Eph. 2:11; Phil 16) and
About 20 years ago the CCM band Caedmon’s Call made an album focusing on the plight of the poor and disenfranchised- specifically the Dalit, or “untouchables” in the Indian caste system. Christian students and young adults listened at concerts as the band described the inequalities Dalit people in much of the country- lack of access to education, electricity, clean water, etc. Young people were told the story of missionaries and ministers in India who would travel to villages to tell the story of the Samaritan woman at the the Well to Dalit people, while helping them to access water they would often not be able to obtain on their own. When told about the Living Water who welcomes them freely, many were saved. And when Christian young men and women were told of the Dalit, thousands bought little clay cups, with the phrases “Free the Dalit” and “Share the Well” around the rim, to stand in solidarity with the Dalit and support efforts in India for equal rights for the Dalit.
Although the legal & religious system in India is perhaps the starkest example in our modern minds of dividing people into groups of value and rights based solely on the accident of birth, caste is by no means isolated to India. All of human history is the story of men setting themselves up over others because of their family, ethnicity, language, religion, skin color, wealth, gender, or country. We are people of categorizations and hierarchies. We organize- every kind of organization from sports clubs to governments- with ritual and rankings. We rank and categorize foods and books and brands of tissues. It is innate in us.
This drive to categorize is not necessarily bad. In fact, it is what allows us to make sense of the world, to order the vast information needed to be a human being. It is even part of the imago Dei- to name and categorize the animals as Adam does in the Genesis account. A task that our high school biology textbooks would call taxonomy.
But like almost all sin, it is this good and normal part of humanity that, when used against others to harm, results in the categorizing of other human beings into hierarchies of greater and lesser values, freedoms, and even personhood.
This is a grievous, deeply embedded sin, in every human society today, and every one before. One of the narratives of Scripture is that of men setting up hierarchies for the sake of themselves and the judgement of their favoritism, injustice, and idols made in their own image.
The Old Testament tells us that there is none Great but God. And that all of those made in His image have value and dignity because they bear the likeness of their Creator. Even in the extreme hierarchy of the Ancient World, those who would be at the bottom of human categories are lifted up by God’s power and for the good of all in story after story.
And in the New Covenant of Jesus, He turns upside down every pedestal, calling the first last and the least the greatest. There is no accident of birth, or merit of circumstance that favors one group over the other. There is no inheritance order in the Family of God, only beloved sons and daughters adopted into the inheritance of the First and only begotten of the Father. There is no special dispensation of access to the Holy through birth into the right family, but the pouring out of the Spirit on all people. There is no requirement of circumcision and ethnic or cultural identity, but the call to go into all the world, baptizing all people into the covenant promise.
Paul tells us there is neither Jew, nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free. He does not mean that those distinctions have disappeared. Ethnic groups, linguistic cultures, genders, socioeconomic status, and even oppression still exist, and will do so until the return of Christ. Rather, Paul is describing the hierarchies present at the time in the Church, and declaring those group superiority idols cast down. Paul is reminding the Church that there is but One baptism, one faith, one Spirit and one Father for all in the Family of God. And that there is only one Authority under heaven and His name is Jesus. He is lifted up, and He draws all people unto Him. And then He commands us to go into the world, as His representatives, laying down our rights and privileges and boasting in nothing but the Cross, that all may know Him.
Like the Dalit, all those who come to meet Jesus at the well find welcome, value, dignity and respect. And rebuke for the ones who would bid Him treat them according to the hierarchical structures built by men to keep others under them.
A Dalit hymn says “God made every man forward and free, rich man poor man, everybody free. Caste is a lie.”
May we recognize and proclaim this truth as we work to tear down every lie that there are any who are less than.
*Contributed by Emily Snook