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Church Signs, Hamilton Lines, and the Privilege to Ignore

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I was on my lunch break one day and I decided to go to Target to pick up a few things (it is a real addiction in my family *cough cough, Kelsey*) when a church sign caught my eye. Church signs have this weird dynamic where they are often trying to stand out and make people notice something, but quite frankly, if a church sign stands out to me it is almost never positive. This particular sign not only caught my eye in the moment, but stuck with me for several weeks, saying something like:

“God created only one race: the human race”

I was thinking about this sign one night as Kelsey and I sat down and watched Hamilton for the 300th time (I could wax poetically about Hamilton for hours. Somebody please reach out and just talk to me about it). In one scene, George Washington is chastising Hamilton for being upset about Washington’s name being disparaged (muddying Hamilton’s by association), and he tells Hamilton: “My name has been through a lot; I can take it.” And that’s when it clicked.

The ability to ignore race and declare oneself “colorblind,” which is frankly nonsensical and utterly impossible, comes from a place of extreme privilege, just as Washington’s statement does. Hamilton captures this perfectly when he retorts, “Well I don’t have your name; I don’t have your titles; I don’t have your land.” Hamilton does not have the privilege to ignore the world around him, just as our black brothers and sisters do not have the privilege to pretend that race is a construct that can be ignored rather than a reality that often has dangerous consequences.

There are two issues that I dwell on when I think about that sign and the sentiment behind it: First, ask the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castille, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless other black people murdered because of the color of their skin if they should simply ignore their race and seek to live as one happy human race. Or even picture asking the countless men and women enslaved and brutalized throughout history simply because of their race and nationality. Like Hamilton, our black brothers and sisters do not have the privilege to ignore the world around them when the world around them is killing them because of their race. Second, there is an issue with the theology behind a sign that tells us to ignore the differences between human beings. Scripture consistently demonstrates that God clearly sees and highlights different races and nationalities of people, so why should humans try to erase that?

The celebration of differences (and, in a world unstained by sin, the harmony and unity within them) is seen most prominently not in human beings, but in God himself. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit all have unique functions and roles, clearly highlighting the differences between them, while still remaining one God. The Holy, Triune God does not bury differences in his character, but rather celebrates them and shows their distinction and their harmony to his creation throughout scripture.

Furthermore, God created humans knowing that they would fill the earth and multiply (Gen 1:28), which is something that would logically lead to different races and nationalities due to living in different biomes. While sin marred the unity and harmony that was meant to exist between all people as the earth was populated and subdued, it did not create the differences in race between people. God himself diversifies humanity’s language and breaks apart its homogeneity (Gen 11:7) as judgment for humanity’s sinful arrogance, further making it apparent that differences between races and nationalities come from God, not from people. The disunity and fighting that has marred creation from the beginning is humanity’s issue, not the fact that there are different races and nationalities of people.

Scripture often addresses people by their nationality, seen not only in the grand redemptive plan to bring salvation to the world through one nation, but also in the way other nations and people are talked about. For example, when someone is described as a Cushite in scripture, it very clearly denotes not only the nationality of a person, but also their blackness. The Old Testament features countless references to people by their nationality, as does the New Testament, seen in the reference to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) and in the continuous separation of people through the identity they are born with (Gentile, Samarian, Jew, Roman, etc.). Nationality often captures people’s race, language, customs, religion, and societal structures, both now and in biblical times, making it apparent that choosing to ignore differences is not only antithetical to practices throughout scripture, but also impossible.

I find myself thinking of a church sign and a Hamilton line daily. How lucky I am to have the privilege to ignore race if I want to! I may have been born with this privilege, but countless of my black brothers and sisters have not. Therefore, we cannot choose to pretend that we are colorblind, or that the human race is the only race. Let’s love our neighbors well by celebrating our differences, rather than insisting on our sameness.

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