Well, it happened.
My wife and daughter were walking out of childcare, just as an African-Australian man was walking out with his daughter. My daughter pointed at him and said, “Look, mum, he’s got black skin.”
My wife, a little flustered, said, “Um, yep, and you’ve got white skin. You’re pretty, he’s pretty, everybody’s pretty.” I’m not sure that the guy would have appreciated being called “pretty”, but hey – hopefully, he cut her some slack.
This seems to highlight the biggest tension we find in terms of racial and cultural diversity. On one hand, we may want to say we’re all the same (“you’re pretty, he’s pretty”). I remember meeting with a Korean pastor visiting a generally anglo-Australian congregation, who said, “I’m not Korean, you’re not Australian – I don’t want any distinction.” I appreciated where he was coming from, but I also was a bit concerned that such an approach could lead to a kind of cultural uniformity. I recently heard a half-caste (her word) Aboriginal woman who is part of the Stolen Generation: that’s where, until the 1970s, the Australian government teamed up with rural missionaries, to send Aboriginal children to white families, in order to “civilise” them. They wanted the Aboriginals to be just the same as white Australians. This woman described how angry that made her (understandably!), because it did not recognise the value of her distinct Aboriginal culture, heritage, and identity.
So, equally, we want to say we’re all different. But I hardly need discuss how dangerous that can be. The United States fought a civil war because of racial difference, and a century later still hadn’t solved the core problems, as Martin Luther King Jr made all too apparent. Europe is beset with bitter racism throughout England, the Netherlands, France and elsewhere as it wrestles with multi-culturalism.
I want to recognise that Christianity has often done a terrible job of reconciling this tension. We have frequently been part of the problem, as that Aboriginal woman can clearly testify. But, I might also suggest that we have often been an integral part of the solution, as Martin Luther King Jr could testify, too. The Aboriginal woman described the missionaries’ actions as “UnChristian”, and I want to wholeheartedly agree with her. But the question then becomes, “What is the proper Christian response to racial and cultural diversity?” I want to suggest that a distinctive facet of Christian theology, that is both essential to it, and often neglected in contemporary Christian circles (including those missionaries), may offer a helpful way to approach this tension between same and different. That is, the doctrine of the Trinity.
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit Who make up the Triune God are not uniform. They are distinct Persons, distinguishable and identifiable. To deny that leads to a monotheism that Christianity has adamantly fought against since at least the second century. Yet the distinctiveness of each Person in the Trinity does not, in any way, make one subordinate to the Others, or less than the Others. They are all equal in dignity. Moreover, each Person’s diversity in the Trinity excites appreciation in the Others, to a point where love and community between the Three unites them in mutual trust and respect. They become He. Three become One.
When God creates the world, in Genesis 1:26 we see Him say, “Let Us create humanity in Our image”. God created us to reflect Himself, to image Him. If a central facet of Who God is, is the diversity-yet-unity-in-equality that we find in the Trinity, then that is a core characteristic that humanity must have, too. We best fulfil our purpose, God’s design for us as His prime creation, when we embrace each other in unity, while appreciating diversity. When I appreciate the distinctive narratives, dress, practices, food, of any given culture or race as being equal to my own, and see them as part of us, children of God, made in His image, under His care – and ultimately under His authority as to how we reflect His nature.
I think that’s what I want my daughter to know. That’s what I want her to live.