Equality is what we are - each of us fearfully, wonderfully, radically made in the image of God.
That’s the promise of Genesis 1. Where God creates humanity in God’s image (male and female, a nod to the totality of God’s DNA, your could say).
Which has everything to do with why Starbucks was closed this week after a racist incident in a Philadelphia store where two black male customers were not only denied access to use their bathroom but had the cops called on them.
Their crime? Waiting for a business partner while black.
"The concept of “implicit bias”—the subtle, unconscious responses that we’re conditioned to display—has lately become familiar, for reasons relating both to its valence among academics and to its ability to bridge a particular chasm in the dialogue about race. The popular perception of racism as mostly the product of the kind of monstrous people who, say, would drive into a crowd of pedestrians in Charlottesville, Virginia, makes it difficult to address the more pervasive daily practices of it. In fact, the bar for perceived bigotry has been set so high that, last week, an attorney caught on video railing against Spanish-speaking employees at a restaurant in New York, and threatening to have them deported, could release a statement earnestly declaring himself not to be a racist.
Implicit bias disassociates racism from overt villainy and, as a consequence, engenders less defensiveness in the dialogue. A series of events in recent years sparked conversations about implicit bias among the police, but, as the Starbucks situation and others like it have demonstrated, there is a companion issue: the ways in which the police can serve as a vector of the biases of individual citizens. The question isn’t simply whether an officer displays bias in carrying out his official duty but whether the call that led to his presence in a given situation is itself the result of bias. The crucial aspect of the Starbucks story isn’t whether a company can, in a single training session, diminish bias among its employees. It’s the implied acknowledgment that such attitudes are so pervasive in America that a company has to shoulder the responsibility of mitigating them in its workforce."
In a new book called “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity In A World Made For Whiteness,” Austin Channing Brown talks about growing up as a black woman in Christian settings and beyond in America, with what is often assumed as a white male name. She talks about the classrooms, the conferences, and the office spaces - all white spaces in many ways - where people can’t quite believe she’s the right person, because “Austin” as her name on paper doesn’t match up with their implicit bias in their heads and hearts.
“The ideology that whiteness is supreme, better, best, permeates the air we breathe,” Austin writes. It’s everywhere in our culture and an infection in our hearts. It’s a personal problem that has massive ramifications for how we might do life together in the real world.
That’s how sin works, right? It’s never just about personal brokenness alone - it has systemic ramifications for how we might live justly in the world around us.
This is what I like how Steve Chalke of Oasis talks about “Equality.” It’s core to their “Ethos” - an embodied set of values and commitments that shape how their UK-based global Christ-centered community works in schools, churches, food pantries, community gardens, social enterprise and clean-water projects.
Steve writes in his book Becoming Human “Every human being is made in the image of God. We are all God’s representatives. We are all God’s image-bearers. In Genesis 1 comes equality. We’re on the first page in the first story of the whole Bible and its announced that all human beings are image bearers of the God of all creation, a good God who looks at his creation and announces, ‘It is very good’.”
So why do we live in a world where racism, homophobia, gender-based violence and exclusion seem to be more prevalent than ever?
Sure, a TV-star like Roseanne tweets something racist and she loses her television show, cancelled by ABC. No small feat when her show has the highest ratings. Some folks are held accountable.
But what about the hundreds of immigrant children lost in “the system” at the border along Mexico? What about the thousands of lives lost not counted in the official casualty totals after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico? What about the gross inequality in our public schools, largely reflecting the great racial and ethnic divides that are Portland's reality?
That’s why as people who know we are equally made in the image of God it’s our call to seek Equity.
If equality is what we are - then Equity is the task at hand.
Equity is what we seek - righting wrongs and ensuring that we return to that which was always intended, always promised.
It’s a tall order setting the world to rights when it comes to inequality is one of the central calls to justice in the Jesus tradition. It’s mirrored in the story of Jesus sitting at the well with the Samaritan woman - a radical act by a Jewish male teacher sitting with a woman from another rival tradition at high noon with what many thought was a checkered past.
And it’s even more ancient than that. Generations before Jesus, his community shared a treasured story of a woman and her daughter-in-law, both widowed during a season of immense famine. They could go their separate ways now that there were no “legal” familial ties binding them but they understood a greater call - that they get top carry each other and walk together.
As Ruth cries out to Naomi: “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. (Ruth 1:16)”