Soul Food: The Anti- and the Pro-
April 12, 2021
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4, with invitation to read Colossians 3:1-17, NRSV)
I note a trend in our culture that is troubling to me. It troubles me because it feels to me incomplete and negative. This trend is to be “against” things. We are fighting against prejudice. We are fighting against corruptions. We are anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-immigrant, anti-establishment, anti-virus, anti-imperialist, and dozens, if not hundreds, of other antis-. Republicans are against Democrats; liberals are against conservatives. We too often define ourselves by what we oppose. Now I am not saying that it is not important to take a stand against evil or vices, but “being against” is not the same thing as “being for.”
The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church launched a “Dismantling Racism” priority initiative. I am in full support of this work and am part of the Task Force on the Council of Bishops that is leading this initiative. It is very easy to define the work of this group – we oppose the thoughts, actions, speech, systems, and institutions that preference one people over others, especially people of color. We want to tear down the policies and programs that have privileged one group over others. We want to destroy the prejudicial mindsets that lead to violence, aggression, condescension, segregation, and colonialization. We wish to remove the influences and attitudes that undermine the self-esteem, pride of identity, and deride the precious benefits of cultural diversity. All of this is important work. But to what end?
As racism is destroyed, what rises to take its place? As we tear down, what do we build? As we deconstruct, what do we create? Our vision cannot simply be the elimination of the negative (do no harm), but must cast an image of something new and better and beautiful (do all the good we can). For me, this vision and image is shaped by the theological framing of Beloved Community. I capitalize the words on purpose because I believe they are a discernment of the divine intention of God. As Christian disciples I believe that our energy and effort should be aligned toward a return to Eden – a place for all people to live in peace and harmony, dignity and respect.
I am anti-racist, but more importantly, I am pro-Asian and pro-black and pro-African and pro-Hmong and pro-Mexican and pro-Korean and pro-Central American and… You can expand my list to include any and all people – all the children of God in God’s creation. I am anti-racism because I am pro-inclusion, pro-compassion, pro-peace, pro-mercy, and pro-justice. I am anti-oppression because I am pro-freedom, pro-possibility, pro-opportunity, pro-abundance, and pro-kindness. I am anti-evil because I am pro-good, and pro-wonderful, and pro-love.
Essentially, I am trying to “set my mind on the things above.” It is all to easy to focus on what is wrong, dissatisfying, problematic, and destructive. I need reminders and inspiration to shift my thinking from problems to solutions, from illness to healing, from broken to fixed, from harm to good. But our God is always calling us to a Promised Land, not merely out of Egypt. It is both/and, never either/or.
Of course, we must begin somewhere, and there is a lot of work to do to clear the ground of rubble and debris and devastation to make room for creation and building and restoration. But let us always remember we are moving toward a positive – Beloved Community – and away from a negative – an unjust, often hateful, and broken world. We are a people who reflect the glory of the Lord. Let us shine brightly with the world God longs to create in us, and not just the world we wish to leave behind. Praises be to God!
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).