"Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all." Col. 3:11
"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Gal. 3:28
It's fascinating what Paul is doing with identity in these passages. At first, he seems to be negating these ethnic, religious, cultural, sexual, social and economic categories. But that’s not exactly it. By naming them directly, he gives them a kind of relative importance. The negative rhetorical constructions in these passages don’t serve to erase. Rather, they serve to reorient. In Christ, the distinctions continue to matter, but they are not of ultimate importance on their own. Christ is all and in all and he is the one who unites different people in love.
The Enlightenment made a similar move in an effort to transcend social and political factionalism. Only the appeal was not to Christ, but to Reason.
The difference is crucial.
The Enlightenment hoped to bring unity and peace to the world by overcoming our differences through rational technique. And this meant the suppression or silencing of particularized bodies, places, genders, cultures, etc. What it failed to appreciate were its own ethnic, cultural, and racial biases. People imagined reason to be universal and inclusive. But it kept on presenting a face that was European and male and white. And this made it elitist and exclusionary in practice--often violently so.
The difference with the Gospel is that it honors the particular stories between us even as it refuses to make identity ultimate and absolute. What does this mean for those who would follow of Jesus? Lots I think. But at least this: Rather than seeking either to transcend difference or absolutize it, we look to Christ in what might otherwise divide us, and we extend his love across all the boundaries that would keep us apart.
Christians aren’t known for exemplifying this sort of looking and loving. Often we’re colluding with a kind of Enlightenment ethic that serves to exclude and demean even as it pretends to love all (e.g. #alllivesmatter). Or, in reaction, we’re seeking justice through identity-based revolution.
God help us.