An incident on the 25th of May in the US changed the attention of many people from the fight against COVID 19 to something else. It spilled over the streets, nations and into the whole world. “Black Lives Matter” has become the logo, the cry, the reason for many incidents happening across America and many other nations. Where we are, we may observe that many of us are not black or white either. We are more like beige – different shades of beige. Are we spared from what is happening in the west? And why does it evoke such reactions and protests?
In India, there is a famous facial cream known as Fair and Lovely. The obsession with fair skin is a known secret among many Indians. The influence of media in perpetuating this obsession has cost companies billions of dollars. It cost many lives, career, livelihood and even marriages. As a result of what happened on that day, rumour has it that now there are plans to change the name of the cream. I wonder what it will be. Dark and Lovely?
Recently in Singapore, it was reported that a Malay man, posing as a Chinese woman was charged over offensive tweets against racial harmony. Some of his tweets were against his own people and against the Indians. The government was quick to address the situation and deal with it. In a small country like Singapore where people from different walks of life converge, it is not surprising to find such sentiments. Perhaps this is the reason the founding fathers found it crucial to inculcate a sense of unity among the people of Singapore. It was stated that the ‘wording of the pledge was based on the belief that Singaporeans could overcome the divisions caused by differences of race, language and religion.’ (https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_84_2004-12-13.html)
The pledge reads
“We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality, so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.”
As a foreigner living in Singapore, I find this pledge very moving. How this pledge will become a reality is beyond me. The leaders of Singapore have done a tremendous work in trying to make this pledge a reality. As with many things, it demands a lot of hard work and a change in our mindset and attitude. To truly see others as ourselves, we will need to go beyond the words and check our hearts and thoughts.
The words of our Lord Jesus Christ in the sermon on the mount reminds us that our thoughts are as important as our actions (Matthew 5). While many of us may not post our opinions or thoughts online, or even say it out loud, perhaps it is also time for us to look at our hearts and what is happening in our homes.
Many years ago, I was invited to my friend’s place. She lived with her mother. As we neared her block, my friend turned to me and said, “No matter what my mother says or ask, don’t let her know you are Indian.” I went and greeted her mother and tried my best to avoid picking up a conversation for fear of stoking my nationality. It was very awkward having to pretend to be someone else. But in order to maintain the peace and friendship, I had to comply.
A small child once told me “You are Indian? My mother told me never to talk to Indians.”
These are just some examples of what I have experienced. I know that I do not fit into the stereo typical Indian look and hence all these interesting encounters. As an Indian, I belong to the slightly fairer category so I am also guilty as charged.
As believers, we will need to see what the Bible has to say when it comes to such a burning topic. When we we become believers, it does not change our race, colour, gender, our vocation, or our ethnicity, but it does relativize all these things.
The Bible records for us two important events. In Gen 11, a group of people wanted to build a name for themselves. They were united and spoke one language. They wanted to stay put and build a tower that would reach the skies and make their own name great. Ironically, the Bible tells us that God had to come down to see the city and tower that the people were building then. The Lord confused them and scattered them from all over the earth. The city and tower failed. The story of the Tower of Babel is a reminder that not all forms of unity is good. It can turn otherwise.
In Acts 2, we have a group of people from different backgrounds gathered for the Jewish festival of the Pentecost. In fact, verse 9 tells us these people were Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt and parts of Libya near Cyrene, visitors from Rome, Cretans and Arabs! The Holy Spirit enabled them to understand each other despite their differences and disperse into the world for a very different cause. They went out not to make a city or a tower but to make the name of the Lord great. They were united for the gospel.
The power of God is such that it cannot be confined to one colour, race, tribe, language or country. The Holy Spirit deepened the unity of the global church at Pentecost and today we are recipients of that incident. If we ever find ourselves inclined towards the mentality of our own kind (a name for ourselves, our city, our tower), may the story of the Tower of Babel be a reminder that God does not delight in it. His plan is truly unity in diversity.
As believers of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us be reminded of the many passages in the Bible about our unity in God so that we may continue to be salt and light in this city of many races.
1. We are commanded to love one another (John 15:12)
2. We are all made in the image of God (Gen 1:27)
3. We are all one in Christ Jesus, neither Jew nor Greek (Gal 3:28)
4. We are all sinners (Rom 3:21)
5. We are made one through Christ who broke the wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14)
6. We are to love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:31)
7. We are not to hate our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:15)
8. We (every tribe, people, language and nation) will be represented in heaven (Rev 5:9-10)
May this be our pledge as Christians:
‘We are one in Christ Jesus, all one body
all one spirit, all together.
We share one God, one mighty Lord,
one abiding faith, one binding love,
one single baptism, one Holy Comforter,
the Holy Spirit, uniting all.’
(Authors: Anonymous; tr. Alice Parker, Anonymous; arr. Phillip W. Blycker)
Pr Loliro Sani
July 5, 2020