Differences are Ours to Live Into, Urges Bantum
(ABILENE, Texas)–“Race has made us fundamentally blind to what it means to be… made in the image of God,” Dr. Brian Bantum challenged a Hardin-Simmons University audience. In his lectures at Hardin-Simmons, Bantum dared the audience to critically evaluate the way followers of Christ handle race relations within the church.
Bantum, associate professor of theology at Seattle Pacific University, presented Hardin-Simmons University’s 19th annual T.B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics regarding Christianity and race through two installments presented on the Hardin-Simmons campus.
Named to honor Christian ethicist T.B. Maston, these lectures provide an opportunity for Baptist universities like Hardin-Simmons to partner with the T.B. Maston Foundation and to further Maston’s legacy through teachings on topics such as race relations, biblical ethics, and gender equality.
In attendance were members of the Hardin-Simmons community, as well as this year’s Young Maston Scholars, a group comprised of students from Baptist universities across Texas chosen for their interest in Christian ethics.
“One of the things that interests me most… is oftentimes the absence of a question of the body. What do we mean by race? What do we mean by gender?” remarked Bantum.
He asserted that race is not a matter of pigmentation, but rather of violent differentiation. “We have to account for how race is not about the color of our skin, but about the edifice of power.”
Bantum suggested that, in Genesis, God created two individuals, male and female, to celebrate differentiation. He claimed that once Adam and Eve realized their differences, the way humans viewed others shifted to a perspective of judgment.
Amidst this judgment, however, “differences are not ours to hold onto; they are ours to live into. Life with God can only be through life with one another,” he expressed.
Bantum called his audience to step away from comfort and insulation. Jesus could have lived a quiet life, he clarified, but he instead chose to speak out against oppressive forces, which he knew would lead to his death.
“Jesus did not have to die, but he chose a life through which he knew he would be killed,” Bantum explained, “Our God has died, and through this, there is no place our God has not gone to be with us.”
To the Gerasenes in Mark 5, “the arrival of Jesus meant the death of their livelihood. The arrival of Jesus meant the death of their peace,” After Jesus healed the demoniac, an exiled man forced to live in a tomb, the townspeople grew fearful because “they would have to admit that their peace was fragile. They would have to admit that their peace was not what they thought it was.”
Exiling fellow men leads to a false sense of peace, suggested Bantum. He proposed that humanity must embrace differentiation and care for others to follow Jesus’ example. Much like that of the Gerasenes in Mark, “your salvation is tied to the man in front of you,” he proposed.
Salvation as a Song
Bantum questioned, “what if salvation has nothing to do with heaven? What if salvation has nothing to do with the thereafter?… What if salvation was already here?”
Salvation, then, is associated with the acceptance and understanding of differentiation, remarked Bantum. He proposed that “salvation is not a place, but is more like a song,” in which salvation is constantly present, touches the lives of all, and is a continual process.
Regarding humanity, he noted that “God gave them the instruments. He gave them the tune. The question now is will they play.”
“Now the question is, what are you? Do you believe the lie? Are you still a part of a system of violent difference?” posed Bantum. “How does the community discover implicit instruction on what wholeness looks like?”
In instances regarding disability and physical differentiation, Bantum posed the question of what it means to be free. He stated that the “overdetermination of who gets to decide what being free looks like,” has contorted the way society views those whose appearance deviates from the status quo.
“What does it mean for these people to flourish?” he continued, demonstrating the versatility of freedom. Flourishing, he suggested, is subjective. Freedom varies between individuals. Overall, however, freedom includes humankind living in relation with one another.
“The freedom of Christianity is the… freedom to be bound to one another. A freedom where I cannot be me without you. So much so that God said, ‘I will not be me without you,’” said Bantum.
When questioned on how to foster a more welcoming environment for churches and Baptist universities, Bantum explained that “sometimes violent differentiations aren’t violent, they’re natural.”
The way to combat violence within differentiation is to create a space that acts as a “center of thought for people who think in diverse ways,” People are different, and although “we don’t always know what the differences are, we know we are… unique people,” Bantum stated. “Our differences are to make another be free.”
Within Christian education, Bantum said that “what we think of preparing people for ministry is preparing people for white ministry.”
He expressed that the history of the black church is the history of the white church, and that violent differentiation caused the church to forgo telling stories of people who are different.
Throughout his lectures, Bantum noted that Jesus worked through Mary, who he called the first Christian priest and preacher for preaching about the promises of God through her pregnancy, through prostitutes, demoniacs, and lepers.
“Go back to scripture and look at the bodies that are present. God always redeems through presence… read for those presences,” explained Bantum.
In his final session, Bantum asked his audience, “what are the ways we have insulated ourselves?” He requested that his audience rethink false security through isolation and differentiation.
Bantum asked the audience to imagine, “if this person walked into my church, walked into my house, wanted to marry my son or daughter, what would you say then? Where does that discomfort come from?”
He proposed that the only way to generate inclusivity is to dialogue with those who hold unique perspectives.
“Storytelling becomes a way to see the uniqueness in one another,” he continues. “What does it mean to be in this place with these stories?”
By opening oneself to conversation, differences are celebrated, rather than shunned. Bantum concluded that “the work is never done because we are constantly looking for security. When faced with a difference of security and risk, it’s easy to risk other people, so we constantly have to work against that.”