Imago Dei in an Imperfect Union
Christians in America, let’s be honest about how we’re doing.
We are called to love God and to love people – all people. We are called to display unity as the body of Christ. We are called to be light in dark spaces. It is a high standard, and we consistently fail to measure up. This means we must depend on His grace and guidance to be made whole, to make up the difference when we fall short time and time again.
Our country likewise set a high standard for itself. It has lofty aspirations of being one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. And much like the way we live out our faith, America is far from perfect.
No country is perfect, of course, but it doesn't take much news or social media exposure to see that ours is especially divided these days. We see one another, our country, and the world differently. We interpret basic facts differently, even failing to agree on the facts themselves.
Our opposing perspectives – often hardened into contrasting versions of reality – have led some of us down dark paths of suspicion and fear about those who are different from us. We see it in our politics and our personal interactions, in both the spoken and unspoken.
Perhaps the darkest path America has trod is that of racism. At its start, America was rooted in racism – in a false vision of human superiority that deceived White minds and degraded Black bodies. We have still failed to fully escape from its grasp.
And yet, nothing contradicts the teachings of our faith more than treating others as less human than ourselves.
That is why, regardless of party, Christians must insist on the full humanity of all people – we must speak out against racism in all its forms.
In the earliest days of the Church, Emperor Hadrian sent a man named Aristides to spy on the strange sect known as “Christians.” Aristides famously returned to the emperor with this observation: “Behold! How they love one another.” His words were later adapted by a priest in the well-known hymn whose refrain celebrates unity and declares:
They’ll know we are Christians by our love.
In America today, those words seem hollow and quaint, even laughable in many circles. Simply put, we Christians are not emulated for our unity. We are not known for our love. Regrettably, the American Church is more likely to be seen as divided, judgmental, and closed-minded.
So how did we get here, and what can we do about it?
As followers of Christ, we have selectively uprooted ourselves when it comes to politics and public discourse. We have become disconnected from God’s truth and his calling on our lives, and we wander into one political tribe or another in an effort to make sense of the divisions that plague us.
When we fall back on polarized interpretations of our social ills, there is little chance of reflecting Christ’s love when addressing racism, sexism and xenophobia. Even though Christians should be leaders in combating these evils, we have a shameful history of either leading the charge in discriminating against others or, at a minimum, turning a blind eye.
If it is indeed our calling to love as Jesus loved – to be light in dark places – it’s time to wake up and expose the darkness for what it is, as Paul urged the Ephesian believers. It is time to be a light that speaks truth, hope, and love into that darkness.
We must return to the beginning. We must take the time to anchor ourselves – to root ourselves in that which is real, substantial, and true. In God.
Scripture opens with the creation of all things – the heavens, the earth, and all the plants and creatures that inhabit the earth. God's most complex creation comes next and is unlike anything that precedes it. A human, unique in creation as the only being created in the image of God. It is this imprint, the Imago Dei, which is shared by all men and women throughout history.
Because all of us are image-bearers, all have the same dignity and value in the eyes of God, whether male or female, Black or White, American or citizen of another nation, resident or refugee, Republican or Democrat, prince or pauper.
Not only are we called to insist on the basic humanity of our fellow image-bearers, but Jesus takes Imago Dei further in Matthew 25 when he says what we do to others we have actually done to him.
It is a high bar indeed, and yet Christ’s teaching couldn’t be clearer. Our calling is likewise clear – to have any hope of shining light in the darkness, our starting point must be the truth that all people bear the same image of God and should be seen, spoken of, and loved as if they were Christ himself.