It’s fascinating how some conversations are culturally cyclical. Many of the questions we grapple with today are, in fact, quite old questions. We have a funny way of thinking that we have a new experience and a fresh perspective, but the truth is that we usually don’t. That’s why the Bible is such a timeless book, and how we truly can use it in everyday life to understand ourselves, God and others.
The ancient Greeks were a little like us. They loved new thoughts and regularly created forums to discuss them. A great example is shown in Acts 17, when Paul visited Athens:
19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. (ESV)
Where do we find parallels in today’s American culture? Ideas and theories come in and out of fashion in our culture the same way they did in ancient Greece. What’s debated in academia today is blasé tomorrow. What’s trending in the scientific community today is laughed at tomorrow. Socially and politically we are in the same boat. We decide as a culture (influenced largely by media) what matters most at the moment and ride the wave until the next crest of political activism washes over us.
As Christians it’s important for us to know our beliefs and be prepared to defend them in the culture, so this cycle is important for us to think and pray about. Colossians 4:6 encourages ‘Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.’ (NIV)
I must say strenuously that I believe the first part is more important than the second. Be full of grace, not full of answers. Nobody likes the guy with all the answers.
Having said that, I often find it a great encouragement to my faith when I can see current culture paralleled in the Bible. Of course, people don’t really change, and God doesn’t change, so it shouldn’t surprise me when this happens. But still, I find myself very humbled when God has the grace to show me a long view of the past that informs my present.
Perhaps like me, you have heard the word intersectionality in the news and awards shows, and even in everyday conversations lately. Intersectionality is a term that dates back to the 80’s and legal scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, who noticed specifically that we didn’t have an effective way to talk about how the experiences of black women are different than the experiences of black men, and the experiences of black women are different from the experiences of white women. Intersectionality is a term that helps us understand where sexism and racism might intersect. It has been expanded to help us understand that we ALL have several identities which intersect to make us who we are. In some cases, the intersection of those identities can create increased disadvantage. For example, we know that women experience discrimination. We also know that black people experience discrimination. However, what are the unique ways that black women experience discrimination? Or gay Latinos? Or physically disabled individuals who are also poor? In some cases, identities intersect in a way that creates layers of discrimination. Conversely, some identities layer up to create privilege: white, well educated, wealthy, etc.
So I started thinking about what God would say to all of this. My knee jerk was to think of the passages of Nehemiah on social justice, because societal discrimination is at the forefront of this intersectionality conversation. But then I quickly realized what a stunted vision I had taken, to look only at Nehemiah for the counsel of God’s Word on social justice. Isn’t the Bible full of intersectionality? And furthermore, isn’t it full of God’s favor for those who experience discrimination? Here are some examples:
The lame man in Acts 3, who was also a beggar (these identities don’t always intersect, you can be born with a disability into a wealthy family and be disabled but not poor). Peter heals this man to the glory of God.
Ruth (the book of Ruth) was a woman, a widow and also a Moabite. She would have experienced social discrimination in the Israelite community with only one of these three identities. Yet the Lord showed her favor first through Boaz and then ultimately by placing her in the lineage of Jesus Christ.
Rahab (Joshua 2:1, Joshua 2:3, Joshua 6:17- 6:25, Matthew 1:5, Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25) was a prostitute, a woman, and, like Ruth, a foreigner to the Israelites. These three identities would have caused her great discrimination, yet she too was received into the community of believers and she too shows up in the lineage of Jesus Christ. God showed her radical, redemptive love.
Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:1-10) He was a chief tax collector and was from Jericho (not an Israelite). This meant he was despised by most people in that society. Despised. Yet Jesus honors Zacchaeus with a lunch at his home. Jesus shows grace and Zacchaeus responds jubilantly.
What does God have to say about intersectionality? I think it’s clear. The Bible shows us time and time again that God loves all of His children. He shows favor to the downtrodden. He lifts up the meek, the weak, the poor, the lame. He elevates those who have no voice in society, the foreigner, those who are despised. God runs to them, He remembers them. It’s easy, then, to understand that we who are gospel carriers should run to them too. What does that mean in your life today? How can you live out the gospel in a new way, informed by the examples of intersectionality that run throughout the Bible? Where are you encountering the weak, the poor, the foreigner, the voiceless, the ‘other?’
Go deeper. How does your personality intersect to make you feel like you are less loved by God? Victim? Abuser? Broken? Proud? Let the Bible reassure you that in all places where your identity intersects, God runs to you. He loves you there already. This is the hope and the truth of the gospel and it’s as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.
Embrace it in your own spirit and carry it into every intersection that you travel.
Holly is a Bible teacher at Study With Friends Ministries. You can listen to any of our Bible studies by tuning in to your favorite radio station, listening to our podcast on iTunes, or listening through TuneIn or Stitcher online radio.