As we reflect on the message of Martin Luther King Jr., we can see the parallel between what he taught and what Jesus told us the Kingdom of God looks like. To understand this, Greg unpacks the difference between xenophilia (the love of those who are different) and xenophobia (the fear of those who are different) and how it relates to racism.
Why do we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day here at Woodland Hills? Simply put, the message of MLK was about the Kingdom of God. His entire project of bringing about social justice was based on the teachings of the Gospels. He cast a vision for being people who loved their enemies, even to the point of marching for the sake of the oppressors, not just the oppressed. The only way to transform the laws of a society is to transform people’s hearts. MLK said, “And I am foolish enough to believe that through the power of this love … men of the most recalcitrant bent will be transformed. And then we will be in God’s kingdom.”
When we talk about the message of MLK, the idea of self-sacrificial love is often ignored. We want the benefits of his message without the cost. In part this is related to how difficult it is to love those who are different. The New Testament captures the practice of self-sacrificial love with the word xenophilia: xeno (other, outsider, different) + philio (love). This word is typically translated as hospitality. The kingdom is about loving those how are different.
Jesus taught about this in Luke 14:12-14. The kingdom is a banquet where those who are outside are included. This is in contrast to xenophobia: xeno (other, outsider, different) + phobia (fear). The typical way of relating to others is to fear those who are different than us. This is deeply rooted in our way of thinking and living, but it is not ruled by love. Racism is this fear of the other on steroids.
We even see this struggle with racism in the New Testament Church. Even though Jesus taught about going into all the world with the Gospel, the leaders of the early church assumed that the Gospel was one for the Jews only, because Gentiles were unclean. It took a miraculous encounter with God for Peter to see that salvation could come to the Gentiles (Acts 10). The pull of the fallen world is to create an us vs. them mindset, but the gospel tears down the categories that divide us. Jesus came to create one new humanity.
The reality is that the church continues to struggle with this. It is not easy to fight the status quo. To the degree that you live in a homogenous bubble, that is degree to which you are controlled by xenophobia. The only way to overcome xenophobia is through exposure. There must always be a xeno if you are going to learn how to love.
Four tips for moving into xenophilia:
- Practice Hospitality — in every way you can! Where are there others you can love and welcome?
- Educate Yourself—seek to learn from people who don’t look like you.
- Weave Diversity into Your Life—look for practical ways to make diversity a part of your normal life.
- Be Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak—You don’t know what you don’t know.
In our culture which is dominated by xenophobia, God calls his people to swim upstream and create a contrasting people who embrace others who are different. That is where God is at work.
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