Can Unity Do Damage?

Unity cannot exist without equity. Equity cannot exist without justice.

I am passionate about Christian unity because Jesus is passionate about unity. Unity reflects the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Unity is Jesus’ strategic plan for evangelism and awakening; we see this when he prayed that “we would be one so that the world may know” that he was sent by the Father. Unity also brings great joy; we truly are better together. I’ve been beating the drum for unity for many years across any existing division within the church. But I’ve grown to realize, especially as a white male in Christian leadership, a cry for unity alone does damage.

Calls for unity can backfire or even become weaponized to perpetuate the pain of many; particularly when it comes to the issues of ethnic unity. With the prevalence of racism and injustices which plague our country and beyond, calls for unity from those with power and privilege can sound tone-deaf at best or abusive at worst to others choking under the kneecap of oppression.

When some cry out for idealized racial unity saying things like, “I don’t see color,” others cry out with realism saying, “But, I can’t breathe!” Calls for unity from the “haves” can be encoded attempts or perceived as encoded attempts for the “have-nots” to “stop complaining, stop crying wolf, and get with the program, on my terms.” This only keeps the voices of the oppressed silenced while their real needs remain. For unity to exist, we must hear the voices of the oppressed and address their concerns. This will lead to equity.

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Unity cannot exist without equity. Equity cannot exist without justice. We will never be able to achieve the unity of Christ and an effective witness to this world without first investing in the building blocks of equity and justice; they are prerequisites of true unity.

It’s helpful to consider this concept through the analogy of someone trapped in a physically abusive marriage. An abuser may say to their spouse, “Honey let’s have a great relationship. Let’s be one together.” and even apologize for past abuses. Yet, the abuses continue, the beatings are covered up and days later the cries for a healthy, unified marriage continue. To the abused spouse, the concept of a healthy, unified marriage is manipulative and impossible until the abuses stop and the wrongs are made right.

Many of my friends who are people of color are passionate about unity, but they recognize all too well the pain of racism in the United States. They have seen and studied the church’s complicity through the centuries in crafting the abusive dynamics of racism, and they experience the continued negligence of Christians in uprooting racism and its ills in our society. The abuses of the past have been covered up, the abuses of the present continue and are explained away, the wrongs have not been righted. A call for unity could become an abusive call for an abused people to drop their concerns and ignore the ongoing hurts; to pretend that we are “one,” yet the abuses continue, and the wrongs have not been righted. This is an absurd distortion of Jesus’ prayer and intention for our unity.

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For this reason, when I beat the drum for unity, I am simultaneously beating the drum for equity and justice in order to honor God, love my neighbor and achieve Christ’s dream of unity. There is no “so that the world may know” without unity. There is no unity without equity. There is no equity without justice.

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