The Myth of the Melting Pot

As shown in Sacvan Bercovitch’s The American Jeremiad, a ton of damage was done to the future United States of America through the preaching that happened on ships like Arbella as it crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1630.  Setting the colonial experiment up as the choice grain, sifted from the evil chaff in England and planted by God in the New World, the foundational narratives of colonialism (and therefore the United States from which they were born) has been one of eisegesis, presupposing God’s blessing upon the colonies and a fictional biblical narrative for our expansion and development.  As such, it isn’t too far of a stretch to see how some of Paul’s most famous words, found in Galatians 3 and appointed for this Sunday, have been used to create this image of American homogeneity, commonly referred to, at least since 1908, as “the melting pot.”

In the play, “The Melting Pot,” that popularized the term, the Galatians 3 passage is expanded upon to include all kinds of ways in which we might divide ourselves as people. “Celt and Latin, Slav and Teuton, Greek and Syrian,—black and yellow—/Jew and Gentile—/Yes, East and West, and North and South, the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator, the crescent and the cross…”  The vision of David, the play’s hero, is a world in which all ethnicity fades away such that we are all one in the “Republic of Man and the Kingdom of God.”  In contemporary society, we often hear this dream articulated by those who “don’t see color.”  While I would agree that the telos of racial healing is a world in which we all share power equally and in which all are born with the same opportunities available to them, this idea of a melting pot falls short when the base into we are all expected to melt is white, male, heteronormativity and all other cultural expressions are expected to just evaporate away.

Despite Paul’s deep Jewish roots, I think it is safe to say that his image of being one in Christ Jesus isn’t based on an assumption of assimilation to a prevailing culture. Rather, as we hear through his letters and the stories about him in Acts, Paul seems quite comfortable adapting the message of Jesus to the cultural context in which he finds himself. So, as you prepare to preach Galatians 3 this week, dear reader, please be careful not to assume Paul is defining Christianity exclusively in a way that looks, acts, sings, and loves like you do. Rather, I encourage you to lift up the vast diversity that is welcome within what it means to be one in Christ Jesus.

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