DIVERSITY IN ANCIENT ANTIOCH

One of the central Cultural Marxist Christian books is "United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problems of Race" (2003). Its authors argue that to resolve ethnic conflict in contemporary America we must create ethnically diverse churches:
“...the twenty-first century must be the century of multiracial congregations. This conclusion rests on the premise that multiracial congregations can play an important role in reducing racial division and inequality and that this should be a goal of Christian people.” (p. 2-3) [1]
Part of the document is devoted to demonstrating the similarities between the early church’s ethnic problems and those of modern American. Interestingly, the authors seem to refute their own premise in the process of drawing these parallels.

One of the centers of their analysis is the city of Antioch. Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire and a major hub of early Christian activity. The city played a large part in Paul's missionary journeys.

Antioch was a city divided by ethnicity. Albeit, all were Caucasian. It contained populations of Syrians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Persians, Armenians, Parthians, Cappadocians, and Jews (p. 27). Despite the fact that race was not an issue, the ethnic pluralism that existed was enough to tear the city apart.

As historian Rodney Stark wrote:
“[Antioch was] a city filled with hatred and fear rooted in intense ethnic antagonism and exacerbated by a constant stream of strangers... a city so lacking in stable networks of attachment that petty incidents could prompt mob violence.” (p. 27)
In other words, ethnic diversity resulted in low levels of social capital (as modern sociologists describe it). This lack of trust, caused by diversity, often exploded into violence.

The United by Faith authors are right, diverse ancient Antioch was similar to modern America: distrustful, violent, dysfunctional, and filled with ethnic hatred and fear. Today, petty incidents routinely explode into mob violence, and accusations of “racism” are hurled over trivial misunderstandings. The city of Ferguson, and the Black Lives Matter movement, are simply the latest manifestations.

On the other hand, the authors are wrong in their assertion that the rise of Christianity somehow fixed the problems associated with diversity. In fact, Christians became one more unique interest group that Antioch’s broader population loathed and feared. Christianity added to the toxic pluralistic brew.

United by Faith gives examples of anti-Jewish violence in Antioch (synagogue burning). This appears similar to the huge riot that breaks out in Acts 19 over the presence of Christians in Ephesus: “About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way [Christianity].” (Acts 19:23)

Whether it be ancient Antioch or modern America, diversity causes dysfunction and violence. Why would modern Christians encourage more of it? Do we want to inspire aggression and distrust?

While Christianity certainly did create a fellowship of divergent groups and smoothed ethnic tensions among the peoples who embraced it (European tribes), it never ended the God designed psychological tendency of humans to distrust the ethnic “other,” and it certainly never produced a political order in which different ethnicities thrived together in pluralistic paradise.

The city of Antioch was divided by ethnicity rather than race. How much more terrible would Antioch's problems have been if they were exacerbated by the presence of entirely different racial groups? The huge disparities in intelligence and temperament would have caused far greater strife.

Christian diversity does not arise organically within single congregations. It exists across the human species by uniting nations under a single divine monarch. God did not design different ethnicities to live together within the same communities. Multiracial congregations probably represent rebellion against God's created order.


NOTES

[1] DeYoung, Curtiss, Michael Emerson, George Yancey, Karen Chai Kim. "United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation As an Answer to the Problem of Race." September, 2004. Oxford University Press. Accessed December 7, 2015. http://www.amazon.com/United-Faith-Multiracial-Congregation-Problem/dp/0195177525.

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