The Theme of oneness and unity is found throughout the scripture.
By Dr. F. Willis Johnson
The first nation Lakota tradition celebrates Unity—the notion that we are all connected. The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. concurred, writing in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “In a real sense all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…this is the interrelated structure of reality.”
This theme of oneness, of unity, is also found throughout scripture. Eugene Peterson translates the fourth chapter of Ephesians: “You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.”
Unity is not a state of being in full agreement. It is rather the combining of parts into one. A state of differences, without division in spirit. Being unified is not necessary agreeing on everything, but is rather a harmonious striving towards respect for one another’s personhood. The longstanding struggle for and biblical mandate of “oneness,” requires us to see ourselves in those who we may consider “other.”
There are many things that are not right at the points of intersection in our collective life. A failure to recognize the interrelated nature of our lives has allowed inequality and injustice to flourish. Whether on geo-political, social, or economic stages, acknowledgement of the other is of vital importance. We must recognize the moral and ethical inequities that abound when we ignore the need for unity and seek to rectify them through intellectual and spiritual means.
This acknowledgement is the acceptance of another’s very existence by truly seeing and listening to them. Too many members of our human tribe have been pushed out of sight in our society. Women, men, and children who belong to marginalized communities are rendered silent and invisible, the paralysis of their lives left largely unexamined or unaddressed.
Acknowledgement of another’s humanity should move each us to a practice of affirmation, to the respect of the humanity of those who may be different from us. Hear this: affirmation is neither an act of complicity nor condemnation. Affirming someone’s experience does not mean approving ideology or behavior, but rather it means respecting the other in spite of these differences. We can love people without agreeing with them.
The prophetic radical ethical expression of loving then presses us to abide. Abiding is the imperative is to do something with and for another for our shared uplift. Abiding is daring enough to care. How this looks will constantly change as each community faces their own challenges, but the principle is ultimately the same: caring is being present with each other. Caring is not grounded in the strong protecting or exerting power over the weak, or the haves merely aiding have-nots. Abiding presents opportunities to enter into another’s pain and co-laboring towards the shared promise. Abiding is shared presence, mutual experiences, and connected concerns.
We are all related. We are all responsible for each other. We are bond together for a common purpose… to live loving and just in unity.
A third-generation educator, Dr. F. Willis Johnson is senior minister of the Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Missouri, a predominately African-American intergenerational urban church plant. He was educated at United Theological Seminary in Dayton.