On Being a Recessive Gene



I took this picture in the Middle East a few weeks ago, but I see it all over the developing world – Jesus with blonde hair and blue eyes. Actually he’s got a reddish twinge to his hair in the main photo (must be his Irish roots), but one of the inset photos, in the center, pictures him with bright, yellow-blonde hair.

Funny how those darned recessive genes just show up every once in a while in the oddest places. Of course, very few Christians in the US or Europe today would have the audacity portray Jesus this way. I only see him like this in non-European countries. Places where the Church was planted by Western missionaries many years ago. It appears the damage is done. 500 years of European and American domination in the missionary world has left a deep impression which will take many years to correct.

The genetic code of the Church has changed. Westerners have shifted from being a dominant gene to being a recessive one. We are no longer the ones at the forefront of the expansion of Christ’s kingdom. Our theological tendencies, our missional methodologies, even some of the fundamental ways we view life, are quite different from the majority world church, and I find myself squirming in the discomfort of no longer being a dominant gene.

I am currently at the World Assembly, a gathering of 600 student workers from 140 countries. It is a taste of heaven, with worship in different styles and languages and speakers who come from the non-Western church. To be sure, there is a deep need for Westerners at the table, and even occasions for us to emerge in the forefront. But we are now, in some ways, a recessive gene, and I find myself chafing at the position.

I find a know-it-all attitude lurking within and a desire to be in control – to be dominant. I am sure I don’t have enough of a grasp of genetics to make this analogy work well, but it seems to me that the presence of recessive genes makes life interesting, sometimes surprising, and often exciting. Those of us in the West need to learn how to be a good recessive gene, happy to remain below the surface, allowing others to rise to dominance, waiting for those moments when we surprise the church every other generation or so with those recessive traits which pop out and make the family photo a bit more interesting.

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