Earlier this week, I posted an article on Facebook about a Stella Harville and Ticha Chikuni, a couple who was denied membership at Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church in eastern Kentucky because they are an interracial couple.
In the comments, my new friend Jaime asked, “What can I do, how can I have a positive impact as a Christian against this type of hate and bigotry?” I started sketching my thoughts and decided to post them in my blog, rather than on Facebook.
What can we do? That’s the big question. What gets to me at this time each year is the constant, self-righteous whining about “keeping ‘Christ’ in ‘Christmas’”. If there’s anything that’s going to make Christ mad enough to flip over some tables, I’m guessing it’s probably going to be the above article, rather than ‘Happy Holidays’. I also seem to remember that the most famous example of Jesus getting THAT angry took place in a house of worship.
I don’t have the answer to that question. Whoever does will be the next Martin Luther. All I’ve got right now are a few ideas that I’ve been trying to work out in my life. I’ll share them here. If anyone finds them helpful, please feel free to steal them. Again: no answers, just ideas.
1. Honesty. I want to own the truth about how racist/sexist/homophobic I really am. It seems like everybody likes to start these discussions with the phrase: “I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic but…”. But the cold, hard fact is that, half a century after Martin Luther King, I still live in a country where 85% of the people on death row are African American, women make 75 cents for every dollar a man makes, and the suicide rate among LGBT youth is twice that of their peers. It’s like we’ve settled into this pattern where it’s okay to BE racist/sexist/homophobic as long as I don’t SAY I am. As a privileged white, male, heterosexual Christian, I’m thinking it’s time for me to sit with the prophet Isaiah and confess, “Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet I am encountering the face of reality!”
2. Proximity. Our culture has sped up the amount and rate of information exchange to the point where it’s all becoming a big blur that goes by while we stay isolated behind ‘screens’ (kind of like I’m doing right now). We don’t actually have to face each other or get close to one another anymore. We can just blast them in anonymous comments on YouTube. We end up saying things we would never say in the real world. I wonder if it’s really a coincidence that political dialogue became so extremely polarized in the same decade that Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter emerged? How many members of Westboro Baptist Church have openly gay friends/family? How many members of the church in the above article have close friends of another race? Speaking for myself, the point when I started questioning my homophobia came when I realized that some people I love are gay. I care a whole lot more about sexism now that I have a daughter. And so on…
It’s hard to hate (or ignore) a group when people you love are part of it.
3. Education. I am woefully ignorant about issues of inequality and established injustice. I find that most folks are. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve become aware of the difference between personal prejudice and systemic oppression. Most folks seem to think that racism/sexism/homophobia has to do with their personal feelings. Cornel West and bell hooks have been most enlightening in helping me recognize that one can have friends of another race and still be racist. I have a lot more to learn if dismantling injustice really matters to me.
4. Simplicity. The flip-side of the need for education is our need to keep the message clear to those who are not educated. The Right seems to claim a monopoly on ‘common sense’, folksy wisdom, and ‘family values’. We tend to show up with charts and figures of trends and projections. All of that is super-important because we need the facts to support what we’re saying, but I’ve noticed that a lot of people eventually get lost and check out of the conversation before we’ve even made our point. We’ve got to find some way to keep it clear, simple, and short.
5. Volume. I was recently listening to Dan Savage talk about how frustrated he gets when liberal Christians come up to him and whisper, “Psst! We’re not all homophobic.” Dan said how he wants to tell them to stop whispering that to him and start shouting it to Pat Robertson. Progressive types (especially progressive Christians) are so eager to appear different from the screaming Bible-thumpers, we hardly raise our voices at all. We sit quietly in our churches and don’t bother anyone else… ever. Well, what if people need to be bothered? To paraphrase Gustavo Gutierrez: Silence is a vote in favor of oppression. Being “liberal” or progressive does not equal “politically correct”. I need to get up off my fat butt, get over my fear of offending someone, get out there where people are suffering, and GET LOUD.
Those are my ideas. Who is with me?