Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Charlottesville - When Tolerance Isn’t Enough

Published in HuffPost
August 17, 2017 - 01:29 pm ET
By Rich Weissman, Black Butte Ranch, Oregon (www.richweissman.com)

A friend of mine, who is a devoted churchgoer, asked a simple question: What should the churches of America be doing in response to Charlottesville? Here’s what I told him … The issue in our nation has been and continues to be that most Americans think that America is, at its core, a Christian, white, heterosexual nation. This is the “default,” and good, open-minded people believe that it is incumbent on Americans to accept those who are not part of this majority, whereas the bigots do not. The inclusion of others is what separates progressive, decent Americans from their hateful and xenophobic counterparts. The enlightened think in terms of “tolerance,” an America that is tolerant of those who are non-Christian, people of color, and LGBTQ people. They believe that America should reach out to these minorities and create an environment in which these people are accepted, contrary to the anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim, racist and homophobic haters who presented themselves in Charlottesville (and of course, this extends to the misogynists as well, who view being male as the idealized gender; no accident that the haters this weekend appeared to be almost all men).

So, what should the churches of good-will do after the horrific events of last weekend? Should they shout “tolerance” from the pulpits? Should they remind their congregants that inclusiveness is critical in today’s world? Yes, they should, but that’s not enough, as it only reinforces, albeit unintentionally, the notion that fundamentally America is a Christian, white, heterosexual nation.

Following Charlottesville, churches need to look in the mirror and move beyond “tolerance.” They need to think about themselves in an altogether different way. Unfortunately, the position they need to take will be, for many, most uncomfortable, and I appreciate that the ideas being proposed here are controversial and may be hard for many good people to internalize.

The churches of America need to state, clearly state, that America is not a nation of religion, is not a nation of race, and is not a nation of sexual identity. They need to embrace the notion that America is neither Christian nor otherwise religious, neither white nor otherwise of a specific racial descendance, neither heterosexual nor otherwise defined by sexuality. Instead, America is a secular, multi-racial, sexually diverse nation, whose only purpose is to allow people to freely be who they are under the Constitution. This is the American paradigm. Can the churches of good-will in America say that, and more importantly live by that creed?

As a start, they need to understand that their behaviors have allowed this trifecta to lead to an unanticipated ugly place, which reared its head last weekend. Although the well-intended would never salute a Nazi or Confederate flag, would never speak poorly of minorities, and would never discriminate, good people do behave in ways that, nonetheless, support the ideal of America as a de facto Christian, white, heterosexual nation, albeit a tolerant one. And this not at all consciously driven.

How? How do well-meaning churches and people do this? What things do they say and do that somehow create a backdrop for assessing minorities in ways that position those minorities as “less thans?”

For the well-intended churches, the first part of the trifecta manifests itself relative to affirming the ideal that America is based on Christian values (some do say “Judeo-Christian” values, a term that is today an anathema to and abhorred by most Jewish people, as it assumes that Christianity is the step beyond an incomplete Judaism), where the Christian Bible is the code by which all Americans should live. They believe that accepting Jesus is the path all should take. And they think that Christmas is for everyone, and praising Jesus’ birth is something about which everyone can participate and sing out loud (maybe with a token Hanukah or Kwanza song thrown into the mix). In particular, the Christmas experience is the embodiment of the belief that the Christmas celebration and the Christmas ham are as American as apple pie.

They don’t see their religion as personal and private, applicable only in the privacy of their churches and in their homes. They don’t see America as a nation without religion, without the Bible, without Jesus. They don’t see the Constitution as the only document that binds all Americans, where religious books, doctrine and song are for personal use only.

Ask yourself these questions … Do I impose my Christian religion on others in how I speak? Do I quote the Bible and use it as a code of ethics in all places in my life including my public life? Do I talk in terms of WWJD in secular settings? Do I think that Christian holidays are “for everyone” and oppose those who try to “take Christmas away?” Have I bought into the “Grinch” mystique that somehow Christmas is an American holiday and those who wish to remove it from the public space are mean-spirited and joyless? Do I think that those who are not Christian and who do not accept Jesus are somehow less than I am?

Or, do I live by the secular standards laid out by the Constitution and U.S. law, and never, never allow my religious beliefs to enter into civil society, where my religion is of no interest to anyone else other than to me and my church? In the end, do I see the Constitution as the only “truth” in America, where my religion and its teachings are subordinate and irrelevant to that document?

Of course, the same kind of thinking along racial and sexual lines are true for the other two components of the trifecta. How often is it said by the well-intended that race relations would be improved if people of color simply stopped being so vocal about it. If only black youth stopped wearing hoodies and African Americans didn’t insist that black lives matter. Or if those people from the middle-east just dressed like “us.” Or if Latinos would only speak English and if Mexicans simply stopped taking away “our” jobs. How often is it said by the well-intended that queer people would be better accepted if they wouldn’t “flaunt” their “gayness” and just try to be less flamboyant? Or if trans people would simply stick to the public restrooms of their sexual chromosome. America will tolerate these racial and sexual minorities so much more if they, like the non-Christians, accept the notion that they are not “the default” and learn to behave more like “the default.”

So, it’s time to end the public displays of Christmas, to take down the Confederate statues, and to shatter the notion that Cinderella can only be told as a heterosexual story, even though these symbols may evoke melancholic childhood memories of comforting past times. It’s time to remove all those notions that everyone has to mimic “the default.” They tell the non-Christian, non-white, non-heterosexual minorities to “get over it and act like everyone else.” To be tolerated, one has to be more like Christian, white, heterosexuals. Well intended perhaps, but time to end this kind of thinking.

Clearly, most Americans are not at all the vile, torch-bearing haters in Charlottesville. Most Americans were sickened by the scenes shown on the Internet and tv. And because of our revulsion, we all owe it to ourselves to ask how Charlottesville could have happened. And we must ask ourselves how we have, often unintentionally, in our words and deeds created an environment in which we think of America as a Christian, white, heterosexual nation, the very ideal the haters in Charlottesville promoted.

That’s the uncomfortable discussion America needs to have post Charlottesville. Not how do we become more “tolerant,” but how do we move beyond tolerance and finally, finally see America as a truly secular, multi-racial, sexually diverse nation, where we don’t simply “allow” minorities to live among us, but we accept that there is no majority group in America, there is only freedom.