Some people are so narrow-minded that they can see through a keyhole with both eyes. As I think about the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the terrorist attacks in France, I wonder how narrow-minded I am. As a planet we seem hell-bent on emphasizing our differences rather than our commonalities. I admit that diversity matters and that there are valid reasons for differences of opinions.
For instance, I’m a Christian and not a Muslim. Therefore, without apology, I am not one who believes that all religions are just different trains going to the same place. I do believe in the unique work of Jesus Christ to save us. I uphold, without reservation, what it says in Acts 4:12 about Jesus, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given by which we must be saved.”
Nevertheless, I do believe in common grace and that all humanity reflects the image of God. I am perfectly fine if the doctor who operates on someone that I love is Hindu or Muslim, just so they’re the best! I will resist the temptation to think that all Jews are money-grubbers, all Muslims are terrorists, all Chinese are math whizzes, and all Christians are hypocrites, although I resemble that last observation! In Biblical parlance (Romans 3:23), “We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and at the same time we’re all equally valued and loved by God.
All of this ramped up tension between Islam and Christianity makes me think about how we navigate our differences. I am reminded that this Sunday is Human Relations Day. I wonder how far we have come since Dr. King’s efforts. Paragraph 263.1 in the 2012 United Methodist Book of Discipline, describes Human Relations Day: “This Sunday occurs during Epiphany, the season of manifesting God’s light to the world. Human Relations Day calls the Church to recognize the right of relationship with each other. The purpose of the day is to further the development of better human relations.”
How can we promote better human relations? The quick answer is, “Love!” However, love for sheer love’s sake may be misguided, co-dependent, or, worse, do more harm than good. The United Methodist Church’s General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR), of which I’m a member, embraces a three-fold strategy for promoting better relationships that I think is practical and attainable: Intercultural Competency, Institutional Equity, and Vital Conversations. It may be helpful to think about what each of these means.
When I think of intercultural competency I think of ways that we can help more people exhibit the innocence of children. People aren’t born racists. Somewhere along the way, it’s learned. We need to unlearn it! That takes understanding another person’s culture, even within races. Church is so socio-economically driven and homogeneous. We belong to different denominations more by net worth than a common baptism and Lord.
I have to ask myself: Whom am I overlooking and thereby judging as having less importance? The only way for me to overcome this tendency is to get to know people that I assume are different from me. I have to ask why I’m the way that I am and why they are their way. Bottom line is that intercultural competency takes effort, vulnerability, and invitation. Who are the strangers in your life that might become friends if you worked at it, opened up, and invited them into the sphere of your daily interactions?
Institutional equity isn’t about monitoring who speaks at a meeting and whether they’re this race or that, and whether or not they represent a particular gender. Institutional equity has at its heart a bigger question of “Who’s not at the table?” which means to me that we need to make all the playing fields in society fair, and not just cater to specific demographics. Jesus came to save the whole world, not just my people or my segment of the culture.
GCORR asks it this way about institutional equity and the church, “How do we transform churchwide structures and practices so that decision-making and priorities reflect the whole people of God, including younger people, more diverse people and people for whom English is not their first language?” Again, my summary of this asks that whenever a key decision is made that affects more than just me: “Who am I leaving out of the conversation?” It’s another way of asking the question of who’s not at the table, and if you ever had to sit at a child’s table where you went last and had to be quiet, you get what institutional equity is.
Finally, vital conversations are the engine to make this world a better place. I can learn about another culture and never get out of my chair, or so I might think. I can say I treat everyone fairly, but if I don’t have vital conversations and literally put my energy where my mouth is, I’m wasting time. Vital conversations are a must! On too many issues we are either Fox News or CNN and not much in between. Our government is polarized and I’m worried that the events in France will make us more “us and them” rather than “we.” I resonate with those who declare, “Je suis Charlie” because we are all “Charlie.” The US should have been better represented because America can’t fight terrorism alone. It is a human problem and we have to work together. Vital conversations are needed between disparate ideologies and peoples. Maybe when people can put a face on those that are different, then they’re not so different!
I am all for honoring the fine women and men in blue who protect us, but I, like many, have been taken aback by events in Ferguson, Missouri, New York, and even the hung-jury in Eutawville, SC where a white police chief shot and killed an unarmed black man. I know there is conflicting evidence and I honestly lean toward believing law enforcement over Citizen Joe no matter what their race or religious persuasion. But I wonder if I have been too trusting of authority and blind to those who are profiled into fear whenever they’re out in public. Such fear has no place in an equitable society where liberty and justice are indeed for all.
But frankly I am a profiler, too. Aren’t we all to an extent? I must get beyond my narrow-mindedness and my prejudices. I don’t want to resemble William James’ remark, “A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
We live in a difficult time where circumstances and world events make it easy to judge those who are different. We must not, however, allow fascism to re-emerge. Martin Luther King did not die in vain and neither have the citizens of Paris and many other cities and locations. We have to do better and this MLK Day. I am pledging to follow GCORR’s advice by promoting Intercultural Competency, Institutional Equity, and Vital Conversations.