Sunday, August 13, 2017

"For there is no distinction" (nor Diversity)

It is easy to be against racism, when one lives in a homogeneous culture.

I'm reminded of my brother's comment as a young boy when we visited my uncle's farm.  Uncle Gerry asked him if he knew how to drive a tractor.  Arden's response was "Theoretically."

Am I against racism?  Well, theoretically.

The truth is I grew up in the rural Midwest where a 'minority' was a Dane living in a Norwegian town.  And though the state in which we lived had a high percentage of its population that was Native American they were segregated on the reservations and we had little contact with them at all.  We lived in an exclusively white culture.

In my adult life I have lived in communities in the Northwest that were equally as homogeneous.  Rural Montana and North Idaho.  Not exactly areas of rich diversity.

By contrast, my wife grew up in the inner city of Seattle where in her high school approximately a third were white, a third black, and a third of Asian descent.

Truth is that it is somewhat disingenuous for me to self righteously proclaim myself to be against racism when in truth I have little to no experience living in a diverse culture.  And to make matters worse, I've devoted myself to serving a Church that is one of the whitest churches in the country.  And this is true in spite of the fact that we have had a major commitment to becoming an inclusive Church since 1988.  We haven't been successful.

The only legitimate claim I have to living with diversity is that my brother married a Jewish woman and we have come to love her and her children as part of our family.  But if I'm being absolutely truthful, that's part of an extended family.  I don't live with that diversity on a day to day basis.  My brother has learned how to thrive with that diversity on a day to day basis.  I have not had to.

The bottom line is that I am committed to the concept that there is no distinction, that all are created equal, and that each person is beloved of God-- but those personal convictions are mostly untested.  I have known four black people over the course of my life for relatively short periods of time.  A college professor, a woman in our congregation, and two men that were part of my Clinical Pastoral Education group.  This hardly makes my experience in life one of rich diversity.

As I grew up in South Dakota I remember seeing pictures of the deep South and the segregated facilities marked for whites or colored.  Drinking fountains, side by side, one for white, one for colored people.  What struck me was that at least in the South they were side by side.  In South Dakota virtually the entirety of the Native American population was set apart on the reservations and there was no contact between the whites and the Native American populations.

None of this was intentional on my part.  We do not exclude minorities from our Churches.  Its just that in this country Lutherans have almost exclusively been of Germanic or Scandinavian descent.  There have never been a lot of blacks knocking at the doors to our Churches.  In Africa the Lutheran Church is thriving.  But again, diversity that is half way around the world is, shall I say, distinctly convenient.

Birds of a feather, flock together.

As we consider the events in Charlottesville this week, I am aware that my disgust at the overt racism on display has to be measured against my own experience of living a largely segregated life.  I can hardly claim with integrity to not be a racist, when in fact, I have never lived in a community that was racially diverse.  My experience would have been much different if I grew up in Pine Ridge, SD, not Irene.

My point is that to affirm with the scriptures that there is no distinction between the races is easy when it is mere theory.  It challenges us when that diversity is a daily reality with which we live.  I don't know if there is an answer.  I live in an area that has been attractive to White Supremacists because of how white it is.  Part of me would like to experience a more diverse culture, but then wonders if I'm just trying to appease my liberal ego.

I think that even among us who find racism to be a terrible evil, we still have a long way to go.  We still tend to segregate ourselves into our separate communities.  We are not actually a 'melting pot', we are more like a bunch of different foods sealed up in separate Tupperware containers.  And I think that we are less because of it.

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