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Posts Tagged ‘intolerance’

In putting together my post for MLK Day 2012, I have spent the week pondering the oft-ignored import of it as a national holiday. It is more than an excuse for stores to have more post-Christmas sales or a reason for kids and teachers to enjoy a day off. It is not just a token federal holiday intended to appease the minority voters. In 1983, when President Ronald Reagan signed the national holiday into law, he was acknowledging the important work that Dr. King did in bringing equality to all citizens, a fundamental belief on which this country was built.

Back in January 2009, the day before the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first American president of ‘color’ (or however the heck you state that in a politically correct manner), Mr. Rick Warren, popular minister of the 22,000-member Saddleback Church, gave the keynote address at the annual birthday service for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta.

The whole thought of Rick Warren speaking on Dr. King’s day made me absolutely sick. I support Mr. Warren’s intent to bring God into the national conversation, to make religion a part of everyday lives. I admire his chutzpah in forcing political leaders and celebrities to discuss and confront issues of faith. And I admire a religious leader who calls for Christians worldwide to confront the global problems of AIDS, extreme poverty, climate change and disease in third world countries.

But I do not and cannot support his call for the social, political, and religious exclusion of those he (as a flawed human being, just like the rest of us) deems unworthy. In my own personal formulation of Christian behavior, I cannot condone the messages of intolerance and judgement that seem to be very much a part of his very fundamental Christian beliefs. For all of you fundamentalists out there, put away the poison pens – I just don’t happen to have the same world view as many of those churches. My own personal framework of beliefs is much more liberal, that is all. I would like to think that I will be judged by my Father, not by a human being who runs a superchurch and holds sway with newscasters.

I have written before about my mixed-race marriage, on my stance on gay marriage and about the importance of diversity in our world. Dr. King’s work alone has inspired 3 of my posts, all hoping for a more equal, just world. Obviously, I am very much a student of the lessons that Dr. King taught about equality, justice, and freedom. I have also been struggling with a major crisis of faith since the collapse of my marriage – yes, I am divorced and therefore subject to Rev. Warren’s derision – and have been doing a lot of soul-searching about the meaning of God’s forgiveness and what it means to be a Christian in the modern world.

Jesus himself healed blind men and lepers, kept company with prostitutes, beggars, and thieves. If our Lord was able to treat those people as equals, with the right to be treated respectfully, why can’t we do that? What makes any one human being feel that he is better than anyone else, good enough to judge others?

Would our Lord truly think it appropriate that any church (purportedly operating in His name) run websites, online chat rooms, television interviews and major media campaigns to ostracize these people? This church’s scope of national publicity is astounding – and very upsetting to those of us who happen to believe that God loves all.  Reverend Warren, and many others like him, teach lessons that include the exclusion and vilification of  homosexuality, divorce, abortion, sex outside of marriage, and a variety of other behaviors. I am not arguing that those behaviors are or aren’t morally, Biblically, or ethically wrong – I am arguing that we as human beings and children of God have the right to NOT be publicly ostracized for our actions. As my friend Pastor Drew has told me a number of times, Jesus went to the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, big and small.

In reading back on MLK Day 2009, it turns out that I was not the only one opposed to Revered Warren’s participation in the King’s Center’s events – that day, about 100 protesters with signs reading “No bigotry in MLK’s church” and “We still have a dream” gathered outside of Dr. King’s former pulpit. I think there were much more appropriate selections that could have been made for the keynote address – perhaps one of the thousands of civil rights protesters that had marched in Selma or took their turns as Freedom Riders; perhaps one of the millions of black Americans that have lived in a world much different than their ancestors because of Dr. King’s work; perhaps one of the many celebrities that actually knew Dr. King personally. So many other, better, less offensive choices!  I was so disenchanted with The King’s Center’s choice in speakers in 2009 that I actually put pen to paper and wrote a personal letter to Mr. Dexter Scott King. In thinking about my article on Dr. King for MLK Day this year, I got to thinking about that letter. I want to share it with you now because I still (after 3 years) feel so strongly on the topic – Mr. Dexter Scott King may not have been affected by my words but maybe someone out there in the great internet cosmos might be:

19 January 2009

Dexter Scott King, Chairman

The King Center

449 Auburn Avenue NE

Atlanta, GA 30312

To the honorable Mr. King and the board of directors for the King Center;

I am writing to you today to express my incredible disappointment with the King Center’s choice for Rev. Rick Warren as the keynote speaker for their annual celebration of Dr. King’s birthday in 2009. How unfortunate that a man who actively campaigns against gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose was chosen to commemorate a man who gave his life to protect our rights.

Although I personally do not condone abortion, I firmly believe that all humans have the right to choose what is medically best for their body. And while I cannot say that I have done scholarly research on Dr. King’s spiritual and political beliefs on matrimony, I would like to believe that he would have supported any human’s civil right to enjoy the equal opportunity to be legally married. Fifty years ago, I myself would have been in a marriage that was considered socially and legally inappropriate – I am a white woman married to a black man. I owe Dr. King a personal debt of gratitude for the efforts that allowed me to publicly declare my love for whomever I choose. How then, in Dr. King’s  honor, can the King Center overlook one man’s actions to block the civil rights of any human being and select him as their keynote speaker?

Does Mr. Warren not realize the incredible hypocrisy it took to stand on the pulpit of Dr. King’s church and speak about Dr. King’s struggle for equality – and then return to his activities to prevent equalities for entire populations of American citizens?

I am disappointed in the King Center for having made this choice. With so many notable and active people in America struggling for racial, social, ethnic, educational, and economic equality, I believe there were many others who would have and could have made a more effective and less divisive impact. I suggest you take the time to listen to Colin Powell’s speech that he gave in Minnesota yesterday – what a truly remarkable tribute that was!

On this most auspicious occasion, as we stand on the eve of inaugurating our first United States President of color, what a true shame that the keynote speaker for the King Center was one who regularly preaches exclusion and intolerance under the cloak of fundamentalist morality!

I have a very deep and very sincere respect for Dr. and Mrs. King and the legacies that they have left behind. I can only hope that their hard work will continue through the efforts of the King Center. Thank you for what you do to keep the King memory alive.

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Intolerance and prejudice is not inherently born. Watch a group of small children sometime – they do not discriminate based on skin color or ethnicity; they will play with anyone who is nice to them.

Public schools are therefore, I believe, the ideal environments for re-training children to be tolerant of other people. I feel sorry for home-schooled children, who have a limited exposure to people with other backgrounds, beliefs, or identities. Are we doing a disservice to today’s youths by not forcing them to see the world through others’ eyes? Public high schools put kids (at an age when they are most impressionable) in direct daily contact with people who come from different backgrounds. Maybe they speak a different language or eat different foods. Maybe they have less or more money. Maybe they go to a different church or have differently colored skin. Maybe they are of another sexual orientation or come from a blended family. Maybe they cope with a disability or have different political ideals. Whatever their differences, the pre-teenage and teenage years are the times to teach kids to accept and embrace the differences in all human beings.

Yes, I guess you could say I’m somewhat rabid about this subject – I am sick to death of the intolerance and prejudice I see in the world. I was raised to believe that all people are equal, regardless of race, class, religion, education level, gender, ethnicity, etc.. I married a man of a different race and social background than mine. I lived with two lesbians in college and stood up for them at their wedding. I have 6 wonderful godkids who are a mix of colors. I have friends in the fire department from all professional and socioeconomic walks of life. I am good ol’ redneck with 2 college degrees, able to rope a cow and write a thesis in equal measure. I firmly believe that diversity is what makes our experience on this planet such a special experience!

Imagine if you woke up every morning and could only wear white clothes, eat white bread, drive a white car that looked just like everyone else’s, went to work in a small white cubicle, and only saw 1 other person (who was also white) ever.

Imagine if you never saw a colorful painting or a dramatic sculpture, never got to eat different styles of food, never heard music, could never travel to anywhere but your house and your job. Imagine if you only knew people who agreed with you on EVERYTHING, from politics to movies, fashion to philosophy. Imagine if you couldn’t go to school and learn about other histories, cultures, or ideas. Imagine if you couldn’t go to church and study the Bible in the way YOU wanted. Imagine if you never heard a foreign language or saw a movie or read a book. Imagine if you only had friends that looked, sounded, and thought just like you. Imagine if your television only got 1 station showing 1 program.

We live in a diverse world, rich with colors, flavors, textures, sights, and sounds. I love the fact that I don’t live in an all-white world. I celebrate my friends and loved ones who lead different lives than mine. And I pray that someday the world will learn that tolerance and acceptance of others are the positive keys to a peaceful world!

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