It was Grandmère Mimi over at Wounded Bird who questioned my distinction between prejudice and bigotry.
As I explained, according to Wiki:
A prejudice is a prejudgment, an assumption made about someone or something before having adequate knowledge to be able to do so with guaranteed accuracy. The word prejudice is most commonly used to refer to preconceived judgments toward people or a person because of race, social class, gender, ethnicity, homelessness, age, disability, obesity, religion, sexual orientation, or other personal characteristics. It also means beliefs without knowledge of the facts.Both words refer to "assumptions" made about people. The difference, for me, is the issue of "obstinacy" and "intolerance" and, especially expressed animosity.
A bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs. The predominant usage in modern English refers to persons hostile to those of differing race, ethnicity, religion or spirituality, nationality, inter-regional prejudice, gender and sexual orientation, homelessness, various medical disorders particularly behavioral disorders and addictive disorders. Forms of bigotry may have a related ideology or world views.
I have several biases - inclinations to present or hold a partial perspective at the expense of (possibly equally valid) alternatives - which sometimes form prejudices.
For example, I confess that what I consider my "natural" inclination (bias) towards women can lead me to an assumption (prejudice) about their superior ability to fulfill the various roles of leadership in the councils and corridors of the church.
That's my bias and my prejudice, which means that I have sometimes been wrong in my decision about some women who have been elected to offices of leadership in both the church and secular life.
All that being said, I'm not blind. I do understand that just because Sarah Palin is a woman doesn't mean that she's suitable for the Office of President or Vice President of the United States. I have a similar view of Michele Bachmann.
While I would never vote for either of these women, I would never do anything to inhibit or prohibit their election to office. If I did, I would move from being someone with admitted biases and prejudices to being a bigot.
See the difference?
I have - and everyone has - whether they are willing to admit it or not - biases and prejudices. It's just ever so much easier - and healthier - when we can admit to them. My experience with bigots - and I've known more than my share - is that most of them would be horrified to hear anyone call them a bigot. That's because they have a hard time admitting their biases and prejudices.
That takes maturity. And, honesty. And, that takes a lot of work. Unexamined biases and prejudices place us on the dimly lit road to bigotry.
Now, voting against someone like Mrs. Palin or Mrs. Bachmann does not make me a bigot. Neither does expressing my opinions or trying to persuade someone else not to vote for them.
If, however, I intentionally tried to do something to harm either one of these women, or deny them their basic civil or human rights because they are women who do not hold the same world or political view that I do, that would make me a bigot.
That being said, the dynamic of power is complicated and begins to shade the differences between bias, prejudice and bigotry.
Not being powerful, individually, the bigot may consider his or her presence neutral. But, what happens if this 'neutral' environment is a business or a church?
Could it be that the bigot is simply surrounded by like-minded individuals? Could it be that people are unwittingly tolerant of, say, racist ideas?
Questions such as these are very relevant to issues like institutional racism/sexism/homophobia and affirmative action. The bigot's acknowledged racism and 'forgiven' powerlessness becomes a source of conflict when an institution's credibility is called into question.
"It's okay for Marge Schott to be a bigot because she runs a good baseball team." Or "It's ok for Darryl Gates to be a bigot because he runs the police department".
Unfortunately this easily translates into justifications which include an 'excusable minority' of bigots. "It's ok for some police officers in Philadelphia to be bigots, because on the whole most officers are not". Or "it's okay for that fraternity to be bigots because they need a home too." Or "It's okay for black people to be bigots because most white people are."
I want to return to the original distinction I made about bias, prejudice and bigotry. The bottom line for me is the issue of "obstinacy" and "intolerance" and, especially expressed animosity.
There ought to be no - zero, zip, nada - tolerance for bigotry in the church or public service agency or any other community. The bigot ought rightly to be confronted and clear lines of expected behavior drawn.
Everyone has a right to their biases and prejudices. I would even go so far as to say that everyone has a right to bigotry. No one has a right to use their biases, prejudices or bigotry as a reason to do harm or to limit anyone else's right to the pursuit of "life, liberty and happiness".
That's a very simplistic explanation. I don't mean to "dummy it down". I'm trying to keep it simple so that my words and intentions are clear. And, because I think it's a very important distinction to make, especially in the present super-heated cultural environment where sexism, racism and homophobia are running rampant - even in the institutional church.
The second question raised by yesterday's reflections include why I did not "come out" to the Vestry as part of the way I introduced myself.
Funny, you know. When I'm in a social situation, a stranger never comes up to me and says, "Hi, I'm Mary. I'm a heterosexual." Come to think of it, no one says, "Hi, I'm Steve, and I really love horses." Or, "Hi, I'm Joan and I was molested by my father."
When and if that social custom begins to take place - where it is expected that, as part of the introduction, we are to include something significant about ourselves, I might - might - consider it. I can assure you, however, that it won't be my sexual orientation.
It is not my responsibility to make certain that everyone knows my personal life so they can either flip out or feel more comfortable knowing everything about me - or, at least, one aspect of my humanity.
It's not a 'strategy'. I'm not trying to get someone to know me and like me so that it's more difficult to hate me once they learn about my sexual orientation.
Neither is it being deceitful or duplicitous. I have nothing to hide. It's simply not necessary.
And, it's not about fearing not being liked. It's okay. I've gotten used to it, over the years. I don't need to be liked. Oh, I did. Once. A long time ago. But, not so much anymore. That tends to happen the more you understand that being "liked" is not anywhere near as important as knowing the you are loved and, indeed, cherished by God.
It's also part of the growth and development of a Christian committed to the Servant Ministry of Jesus.
Verna Dozier was the preacher at the consecration of Jane Holmes Dixon as the Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of DC and the second woman elected to the episcopacy in The Episcopal Church.
Verna and Jane had been friends for a long, long time. When it came time for Jane to receive the "charge" for her ministry, Verna - a little itty bitty woman in stature but a spiritual giant - called out from behind the massive marble pulpit at the National Cathedral and said, "Jane Holmes Dixon, stand up."
As Jane rose from her seat, you could feel the entire congregation moving to the end of our seats, the hair on the back of our necks standing at full attention.
Miz Dozier said, "Everyone - and, more than our share in Christian community - has a place within each of our souls, that wants desperately to be liked. It often gets in the way of doing the work that Jesus calls us to do. Jane Holmes Dixon, if you are going to be an effective Servant Leader of Jesus Christ, you must find that place in you that wants desperately to be liked, And. Let. It. Die."
Most of those in that congregation who were in leadership roles in the church - lay and ordained - gasped because, whether we wanted to admit it or not, we knew exactly what Miz Dozier was saying.
Jesus never said, "Like one another". He said, "Love one another."
Sometimes, doing what Jesus says to do - like, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, tending to lepers and prisoners, caring for the widow and orphan, loving each other as He loves us beyond our biases and prejudices about race, ethnicity, creed, gender, sexual orientation, age, or physical or emotional or intellectual ability - means that some people will not like us.
Jesus assures us, however, that we are loved. That God loves us so much that each of our names are written on the palm of God. Which means, even the people we don't like or those who don't like us.
That love inspires hope which gives us confidence to live a life of faith.
It's a mysterious gift. I don't pretend to know how it works. I only know that it does.
He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.
Can the church draw a circle large enough to include bigots? I would like to think so, but I fear we are being sorely tested.
Some have left The Episcopal Church, not wanting to be included with those they would exclude. That's their choice. It makes me sad, but I wish them well.
Jesus didn't say, "Like one another." He said, "Love one another".
It has ever been thus in the church. The first great controversy in the church was whether or not Gentiles could be admitted to the fold. And, if they did, should they be compelled to be circumcised?
Then, it was women. Then, it was people of color. Then, it was people of color to the status of ordination. Then, it was people to the status of the episcopacy. Then, it was woman to the status of ordination. Then, is was women to the status of the episcopacy. Then, it was "homosexuals" . . . .
It will go on and on, I suppose. As long as there is an institutional church, we'll be fighting these battles against bias, prejudice and bigotry. And, we'll continue trying to draw the circle larger and larger until, as Jesus asked, we "make disciples of all nations."
We can only do that, I think, through love. As mysterious and seemingly impossible a vocation as that is, I can't imagine it happening any other way.
I believe that Love changes everything. Yes, even bigots. Frankly, I don't think anything else will.
Jesus didn't say, "Like one another." He said, "Love one another".