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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Including bigots?

I want to pick up on two threads from the comment section in yesterday's post "Argumentative Theory of Reasoning".

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.

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.
Both words refer to "assumptions" made about people. The difference, for me, is the issue of "obstinacy" and "intolerance" and, especially expressed animosity.

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.

Often, bigots are simply enamored of holding strongly to controversial ideas without much regard to the logical consequences of such ideas. They often defend their ideas by denying that they have any power to effect change or hurt anyone.

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.

A quick story: 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.

I remember a little poem by Edward Markham which I learned long ago. It's from "The Shoes of Happiness, and Other Poems", written in (1913)
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.
That's the real challenge for the church: How to draw the circle large enough that takes in even those that want to exclude.

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".

19 comments:

Grandmère Mimi said...

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."

Ah, but that was not the context in the story you told of the woman who said, "It's me. I'm very clear. I can not - will not - accept "one of those" . . . a homosexual . . . as my pastor."

I am not a lesbian, but I am other things that certain people don't like, such as an uppity woman, a person who does not believe in balancing the federal or state budget on the backs of the poor and the sick, who believes that the rich should pay their fair share of taxes, etc., which a good many folks where I live don't want to hear, especially from an uppity woman.

Whether I would have been right or wrong in the context of acting as a consultant with the search committee, had I been you (and I am not), I would have been sorely tempted to say quietly, "I am a lesbian". But that's me. I'm not 100% certain what I would have done, but I'm pretty sure.

Might your statement have been a teaching moment for the woman?

Thanks for the opportunity for the discussion, Elizabeth.

Matthew said...

Given that you have a blog, I have a hard time believeing the woman did not know you were a lesbian. I mean a simply google search of Elizabeth Kaeton would pull up all these posts. I am baffled that an entire vestry would not google you before meeting with you. I thought everybody did that because we are curious and nosy creatures.

As for the substance of this post, I tend to think its a continuum rather than two categories or boxes. Some are near bigots. I also think some have unconscious bias that they don't see. I once visited South Africa. Granted that was in the 90's but I was often gobsmacked by the comments I would hear white South Africans make totally out in the open.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sorry, Mimi. This is where you and I must agree to disagree. No one I know introduces themselves by identifying their sexual orientation. I don't believe I should either. And, when the woman said, "I can not accept "one of those" . . ." I did not feel compelled to identify myself in that moment. I have learned that it's going to be much more powerful for her to "discover" my orientation after the fact. I would have put her on the spot and all that would have served to do would have been to embarrass her. Not helpful in my experience. She'll have had time to "digest" her statements in the face of my presentation which she couldn't have done in that moment. Healing prejudice and recovery from it takes time. I know that from my own life. I've learned to be patient with the process. The Holy Spirit works so much better on the human heart than I ever could.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - I think it's really hard for those of us who blog or read others's blogs or are on listservs to remember that there are millions of people who don't. Lots of people couldn't care less about google, much less the internet. That doesn't make them unsophisticated. It's just not as much of a priority for some people.

I agree with your idea of a continuum. I was trying to get at that with the nuances of bias, prejudice and bigotry. Thanks for the distinction.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Elizabeth, we agree to disagree.

Just to be clear, I never suggested that you introduce yourself as a lesbian when you meet a person.

IT said...

Well I can see this both ways. I totally agree that leading off with "I'm gay!l" is a sort of militant identity politics. I don't care about other people's orientation, why should they care about mine? But OTOH we do bear important witness in this climate and a certain responsibility to come out. However context is everything. Elizabeth is more patient than I and probably that is the best way for the woman in question. Perhaps the ideal is the "natural" way, simply in normal social conversation, and not guarding the pronouns. For example BP (who is far more sociable than I) will regularly strike up conversations with people on the train,'at the airport-- not contrived or anything, just her Texn outgoingness. And if it happens to come up thT she has a wife, it comes up and if not, not. She hS been pleasantly surprised that it hasn't been an issue.

Matthew said...

One final comment. A recent post on Geoff Farrow's blog was about "passing" and the degree to which people can pass or do pass or live in a way that makes some things more hidden or more exposed. I commented that I am so effeminate that I cannot pass and have never been able to. Had I been in the same situation with this woman, I would probably not have had the same conversation with her because even if she has mediocre gaydar she would have suspected and may have chosen her words differently. Some of us feel that even if we don't introduce ourselves as gay, everyone suspects it anyway. The life experiences of those who can pass and those who cannot are very different.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I understand, Mimi, the difference between making an introduction and self-revealing in that moment.

I can only say that I have been a lesbian for 35 years. I have been in lots of similar situations. Lots. I have rarely - rarely - found confrontation to be helpful. It's hard to keep your mouth shut and not self-disclose. The benefits to me are personal satisfaction and a sense of momentary triumph as the person moves from being astounded to embarrassed to angry - especially in the situation where she was the only woman in the room to admit her prejudice and everyone else was challenging her position. My self-disclosure in that moment would have only compounded her embarrassment and sense of isolation. Why would I, a person who has known those feelings, be the cause of those same feelings for her? I wouldn't be much of a priest.

It was my role, as a priest, to back them off and make the difference to everyone in the room that she was clearly prejudice but she was not making ultimatums or demands. Indeed, when I asked her what she would do if the Vestry DID call a Queer person, she said she would have to think very carefully about what she would do.

I also told them that their challenge was to draw a circle large enough to include even those who would exclude. She objected and said, "I'm not excluding! I'm just telling the truth about what I feel and what I believe. They can do what they want."

There was no arguing with her, so I didn't. She believes what she believes. In a different situation, I might have behaved differently. Indeed, if she displayed outright bigotry, I might have been tempted to self-disclose just to intensify her discomfort. I don't know. I'm not sure what I would have done. You have to be in the moment to decide.

I'm going to supply at that church next month. She said she was looking forward to seeing me there. I have no doubt she'll have discovered my sexual orientation and that she'll confront me on it. When it's 1:1, I'll have a better opportunity to raise her awareness about her own stereotypical images of who Queer people are and what we look like and what we do. That's when the real education will come. I'm praying that this strategy will prove to be much more effective in the long run.

It's much harder to do it this way, Mimi. It's much more self-satisfying to experience a moment of "gotcha". That's not my job. I'm a priest. It's different. Well, for me, anyway. I hope that's helpful to your understanding.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, IT. As you know, it really depends on the situation. I deal very differently when I'm functioning in the role of priest than when I'm on vacation. I deal differently 1:1 than when in a group.

It's exhausting - all part of the "micro-oppression" of being Queer. I determined, about 10 years ago, to live my life "as if" everyone really wants to be accepting and fully inclusive and deal with the variations as they come up, situations by situation.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matt - Absolutely. I don't try to "pass". I don't "live out loud". I just live my life. Then again, I have that choice. Many Queer people don't. As I say, it's also different in a professional situation as a priest.

I know lots of sissy male clergy who "butch it up" in church. I also know lots of lesbian clergy women who wear their hair very short, hate wearing anything but jeans and love nothing more than talking about sports and their latest carpentry project. They do tone down the sports-and-wood-and-hammer talk and wear skirts and proper Episcopal pumps in church.

They are not trying to "pass". They are trying to be professional clergy who don't make their sexual orientation "the issue".

Anonymous said...

I do agree with Matthew. People may say things or do things differently given their awareness of the audience. I have often wondered whether the obvious gay person's life is easier or harder. Yes, they may take some direct attacks but the comments to non-obvious gays is hurtful and destructive.
I do find it interesting; however, that you choose not to disclose your identity. But as I recall you called for the recently appointed Sumpreme Court Justice to disclose hers-however-irrelevant to the position. What distinction are you drawing in this case?
Sophia

IT said...

I wouldn't be much of a priest.

And that's it. if you are operating in a professional way you have to be a professional. Absolutely. ESPECIALLY if you are a priest.

And I think you're a helluva priest! ;-)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sophia - Me and Elaina Kegan? A job application and a pastoral situation? Apples and spaghetti.

I have never held a job in the church where it wasn't known that I am a lesbian. My ordination status was in jeopardy because I went through it openly in the early to mid 1980s - during the height of the AIDS crisis and attendant homophobia. I was rector of a church on Main Street in Republicanville and lived in the suburban rectory with my partner. Hell, I lost custody of my children for five years because I was open about my sexual orientation. I have this blog, for goodness sake, which is called "Telling Secrets".

I think my "open and self-affirming lesbian credentials" are in proper order.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, IT. Please have that conversation with Sophia.

MadPriest said...

You have a bias towards women? Who'd have thought it?!!!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I know, Jonathan. Who wudda guessed it, right?

walter said...

Working away for the distinction of our Queerful Christian Community and hopefully Fellowship: It is clear, Elizabeth, that the pro-choice severing difference, from prejudices to bigotry, may become fundamental for the deepening of our Queerful Christian Community and hopefully Fellowship. I wish that in our Queerful Christian Community your brilliant way of being keenly aware would have not gotten muddied by what I call precipitous activism (smiling at Grandmère Mimi). We all have prejudices and it is very important that we reflect on these prejudices in the recent context of which you have posted. I also tend to be keenly aware with you that the offering of an orientation, a sexual orientation in the case in question, is a delicate matter the equilibrium of which is broken by personal choice. In the same situation as yours, I would not say I am Walter and I have heterosexual orientation challenged by the prejudice of heterosexism but Elizabeth?, – this is a different situation: this is how we experience the resurrection of the God of Receiving in our Queerful Christian Community and hopefully Fellowship. Lord do continue to experience the resurrection of the God of Receiving in our Queerful Christian Community - (By the way, Elizabeth, it is important for us to continue to stress the ultimate relevance of the Christian Community of Faith because Church by history with the titles of father, mother, brother, sister and the likes, has been plagued by psychoanalytical negative transferences and most people are not fortunate as we have been in receiving proper personal psychotherapy and outstanding mentorship; and because we have the five points Mission Statement).

Walter Vitale

Anonymous said...

My name is Cassie and I'm a lesbian, I LOVE horses, and I was molested by my father. I never told anyone while it was happening. I never reported him later (as an adult) for various reasons. I think MANY women go to
their graves never having told. But, I would hope that if they did find the courage to reveal their truth, other women especially would not judge or criticize or question their reality.

Sorry to combine two posts in one.
I thought you handled the situation with this woman beautifully and with class. Bet you wish you could be a fly on the wall when she hears your truth. :)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Cassie, for telling your secrets here. I understand.

I'm going back to that church this Sunday to preach and preside. I can't imagine that everyone, now, knows everything about me b/c the truth about me is out there and easy enough to discover. I fully expect to be confronted by her - or others - about why I didn't self-reveal in that moment. It should be interesting - another possibility for teachable moment. This one, however, won't happen in the midst of a Vestry meeting in which that was not the purpose.