But I don't want to play nice!
I said that I would have a second part to my last post. In these days of ossified positions and antithetical ideologies, many long for a time of civil discourse. They suggest there was once a time of a spirit of cooperation and unity in the United States' vision. They quote Bible verses about living together in harmony and peace. Jesus said of calling another "raca" fool is equal to murder is tossed like a hand grenade into any divisive comment made in response to an opposing idea.
I have read posts about sermons preached about this very thing. How important it is to respect the positions of others, their ideas, beliefs, and opinions. That in doing any less, we are failing to live in Christian love and fellowship. We must agree that all thoughts are of equal merit and must treat them as such. If everyone would compromise a little and not issue controversial topics, everything would be great again. If we would only play "nice."
I have lived in the "South" all my life. There are a plethora of sayings that on the surface seem polite, nice, and yet carrying a depth of hostility and aggression that curdles the cream, and not in the right way. The expression "bless your heart" sounds caring and compassionate. But in the code of Southern English is a way saying that you are less than the most intelligent person and your last statement is full of bovine excrement. Please take a long walk off a short pier". I could use two words, but sweet dear church ladies might be reading this--bless their hearts!
Another expression is the word "nice." On the surface, it suggests pleasant, gentle, and refined, even polite. When used often, it becomes a very passive-aggressive way of making a derogatory remark. For example, "How do I look?" "You look nice." The emphasis on the word makes it either a compliment or as a mocking comment. Nice is a way to be hateful to someone else with a kind word on your lips and a smile on your face.
My mother would always tell us to be "nice." What she meant was, don't be rude, or make trouble or fight with each other. It implied eating awful food that someone else made, smiling at unkind people, and not farting in church. I am the oldest of four children. I have a sister two years younger and a brother one year younger than her. Three babies in three years, and there was one more. I have a four-year younger sister than my brother. The three older of us never got along. We would fight and argue always. There are lots of reasons why, which I won't go into right now. It has taken 50 years to work through a part of it on all our parts.
Mom would say, "If your children don't stop fighting, arguing. (fill in the negative behavior we exhibited), I'm going to tie you nose to nose and put you in the closet until you behave" Of course, it was all metaphorical. There was never any room in any closet in my house. Especially since my sister and I were living in two of them--and not like Harry Potter. And we try, until somebody did something to aggravate the other and there are hurt feelings, someone said harsh words, etc.
So now, the children of the United States are fighting amongst themselves. And those who presume to the "parents' are telling us to "Just stop it!" And of course, none of us do. So what do we do? Do we listen to those who tell us not to bring up controversial topics? Do we sit silently when something egregious is said or done? Does Scripture tell us to be "nice"? This view of Scripture, of Christianity, has been used by those in power to oppress and dominate the marginalized since even before there was a Christianity to oppress the marginalized. In the modern sense of the word, religion exists to control the oppressed's thoughts, behavior, and actions. Oh dear God, I'm accidentally channeling Marx, aren't I? Yikes! But think about it for a minute.
The preacher who tells someone to respect the opinion of others tries to make a moral equivalency of those who disagree on traditional and contemporary styles of worship (which in the larger scale of things is not that important) to those who have used Scripture to support the enslavement of those who are different from the dominant population.
I listened to one of the Wesleyan Covenant Association leaders and the Good News Movement in an old YouTube video. This person said that he didn't want to fight with anyone. He would be happy to pack his bags and go home if only those people on the other side would accept (his view of) Scripture. If only they would quit demanding full equality and inclusion of LGBTQIA+ persons in the United Methodist Church. Didn't they know that God said these people were an abomination? Didn't they know that it has been Christian doctrine for 2000 years? Why are they fighting against the "Word of God"?
Funny, if you have ever read the arguments between the Methodist-Episcopal Church's pro-enslavers and the abolitionists, they are precisely the same. The used the line, "It Scripture clearly states, it is part of the nature of things, how can you go against the Word of God" It is not unexpected that the oppressors and the privileged will pick up any tool to maintain their power and position. I went to seminary with someone who is now a Bishop in the United Methodist Church. I didn't know them well, but I did know their spouse. I heard a message they gave and said, I am tired of hearing people call each other names and saying hateful things to one another. We are siblings in Christ; we must build each other up and not tear down. A position of love and respect for each other must be the starting point of interaction. The validity of another's Christian experience should not be challenged. One side was told not to call people abominations and call their behavior unclean and unnatural. The other side should stop calling the opposition bigots, homophobes, and oppressors to control other people's bodies.
I started out appreciating their civility message, yet when do you stop playing nice and tell the truth. When Jesus challenged the Pharisees, the "nice" religious people of his day, he called them vipers, blind guides, and all manner of "not nice" things, to which I would imagine they took great offense and got the Karen and Kevin feelings hurt.
I am someone who has suffered under the oppressive rule of controlling my behavior as a clergy person. I don't feel very generous myself in relating to my oppressors. To have to be closeted for the entirety of my ministry, to pretend and put a false front so as not to offend the sensibilities of people who acted like living righteous and pious lives. None of it was healthy. We are also challenged in public settings in and in the church pew, not to challenge people and society's racist, misogynist, homophobic view and distortion of Scripture. To gloss over oppression and marginalization with the words "Everyone has their own opinion" ignores the very presence of evil amid the community. As a child, my father used to rail against the leaders in our downtown Southern United Methodist church. They would prominently display their Sunday morning Christianity and then on Monday, return to their adulterous affairs, dishonest business practices, blatant discrimination, and beating their wives and children. Sometimes he said this a little too loud, and he was never also popular with the "right" people.
There were SO many elephants in the room; it could have been the plains of the Serengeti. We didn't confront anyone or anything. Did it make our lives easier or more peaceful? Not at all. I would suggest that not bringing these things out into the light of day does the same. Instead of excising the poison of racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, etc., we allow it to fester. We act this way in the name of civility and Christian love. We turn a blind eye to behaviors that oppress, abuse, and control others in fear that others confront us about the things we do. And yet how can we see another teenager kill themselves because their family rejects them and throws them out on the street or, worse, tries to "make them straight." Many abused women and children have to suffer in silence coming to Sunday school after being verbally, emotionally, and physically abused at home. Many persons of color have been shot, arrested, and killed for no other reason than in the wrong ethnic and social group. What can I say to the person who will question my personhood and my calling just because I am who I am? Why is it that only certain people can get away with behaviors for which others are punisher?
Can it be that people are racist, even when they don't intentionally know it just by acting in a manner that suggests the other's inferiority? May someone be a misogynist in believing that females are subordinate to males, that women should be mothers and homemakers rather than astronauts and boxers? It is possible to recognize homophobia in someone when they talk about their opposite gendered spouse proudly wearing the wedding band and yet get uncomfortable when same-gendered couples hold hands, kiss, or talk about their spouses or partners openly. And by definition, a xenophobe is a person who fears or hates the outsider and would prefer everyone to look, behave, speak, and think like they learned to do. These words used in the context of actions and behaviors do not constitute divisive comments or unChristian speech. They reveal the elephants of our communities and congregations. They acknowledge the brokenness between people who should be united in a common cause—shedding light on how society trains people to oppress the marginalized, dispossessed, and dehumanized in collaboration with the actual oppressors themselves. The very people who are being oppressed and marginalized themselves to be included in the privileged class oppress others who are below them in status. Of course, we know that this will never happen.
Final thought, I know that those preachers who preach about respecting one another's position and opinion are well-intentioned. The very stones that make of the proverbial road to Hell. Just like the co-dependent, dysfunctional training of my childhood, to learn to be nice, it is a road to destruction, depression, and despair. I try to get along with my siblings. To do this, I must talk honestly about my feelings and hear them as they also share their feelings. This way, we are not pretending to love one another and be a family, but we learn how to be family and show genuine love. It is a much better way to live and be in relationship with others. The reality of the life of love of God and others is the consequence of living this way.
**Thanks to my editor-in-chief and friend Ed Z. for helping me to correct my many grammar errors.