The problem with bigotry and belief is that the two look alike. Many people easily mistake one for the other. A believer may be a bigot. But a bigot is always a believer. It is a situation that requires precise surgery to understand the difference. We will try to do that here.
The Excuses of Bigotry
Bigotry is a refusal to listen, learn, or grow. “I was raised this way,” is the normal excuse. It is a cop out. I think it is weird when older people who have learned to use smart phones say things like this. But it is not unusual for this person to mistake this position for belief or worse faith.
Bigotry often relies on tradition. Bigots say, “my parents told me…” They can recall a time when “everyone” felt as they did. It has a democratic feel. I am my community. My community is me. It is similar to discussions concerning the failure of historic figures. To say, “he was a man of his time,” often ignores examples of people from the same period with different points of view.
Recent history in my area of Tennessee shows how this struggle plays out in the minds of people. Before Clinton High School was bombed for desegregating, my father was in another high school. If he could have found a ride, he says, he would have gladly gone along to protest against the “Clinton 12.” Why? Everyone he knew opposed school desegregation especially his parents.
Struggling to Overcome
The Civil Rights movement did not change my father’s mind. Getting away from the influence of my grandparents did. He did it through the US Army. Harry Truman desegregated the military a generation earlier. My father, and later my uncle, were forced into a situation that required working with people of other races.
The military did not change the minds of every member. But it did bring into focus what working with other people meant. It could be done if it had to be done. And it had to be done. This where the problem is for the first generation to overcome bigotry. The next generation has it easier.
My high school desegregated in 1968, seven years after my father graduated. I listened to a presentation from members o the first graduating class who were taken from the all-black Charles M. Hall school discuss their struggle fifty years later. I learned what I did not understand growing up. I was tolerant only because they suffered. Being born in 1966, I started first grade 4 years after desegregation. Their suffering allowed me to become what my grandparents feared. I thought I was bravely standing up for right. I only could because they did. Someone other than my family helped shape me.
Belief As Bigotry
Gen-X, in the South, is not a tolerant generation. A friend remarked to me how thankful we should be to have gone to “an integrated school.” It helped us work with people from different backgrounds. But so many of us did not share the experience of desegregated schools. Few churches are desegregated. It is a tragedy.
MLK’s famous statement, about 11am Sunday morning being the most segregated hour in America, still holds true. But we allow it to continue because we claim a difference in belief. It is untrue. But we use “doctrine” to segregate based on race and social class.
I interviewed with a congregation in Ft. Worth one time that hosted a “Hispanic Ministry.” But there was a crisis in the Hispanic congregation, I was told. The younger generation wanted to hang out with the younger generation of English-speaking worshippers. Immediately, I recognized this was an inevitable result. The English-speaking congregation was larger and dominant. The other kids were not going to be visiting the Spanish-speaking service any time soon. Focusing on the shared beliefs appeared to be the only way of ending this sense of dominance in the congregations.
More Than Belief
We use “doctrines” to keep separations in place. We believe in more orderly worship from Christian tradition. They prefer more free flowing and ecstatic beliefs. We are disciplined. They are sloppy and don’t pick up after themselves. True these doctrines are not about faith in Christ. They are mere virtue-signaling. We can claim we are better if we make it a matter of doctrine.
Faith and belief are not the same thing. Faith includes belief. It is not a set of beliefs. Faith is also the trust we place in something else. My father trusted the government in the military; even though he did not do so in the Supreme Court ruling. He volunteered for the Army to work for the government. He surrendered his own judgment to theirs. To do this he had to be open to it. It is funny how so many do this only when their job is involved.
The most liberal church people have their own bigotry. It is usually claimed to be based in education. This for many a substitute word for doctrine. The bigotry is about social class. A labor organizing friend told me she was surprised by how many ministers from liberal denominations refused to support her efforts. I wasn’t.
Faith is an attitude that takes belief to make life into something worthwhile. Prejudice and bigotry only hamper faith because they are self-focused and closed. My better judgment is something I often rely upon to act. But I recognize in my middle age it is not the last word. If it is then I am the most subtle of bigots.