Sincere Bigotry

Sincere Bigotry August 1, 2012

As regular readers of this blog know, I recently took time off to attend my grandfather’s funeral. I flew down and had as pleasant a time as you can have at a family funeral. I didn’t realize until I returned home that there had been a great deal of tension under the surface.

One of the family members went with a funeral home that is run by a black family for some of the early stages of the process. My family is white. It didn’t occur to me that this would be a problem, but apparently some sort of racial boundary was crossed. A large portion of my family is now incensed at the family member who made the arrangements.

These family members are bigots.

I don’t use that phrase lightly. These people cared for my grandfather a great deal, and they did their best by him in his declining years. They were all nice to myself and my wife while I was there. They didn’t bring up their grievances in public. Many of them can say, credibly, that they have black friends and colleagues that they love and respect.

Nevertheless, they are inflexibly committed to a position that is intolerant of a racial group. They believe that there are certain lines that separate the races that should not be crossed. They are therefore bigots. I’m inclined to say that they are good people with a massive blind spot. What I won’t say is that they are somehow not bigots because they are nice people.

Which is why things like this from Rachel Held Evans irritate me:

But I beg you to please remember that not all Christians who speak out against gay marriage are bigots or homophobes, and calling them those names is as unjust as it is unkind. Many of the people I love most in my life fall into this “camp,” and most of them mean it when they say that they sincerely love their friends and relatives in the LGBT community and wish they knew of some way to hold to their convictions without hurting or insulting their neighbors.

I believe that my relatives are all sincere, although what they’re sincere about is harder to pin down. I don’t think they’ve ever been called to articulate why they support certain kinds of segregation. I suspect that, for them, it’s “just the way it is.” If pushed, they’d reach for the thing most often used to justify “the way it is,” religion.

My relatives would likely agree with the sentiment expressed by Judge Bazile when he accepted the validity of the Virginia anti-miscegenation laws in 1965:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. […]. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

I believe that Judge Bazile,a lifelong Catholic, was sincere in this belief. He came by it honestly and stated it honestly.

Just the same, my relatives are sincere in this belief. If asked, they would likely quote the Bible: Noah’s curse in Gen. 9, the dispersal of the people in Gen.10 and the Tower of Babel in Gen. 11 have all been used to justify the separation of the races. My relatives, most of the Protestant, would sincerely believe that settles the matter.

I don’t believe that this sincerity excuses them from the charge of bigotry.

One of the most frustrating things about humanity is our ability to justify our own hateful beliefs to ourselves and believe those justifications. One of the most frustrating things about religion is its usefulness in providing those justifications. Neither is going to get any better if we pretend that sincerity and niceness somehow exempt us from the charge of bigotry.

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