I heard that a lot growing up – Some of my best friends are… – usually having to do with African Americans. Along with “He’s one of the good ones” or “I have no problem with them as long as they leave me alone.” Words matter, and statements like these shine a light on who we really are at the moment. So, as I sat with a number of Calvary folks during Reading Pride yesterday, I watched the world go by, and it was both delightful and challenging. I realized that I am still not where I want to be when it comes to judgment – we are all works in progress.
When some of our members left during and after the ONA process, I heard a lot of statements like the ones above. “Why do we have to be so public about this? We are a friendly church!” was one of the favorite reasons why we shouldn’t go through with the vote. I responded to a number of folks that people’s bias and bigotry can’t guide the work of the Church, so we need to do the right thing regardless of threats like withholding money or leaving entirely. I came to realize that all of us – and I include myself – have biases and bigotries that may be so deeply embedded that we don’t know we have them until they pop out unannounced.
Let me give you an example: as I was sitting in Centre Park feeling very smug about my enlightened perspective, and trans-woman came by and started talking to us. She was probably in her mid-60’s, was wearing a bikini, looked 8 months pregnant, and was pulling a wagon with two dogs in it. We had a nice discussion about how great it was to protect their paws from the heat, and she moved on. My confession is that when I first saw her, part of me said “What the heck is this about?” I immediately processed it and recognized that, no matter how far I have come, I still have a ways to go.
I don’t believe that we are born bigoted, but I also don’t believe that we are born totally accepting. We have the propensity to be both kind and mean – bad and good – and we need to be taught along the way. I am continually evolving in many areas, and I hope that my understanding about things I am ignorant about will grow. I won’t give up on those who dislike or even hate people who are different from them. I will continue to pray for them as they move through life and learn more about it’s complexities, and I hope they will pray for me. Change – diversity – newness – strangeness – all of this and more can help us to grow or cause us to shut down. As a strong proponent of Free Will, I will always believe that anyone can change at any time. You just have to be open to the Spirit. Peace.
Pastor Steve Ohnsman has served Calvary UCC (Reading, PA) since July of 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an M.Div. from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a D.Min. from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a Ph.D. from Alvernia University (PA).