I have been thinking a lot about prejudice recently. Or maybe it has just thrust itself in front of me. Islam, racism, and homosexuality are three areas that seem to preoccupy many Americans.
I grew up in a time and place where I had little contact with Negroes. I played on a baseball team in Borger, Texas in the 50’s that was integrated. Very little was thought or said about it. There were none in the high school I attended in Dallas. College, medical school, and Vietnam increased my exposure to African Americans. One particular instance stands out as an example of the overt racism of the 60’s. Surgical Grand Rounds at Parkland Hospital attended by faculty, staff, students, and numerous surgeons from the community. The chief of surgery was giving a presentation on wound infections. The talk included information on animal bites, including human bites. The professor described the germs that could contaminate a wound caused by a human bite. During the question and answer session a “town surgeon” stood and, with a chuckle, said, “Dr. Shires, I’ve always heard that the bite of a Blue Gummed Georgia N***** was fatal. Any truth to that?” There was silence in the auditorium. Dr. Shires, speaking rapidly and in generalities, tried to diffuse the situation even as an African American surgeon at the back of the room stood and asked to be recognized. Finally, in resignation, Dr. Shires recognized him. “Dr. Shires, I am from Georgia. I have blue gums. As child I even bit somebody. Nobody died and I strongly resent the question.” The meeting ended with the chuckling surgeon trying to apologize. How well do you think that went? Things have changed. We were out to eat last week with a delightful woman who referred to our First Lady as Mrs. Buckwheat. Things have changed… haven’t they?
I am a Presbyterian and, like a lot of mainstream denominations, the Presbyterian Church USA has been struggling with the issue of homosexuality. This has been settled in my mind for some time. To me the cited scriptural references referred to in-hospitality, temple prostitution, and idolatry more than a proscription against homosexuality, a term that was not even coined until the 1800’s. Every gay person I have ever talked to describes their sexual orientation as a part of their core being for as long as they could remember. Nevertheless, honest people disagree. Recently the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church voted (very closely) to allow individual churches and ministers to perform same sex marriages in states where this was permitted by law. Allow, not force. Individual conscience, which is very important to Presbyterians, still rules. I have always felt that the Church should be inclusive rather than exclusive. Nevertheless, individual churches and people will leave the Presbyterian Church and, again like other mainline churches, its membership will continue to dwindle.
I get several e-mails a week about Islam, none of them complementary. They describe the “death to the infidels” mentality that is common to all of Islam, with the instructions to “pass it on.” The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver has a term that may apply here. ”Bible dipping.” It refers to finding a passage in the Bible that support your viewpoint, your prejudice if you will. I have not read the Koran but I accept the fact that there are violent passages in it. There are violent passages in the Bible that could be “dipped” to show that Judaism and Christianity are violent. I want to believe that there is a difference between moderate Islam and radical fundamentalist Islam but I don’t know any Muslims well enough to know. So that is my prejudice. But assuming that is true, I do not know what we can or should do about radical fundamentalist Islam. I once thought that opportunity, education, and the chance for a comfortable life would counteract the insane ravings of the radical Muslim clerics. But many of the 9/11 terrorists were well educated. One was even a medical student.
Maybe Jesus and the Beatles are right. “All you need is love.” That may not be enough but in our daily lives dealing with one another it beats fear and hate.