Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Sin of Acceptable Segregation

Acceptance of diversity is a myth. I am coming to believe that when the church says it is “accepting of diversity” what it is really saying is that it is practicing acceptable segregation. As I have been reading Jonathon Kozol I have become increasingly aware of our willingness to practice acceptable segregation. To segregate and silence the voices of those who we do not want to hear. To set aside the lives of the poor, the abused and the addicted and to discount any concern they may present.

I was raised poor. Working poor. Free lunch poor. Turn in bottles for dimes poor. Diversity in my neighborhood wasn’t an option it was a fact of life. You didn’t embrace it, you lived it. People who were different than you, who saw life through different eyes than you lived next door, down the street and around the block. Even though we lived in close proximity, worked in the same places and attended the same schools we parted ways in our relationships. We lived together but we didn’t play together. We worked together but we did not worship together. We practiced acceptable segregation.

Tolerance is un-Christian. Tolerance is the root of acceptable segregation. No where did Jesus instruct us to tolerate one another. Jesus told us to love one another. Love is a conscious, directed act of the will that involves decision and sacrifice. It is wrapped in empathy and centered in respect. Tolerance, on the other hand, is usually wrapped in disdain and centered in mistrust. Tolerance is what leads to acceptable segregation. It allows us to exist together without ever letting our lives touch, much less intersect. Tolerance allows for keeping people in their place, which usually means out of the way and in the background. As a matter of fact the church should be the most intolerant place on earth. It should be intolerant of racism. It should be intolerant of sexism. It should be intolerant of classism. It should be intolerant of injustice, prejudice and paternalism. Tolerance is what allows these things to continue, even to thrive.

So what are we to do? We who strive to be faithful followers of Jesus, what is our response to acceptable segregation? I believe we need to follow the example that Jesus set. First of all we elevate people as creations made in the very image of God. Jesus constantly and consistently elevated people above their social status based upon gender, class or race. Women became heralds, servants became masters and Samaritans became heroes. Secondly we must embrace people as equals. We must realize that their eternal value is exactly the same as our own, regardless of their status, skin color or standing. Jesus died for them just like Jesus died for us. Lastly we must encounter people who are different than us. We have to see them. We are selectively blind. There is somebody in your life, and in my life, who is invisible because they make us uncomfortable. It is time to open our eyes to our acceptable segregation.

I have a few heroes in my life and one of them is Laura Early. Laura refuses to practice acceptable segregation. She elevates people most of us don’t even see, she embraces them with complete, unconditional love and encounters them every day of her life. She weaves her story, the story of a middle class, well educated white women, in with their stories. Stories of impoverished children, invisible minorities and battered persons struggling with addiction. She sees Jesus in everyone she meets, even people like me who sometimes think they have risen above their circumstances.

Gracious God help me to see others like Jesus sees all of us. As divine creations of an ever-loving Creator. Forgive me for the practice of acceptable segregation in my life and guide me to practice a life of love. In the name of the One who made heroes out of Samaritans, Jesus, I pray. Amen.

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