acceptance, Barry Goldwater, Bible, black Christians, Cassius Clay, Christian salvation, Christian upbringing, Christianity, Civil Rights, Civil Rights Act of 1964, coercion, conservative, de facto segregation, Deep South, Elijah Muhammad, enemy, Federal Government, gays in the military, George Will, hypocrisy, Jane Austen, Jerry Falwell, John 14:6, Judeo-Christian principles, judgment, justice, LGBT, liberty, limited government, love of Christ, Matthew 23:13, Muhammad Ali, name change, Nation of Islam, Orlando, Pat Robertson, Phoenix, prejudice, Pride, Pride and Prejudice, Pride Month, pro-choice, racism, Ravi Zacharias, religious right, Sandra Day O'Connor, segregated bathrooms, Social Justice, stumbling block, Sunni, transgender Christians, transgender discrimination, Walt Kelly, woe
One of the most beloved novels of all time is Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”. The two main characters in this novel are able to come together in a loving relationship only after one of them overcomes internal pride and the other overcomes internal prejudice. Clearly both pride and prejudice, if left unchecked, would have had a cost: the loss of love.
The pride talked about by the title and the character’s initial point of view relate to the type of pride that is viewed in Judeo-Christian principles as sinful. It is the opposite of humility and equated with arrogance, haughtiness, disdain and thinking more highly of oneself than is justified (conceit). The Bible warns us that this type of pride precedes a fall.
It is not the same as the pride that one feels for the genuine accomplishments of their children, their team, their group or their country. It also includes self-respect and a sense that one is a deserving of respect as anyone else. While pride in the first definition comes from a sense of selfish superiority, in the latter definition it is an assertion of equality.
June has become known as Pride Month for members of the LGBT+ coalition. Ideally, it should celebrate the second sense of pride: equality, not superiority. And recently in Orlando, we saw the price of Pride in the massive loss of life and injury to members of the LGBT+ coalition as a result of hatred and violence. As oppressed and marginalized members of society, it is a price we have paid many times. Orlando happened to be one of the steeper prices.
That said, I will now turn to the main thrust of the article: the price of prejudice. In doing so, I will turn from the death of many by violence to the death of one by age and infirmity.
Muhammad Ali was one of the most recognizable people in the world during most of his life. His fame far transcended the world of sports. To many he was a champion, not just in the boxing ring but in the arena of civil rights and the anti-Vietnam War movement. To others, he was the epitome of the arrogant pride described previously.
A major source of Ali’s controversial image was religion. The most symbolic example of this was his change from his birth name of Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. (I had not yet reached my teen years when Ali changed his name. I certainly am far more appreciative of the reasons and significance for it now.)
In childhood, Ali was brought up in a home that was neither Muslim or irreligious. He was brought up in a Christian home. His father was Methodist and his mother was Baptist.
Ali didn’t convert to any old religion. He joined Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam. Without getting into the details of their beliefs, one of the greatest attractions of the movement to black people was its promise of a decisive answer to the systemic racism experienced by Blacks in the United States.
Similarly, the existence of racism in the life of Malcolm X and his reaction to it was a significant influence in leading Malcolm to convert from being known for his anti-religious stance to becoming a member of the Nation of Islam. This is clearly seen in “The Autobiography of Malcom X” (which is, followed by Alan Paton’s “Cry the Beloved Country”, the most significant book I have read in terms of shaping my attitude towards civil rights and social justice and in opposition to racism).
The incidents of racism in the life of Muhammad Ali, including during his formative years, are also well-documented. It is hard to imagine that racism was not the primary incubator that led Ali to begin to regularly attend Nation of Islam meetings and eventually become a member. Furthermore eleven years later, Ali, like his mentor Malcom X, eventually broke with the Nation of Islam and converted to mainstream Sunni Islam. He also developed an interest in the Islamic practice of Sufism in later life. Therefore, we have multiple indications of Ali’s religious development, none of which ever brought him back to Christianity.
Only God knows the fate of Muhammad Ali’s eternal soul. But two things related to this blog post are abundantly clear in Christian theology:
- Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (from John 14:6)
- Not everyone will be saved, but woe be it to those who put a stumbling block in the way of another person’s salvation.
No one is perfect and we shall have things for which to answer to God. Those Christians who contributed to the system of racism in this country and elsewhere in the world, if they have not repented of those sins, will have to answer for that.
Racial segregation and other forms of racial prejudice are illegal in the United States in just about every situation of public accommodation, although de facto segregation still occurs. But now we see the issue of unfounded prejudice rising up against transgender people. Sadly, once again some Christians are not only part of this prejudice, they are at the forefront of it. Sadder still are some black Christians who are championing the efforts to discriminate against transgender people. Have they so soon forgotten the lies told about them and the reasons why the races needed to be separated? And have they so soon forgotten that in many locations, while the white bathrooms were gendered, the black (aka Negro or Colored bathrooms as they were called in those days) were not?
Tell us, black Christian leaders of anti-transgender forces, what horrible things were black men doing to black women in those bathrooms? (Yes, that was a rhetorical question meant to show absurdity and accuse people only of hypocrisy.)
Woe to you Christians who tell yourselves that your sins aren’t so bad, and justify yourselves that at least you aren’t wicked perverts like these transgender people. What will you do when the judgment by which you judged transgender people is meted out to you? What will you do when you are called to account for putting a stumbling block in the way of transgender people, turning them away from Christ?
I am amazed with joy when I meet another transgender person who is a Christian. My respect for them is profound. I know that their faith has stood tests that Christians in some foreign countries face, but most Christians in the U.S. could never conceive of. It takes great spiritual strength to continue to trust in the Lord when you are told repeatedly that you are forsaken by God, given over to Satan, sinful, perverted, wicked and condemned to Hell.
I have been blessed to find a local, evangelical church with overwhelming acceptance of me by those who know about my transgender circumstance. The transgender Christians who have reached out to me have not been nearly as fortunate. What I do, I do for the glory of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But I also do it so that other transgender Christians may soon receive the same acceptance I have received. And I do it so that other transgender people may learn that Christ loves them, too.
An ending to this blog post was elusive. Then I happened across something about another controversial figure from the mid-1960’s: Barry Goldwater. As I watched a couple of videos and read some background information, I knew his POV would tie things altogether.
Senator Goldwater was known as the leader of the Conservative movement in the United States. George Will once remarked after Ronald Reagan’s defeat of Jimmy Carter that it took 16 years to count the votes from 1964 and Goldwater won.
But did you know the following about Goldwater?
- He was pro-choice.
- He favored gays serving in the U.S. military, noting that gays had served honorably as soldiers dating back at least to the time of Julius Caesar. His remarks indicated that he only cared if you shot straight, not whether or not you were straight.
- In his later years, he supported full civil rights for gays.
- He decried the rise to power of the religious right in the 1980’s. He identified as a person with Christian values and was known as an honest person of firm principles. But he opposed the political attitude of this group of conservatives who required total agreement and acted as if they were speaking for God. He was against Pat Robertson’s political campaigns and when Jerry Falwell said that “Every good Christian should be concerned” about the nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court, Goldwater replied that “Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass.” (It was noted by those present that reporters had used “ass” in place of a more sensitive part of the anatomy.)
- He found himself increasingly at odds with the conservative wing of the Republican Party, labeling them as “extremists”. A few years before he died, he claimed they hurt the GOP more than the Democrats had and forbade them from associating his name with anything they did. In 1996, he noted with irony to Republican Presidential candidate, Bob Dole, that the two of them were now the liberals of the party.
- His reputation on civil rights for Blacks has been dominated by his vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the timing of which coincided with his campaign for President, giving it high visibility. What many don’t know is that he desegregated the Arizona Air National Guard two years before the President Truman did the same with the U.S. Military (a move which Goldwater had urged). He also voted for every piece of federal civil rights legislation during his time in the U.S. Senate until the 1964 Act and he had voted for the original Senate version of the 1964 Act. He opposed the final version of the 1964 Act on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, giving power to the Federal Government (and taking away power given to the states by the Constitution) that was not provided for in the Constitution. It was that firmness of principle that I mentioned previously, but based on American law, not on a self-proclaimed pipeline from God.
Goldwater’s opposition to the final version of the 1964 Act is rooted in the same quarrel that he had with both liberal Democrats and the Religious Right. Goldwater as a staunch defender of liberty and justice was opposed to any form of coercion, whether it was from the government or from Christian clergy and organized groups of the religious right. This leads us to another high price for prejudice.
“A government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.” That quote (or one of its variants) didn’t originate with Barry Goldwater. But he used it during his 1964 campaign and lived by it.
As a young man, Goldwater took over running the family business, the eponymous department store which was the largest in Phoenix. He didn’t practice racial discrimination in business and his experience in Phoenix was that much of the desegregation of that city occurred because where moral force was insufficient, enlightened self-interest worked. Other business owners saw that desegregation and civil rights was good for business. Allowing black people equal access to jobs increased the consumer base and disposable income.
Based on Goldwater’s philosophy, I believe that he would not have supported laws and lawsuits against small businesses that refused to provide cakes, flowers or photographs for same-sex weddings. He would have encouraged competing businesses to embrace such customers and be rewarded with increased sales.
He believed that enlightened self-interest would eventually bring about civil rights for black people even in the Deep South. But there were two things he either failed to consider or didn’t weigh highly enough to change his thinking. The first is the vagueness of “eventually”. In the places where discrimination against Blacks ran deepest, “eventually” appeared to be a long way off and black people had run out of patience. Between Supreme Court decisions, strikes, sit-ins, freedom riders and the occasional use of Federal troops, civil rights momentum was building. While Black leaders of the day appreciated Goldwater’s honesty and sincere belief in his philosophy, they saw the adoption of his policies as a roadblock to that momentum. Black people had waited long enough, even 100 years since the end of the Civil War, for eventually to become today.
Furthermore, moral force and enlightened self-interest might work in a climate where there would be at least a modicum of fairness in the system to begin with. Black leaders knew that the climate in the Deep South did not include even a smidgen of fairness to their people, let alone a modicum. What chance does moral force and enlightened self-interest have when black people are systematically disenfranchised, the courts are prejudiced against them, the police are prejudiced against them, and white business people that buck the system are intimidated with fires, bombs and burning crosses?
Another price of prejudice is that when discrimination becomes so pervasive in a section of the country, it motivates groups to urge the Federal government to step in and take over. An example of the law of unintended consequences, the very thing that is brought in to protect the freedom and rights of people can eventually expand through initially benign actions to become a source of tyranny that oppresses people. Think about this year’s presidential election. Whether you oppose either or both major party presumptive candidates becoming President, is not one of your fears that this person will be in charge of such a powerful apparatus?
When it comes to the price of prejudice, cartoonist Walt Kelly described it well (even though he used it in different contexts) when he wrote, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. – Matthew 23:13
Ravi Zacharias: Made in God’s image >>> Love thy neighbor