A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Minority Voices and Borrowing Representatives

In my search for ways to make a positive impact in this world, I have subscribed to various groups which send out emails about justice issues, petitions to sign, and the like.  There is one little phrase such groups use which makes me want to bang my head on the wall:

"Please contact your representative."

I really want to write back and say, "Can I contact your representative?"  Cause mine...grrrrr.

When I contact my congress person I get form letter responses which make it clear nothing was read beyond the subject line of my letter.  And sometimes my congress person seems to be assuming I took a stance on the issue which is actually the opposite of what I said.  Fun, right?  Because, I do after all live in a red state and therefore must have all "red" opinions.  I suppose if I don't hold such opinions he knows I won't be voting for him anyway so he can safely ignore me.  One response I received was all about how Global Warming is not real.  He seemed to assume I should agree with this, even though the letter I had sent was regarding concern about environmental issues.

Breaking News:  I had already written the above when I received an automated phone call from the above mentioned congressperson.  It was a survey with very leading questions interspersed with his commentary on what he thought the answers should be.  Not exactly an unbiased poll.  At one point I was asked a follow up question WHICH ASSUMED THE ANSWER TO THE PREVIOUS QUESTION WAS THE OPPOSITE OF THE ANSWER I HAD JUST GIVEN!!!!!  Really doesn't make me feel heard and valued as a constituent!!!

So, can I write your congress person instead?

This situation makes me think about how difficult it is for minority voices to be heard.  Certainly this is true in our political processes.  I would guess conservative voices living in "blue" states have similar frustrations to my own.  I think it is also difficult for minority voices to be heard in our churches, our work places, and our daily lives.  When you are in the majority it becomes easy to assume everyone agrees with you.  When such assumptions are made it is difficult to stand up and voice a dissenting opinion knowing it is not going to be a popular one.  So, how do we make room for those minority voices to be heard?

As a follower of Jesus, I believe Jesus was always standing up for the outcast, the oppressed, and those with little voice.  Would it not make sense for followers of Jesus to be the ones to stand up for those who believe differently than we do?  Should we be the ones who request the removal of the nativity scene from public property for the sake of those who believe differently than we do?  Shouldn't we take steps to make sure all people feel valued regardless of beliefs?  Shouldn't we guard against making anyone feel like an outsider?  Every time we act out of our majority status we increase the pressure upon the minority voices to remain silent.  This doesn't sound like a "loving my neighbor" thing to do.

On a personal level this causes me to wonder about my own actions.  As a former pastor, I am frequently asked to pray at various events.  When these events are not church related should I refuse to pray and tell those who make the request I feel prayer is inappropriate at non-religious events?  Should I agree to pray but do so in a way which is inclusive of varying religious beliefs and acknowledges atheists?  How do I do that?  Or is this a matter of choosing my battles, particularly when I can look around the room and be pretty sure everyone present is Christian?

In our churches,  I wonder if there are ways we can make sure all voices are being heard.  Children, teens, spouses from differing religious backgrounds, infrequent attenders, single people, those of differing abilities, those of differing income levels, as well as those of minority ethnicities and sexual orientations all need to be heard.  How do we make space for such people to speak up?

I think awareness is a key.  It is important to remember to look around and see who is not speaking, who might have a different perspective, and who might feel reluctant to talk.  Perhaps building consensus wherever possible rather than pushing for a vote would be helpful as well.

This is another issue about which I have more questions than answers.  I would love to hear your input on any of these questions.  I have rather limited experience of being a minority mostly limited to my political opinions or doing things as a woman which are traditionally reserved for men.  But my experiences hearing snide comments about my political opinions while waiting in line to vote, while standing in the grocery store, while walking through the school, or just about anywhere is frustrating enough it gives me pause to wonder what such an experience must be like for others who suffer more extreme or heart-breaking reminders they are different than the majority.  Please help me to better understand.

One final question: should I write my congressperson explaining how his responses make me feel or would this just amount to asking for a bruised forehead and a dented wall?


Rachel said...

This topic makes me want to retreat to my introverted corner. I wonder about all those questions you asked, but I also wonder if part of the problem with our political system is that it is a huge system. Christ often sat and talked with people one on one. The woman at the well comes to mind right now. I wonder if part of giving minority voice is lending an ear to individuals more than thinking and worrying about big systems. Although, he also spoke to big crowds and challenged leaders, and like it or not, we have big systems that make big decisions that affect many people. . . I don't know, Sheri. It makes my head hurt, but I do think you should keep contacting your rep. Better yet, maybe you should run for office. I would vote for you!

Charlene said...

I think you present some good ideas here, some good places to start. It would be kind of amazing to me if I saw Christians advocating for the removal of some of their own privileges in the public sphere, in order to help others be better heard.

As for the representative...I've been infuriated by that too. Seriously, I'm not going to bother to write if he's doing exactly what I think he should, so it would make sense for a staff member or somebody to read the letters that are sent. I actually wrote him an email once telling him to go f*** himself, I got so mad. He probably never read it anyway. But it felt good to write it, and if he did read it perhaps it spurred him to pay a little more attention to the mail he's getting.

Laurie said...

Regarding the majority being silent, in order to make the minority feel more comfortable, I don't think it is necessary or wise. For example, if the majority had kept silent to prevent hurting the feelings of the minority, I would still have to breathe cigarette smoke all day at work. Thank God the majority voice was heard. I don't think there is any reason to take down nativity scenes or stop praying in public. If I went to a Muslim nation, I wouldn't expect them to stop their normal behavior to make me feel more comfortable. In fact they would likely expect me to wear a burka. When I have been involved in public prayer, it would be very easy for a non-believer to simply stand there silently. No one would know what they were thinking. No reason they should feel uncomfortable. If they want to voice their opinion about Christianity, those instances are not likely to be the best time/place for that anyway. For example, who wants to argue about religion before a soccer game?

Regarding writing congressmen, I see no evidence that anyone in congress could comprehend the content of such a letter, even if they did read it (I doubt they do). I'd like to see an internet movement to fire all of those idiots if they can't handle their business. That is what would happen to the rest of us. I suggest that if (for example) the government shuts down, not one single incumbent of any party is re-elected. That might get someone's attention.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Thanks, Rachel, Charlene and Laurie, for your comments. We all seem to be agreed our political system is messed up!
Laurie, I didn't mean to say the majority should be silent but we should make room for minority voices to be heard. In your own example, smoking anytime anyplace used to be the majority opinion. If no one had listened to minority voices on that issue you would still be breathing in smoke all day. Decisions need to be made according to what is best for all people. With smoking this meant your right to smoke ends when it starts harming the health of others. If we exclude minority voices we miss out on much wisdom. Part of the problem with Christian symbols and prayers in public spaces is it begins to combine the two. Separation of church and state is crucially important to the church and to the functioning of the state. When the two combine it is an unholy mix indeed. Perhaps that will be a subject of another blog.
I too would like to see all people come together to demand higher accountability for our politicians. I would agree to vote against all incumbents. They surely aren't doing their jobs.

Charlene said...

Laurie, I'll apologize in advance for the wall of text, but you hit a sore spot.

Some of us don't want to see the US become a "Christian nation" in the same way that there are Muslim nations that might expect you to wear a burka when you visit (or should you choose to immigrate there). Some of us are atheist, pagan, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, and would like to see all of these treated equally in the public sphere. Some of us find some of the things some Christians stand for to be morally abhorrent. Are we less American for that? Are you going to ask us to be silent while such things are expressed by persons of secular authority in public places?

Do you really think there's no reason a closeted gay person would feel uncomfortable listening to a prayer to a deity who apparently hates them? No reason an atheist should feel uncomfortable hearing someone beseech a figment of their imagination for guidance on a question where science and facts might provide it better? No reason a woman who has had an abortion should feel uncomfortable listening to some douchebag loudly praying for all those "innocent unborn babies"? No reason anyone with a different and philosophically sound moral code to feel uncomfortable hearing a prayer that invokes as unquestionable a morality they find bankrupt? Laurie, I can't even count the number of times I've heard people "talk trash" about and pray for people just like me to be "changed", in my presence, because I am closeted about so many things. And I am silent and profoundly uncomfortable each and every time, because I fear they will turn on me if I come out of my closets. I fear they will hate me if they ever find out who I really am. I fear they will tell me I must change who I am if I am ever to be worthy of love and life. And these are people I love. How much worse when they are all the strangers on the street, on every street, in every public place, and I cannot not get away from them. How much worse if I could not "pass" for Christian-ish, and might be legally fired from my job or evicted from my housing for daring to openly love someone of the same gender (as is the case in Kansas, right now). Even though "passing" itself is a double-edged sword. When you say "stand by silently and no one knows what you're thinking", I hear, "just stay in all your closets and pretend to be just like me so I don't have to be uncomfortable." I hear, "just pretend to be someone you are not, so I don't have to know you exist." I hear, "you are not an acceptable human being as you are, so pretend to be something different for all of our sakes." And it is, for me, very uncomfortable. Even when the fear keeps me silent about my discomfort.

Would taking Christianity out of the public sphere hinder your ability to practice your faith? Would confining nativity scenes to private lawns (including the church lawn) make it less sacred or special to you than having it in front of the courthouse? Does removing teacher-led prayer from schools hinder the students' ability to pray on their own, to whatever deity they believe in? Does the removal of the ten commandments from the hall of the legislature make it any more difficult for you to obey them? Would the removal of the words "In God We Trust" from our money make it any more difficult for you to trust your God?

I would argue that these things would only make it more difficult for you to impose your beliefs on others, more difficult for you to pretend you have the Only Right Way to live, more difficult for you to force others to view morality the way you do, more difficult to pretend no one disagrees with you on substantive issues. And that is, I think, precisely why Sheri wrote this post.