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?