Our neighbor George recently asked if it was possible that the lack of diversity could be detrimental to both the health of an individual and to the community.
George was recently discussing the community where he grew up. He said that he remembered they had several people of the Jewish religion, no Hindus or Muslims and no blacks except for a huckster who came around in a big green truck every Friday afternoon selling fresh fish.
The only real diversity was between some Catholics who seemed to feel they were religiously superior to other Christians and some fundamentalist Protestants who believed that unless you translated the Bible the way they did you would probably go to hell. It was almost a venial sin for a Protestant to date a Catholic or vice versa. We didn't know what they believed, but we knew it couldn't be good.
What does the lack of true diversity do to an individual or even a group of people who are isolated from one another? When you live in a community or choose to live in a community where everyone is just about like you from the color of your skin, to your national heritage to your religious beliefs, to the similarity of your economic earnings, to where you get your news, to how you hold partisan political viewpoints what does that lack of diversity do to me and you?
George asked is there a limit on how much diversity we can endure and still stay united? Diversity of belief caused numerous problems in early Christendom. So much so that the Apostle Paul wrote a letter urging unity to a group of Christ-followers who lived in Corinth (I Corinthians 12). He used an image of a human body where there are arms and legs, ears and eyes. They all have different body parts and have different functions but in order to work properly they need to be connected to one another through the head. In this case the unifying factor was Jesus.
By the end of the first century there were so many different theological understandings of Jesus and his mission that the diversity strained belief and relationships. The Council at Nicea was called in 325 CE as an effort to find consensus in the church. They established what it meant to be "orthodox" while at the same time those on the far right or left were "out of bounds." Later those folks could be called heretics and you know what happens to folks like that.
Change that comes from diversity could be a real problem for some! Studies have indicated that within 30 or 40 years white people will be a minority in America. That doesn't bother our grandchildren who are already used to diversity in their school and among their friends but it does deeply concern some older white folks. Many of us want the future as well as the present to be what it always has been. And when that is challenged it causes discomfort. And discomfort can cause fear and fear pushed to its extreme can cause violence.
During the recent presidential campaign the current president and his advisers correctly touched the pulse of many "forgotten" Americans on this issue. Call it fear t call it whatever you want — but it is real! The president found (or they found him) a base of white, working-class voters who not only felt "forgotten" but did not look favorably toward the change our nation seemed to be going through.
The first time I realized that we were "white privileged" was when as a teenager. I worked in the Penny Arcade at the old Gwynn Oak amusement park. Every year the park had an "All Nations Day." Droves of people would come in their native dress and bring some of their traditional food. All nations were represented except nations with black populations. They were denied entrance. I remember feeling this isn't right but I was told "that's how it is."
We have always enjoyed our visits to Annapolis, especially the good seafood. Like many others we have stood in front of our historic State House before the Roger Taney monument. We know about the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision that said in part African-Americans were considered inferior because they were not part of the original community of citizens and therefore could not be citizens of the United States. For us it was history first and personal feelings second.
A couple of years ago an African-American couple joined us in Annapolis and they took a different twist to history and personal feelings. For them it was personal feelings first (the buying and selling of people who were considered not fully human) and history second. Of course, they said, the monument should be taken down but, they quickly added, not destroyed. Our children and grandchildren should know that this was a dark place in the history of our nation where good, church-going Americans could worship God on one day and sell human beings as animals the next day. The Taney monument like that of General Robert E. Lee who led a rebellion that attempted to destroy the unity of our nation and continue the practice of slavery should be put in a place where we can teach about the good and the evil of our history. Some of our national history should not be celebrated but we should learn from it and not to learn from it is a terrible mistake.
The recent Charlottesville tragedy raised all kinds of issues for George. There were "both sides" present but to say both sides were equally involved in accessing blame is to give legitimacy to "white supremacists" and "neo-Nazis." To call some who spread hate and bigotry "very fine people" and want to destroy rather than build up our nation is deplorable.
Another issue we must deal with is that of "free speech" which we highly value in our nation. It is understandable that we want to resist hate speech but is it dangerous to try to silence views and speech that we disagree with?
Let the dialogue continue. I only ask that you think on these things.
The Rev. Dr. Wm. Louis "Lou" Piel is pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Finksburg and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.