"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

01 December 2011

On "Ignorance"

A friend of mine posted this article on the Kentucky congregation which will not allow membership for interracial couples. She wasn't the only one to post this to Facebook today, apparently a lot of people are shocked and appalled and want to tell the world via Facebook. Fine. But this particular friend was perhaps the most interesting person to post the article, as she is a Korean adoptee to Caucasian parents now married to a Caucasian husband and raising two adorable Korean kids. So she knows she's got a horse in this race. No problem.

I read the article. I have several horses in this race too. My youngest, as most of you know, is adopted from Korea. Our family is of mixed ethnic heritage. My kids may grow up to marry someone of another race or not, but either my youngest marries transracially or I get a Korean daughter-in-law some day. Either way is fine, but you know how folks will talk!

I read the article, and I saw in it people I know. My own grandmother, the only time I ever heard the infamous "N-word" used in actual person to person conversation, freaked out at the idea of interracial marriage. She'd been born and bred in those same Kentucky mountains, but a few decades out of those hills didn't change her ideas about interracial marriage. She wasn't being mean, she wasn't being hateful, but boy the idea rocked her world.

I posted a response to my friend on Facebook saying, "I understand this... not saying its right, but I understand. Culturally these Kentucky mountain pockets are very clan-oriented. They come out of the Scottish highlands a few hundred years ago and have been isolated and inward looking ever since. Outsiders come to be seen as a threat to their culture. They're not hateful people but their worlds are very closed. My grandmother was dead set against interracial marriage, even decades after she moved out of those mountains. Add to that the idea that they come from a tradition that takes the Bible as word-for-word literal without demanding interpretation within context (both narrative and historical context) and that early on God tells the Hebrew people not to marry outside their race.... of course he told them that because to do so was to marry outside the faith (which the church still discourages for obvious reasons) at the risk of introducing foreign gods to Israel. When Jesus came for all people, this idea of race shifted radically, but these folks don't realize that. They want to do the right thing, they just have no idea what that is. You or I would probably genuinely like some of these people, they just wouldn't have the tools for understanding us and our families."

In other words, we may not agree with this, but we do need to understand what motivates the idea. We can't communicate with people if we just label them ignorant and backwards, as so many people were doing in the Facebook marketplace. Someone else wrote back that the problem wasn't racism so much as bad theology, and on that I agree.

But I was shocked that others responded to this by stamping feet, calling people ignorant and declaring the "rationalization" of this behavior to be wrong and equally ignorant. I had thought that the root of ignorance is having the information available and choosing to ignore it, and ignorance here seems to fall to those who are told that this is why a small group of people is behaving in this way but choose instead to label that group as somehow less than themselves.

Members of my own family, a mere generation ago, would have agreed with this, not because they were ignorant, but because they simply did not have all the data available to them. And yet they would be called ignorant by those who do have the data today. They would be called hateful too, although these same people would give anyone of any race the very shirt off their backs. There's a deep hospitality in those mountains, very little hate for the stranger (though the nosy neighbor and those who would trespass on perceived privacy and rights best watch their back) in those hills. Its not hate, just clan behavior. But there's also a deep spirituality, not of ignorance but of devotion. Unfortunately its a spirituality that's fallen prey to some of the worst teaching in Christendom.

This is the problem of much of Protestantism, the idea that we're all theologians, me and my Jesus, and there's no canon for measuring the good theology from the bad. But the thing about Christianity is that we recognize that we have problems and that these who have been so poorly taught are not to be scorned but loved, they are our brothers. Jesus died for such as these. The same is true when we look at Christians of other races, Christians who hold to differing opinions, Christians of other nationalities.

To cast off a brother as "ignorant" and "intolerant" without attempting to understand the root of the error, to walk a mile or two in their shoes, is, in the Christian way of thinking, to do unto others exactly what we accuse them of doing. And to watch it happen is utterly, shockingly, horrifying.


  1. Thanks for bringing up this taboo topic!
    I have a lot of living racist family members. I don't like their views but they are still family--people God put in my life for a reason.

    I can sometimes temper their attitudes by bringing up questions about exactly what constitutes a "race". Most of our ideas of race are thanks to 19th Century pseudoscience racists like Louis Agassiz, still perpetuated today by the Census Bureau and politicians.

    A small point of correction from your post that may be pertinent to the discussion. Most Appalachian people are not descended from Gaelic highlanders, but North British borderers with some German and Native peoples mixed in.

    Most mountain southerners with even a drop of Cherokee blood today are exceedingly proud of it. A generation ago, that might of been a matter of shame, especially in states like Virginia where small infusions of African or Indian DNA were regarded as legal "pollutants".

    That might also be a relatively gentle way to break it to the folks in this church, many of whom may be mixed "race" themselves!

  2. Thanks for the comment. You're right that most of those mountain men (and women) come from the border regions. My own ancestors were largely borderers but there were some highlanders in there too. Then again, a lot of my Kentucky ancestors showed up about 50 years before the big waves of Scottish immigrants, anyway. You also find the occasional English Tory (in my family that's the Deaton line) who found himself on the wrong side of the Revolution and headed for the hills quite literally.

    People in America are dreadfully touchy about race and I don't think we'll ever get anywhere if we pretend not to see it (because then we can't value it) or over value it with traditional racism.

    Would I love red-headed grand children, yes, but if my biological kids marry inter-racially, then I can, as my dad occasionally promised to do "adopt some grandkids for my kids when I'm ready." Who knows, maybe even the youngest could give me redhead grands that way. A long, long, long time from now. :)