Many of you have heard by now of The Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church, in Pike County Kentucky whose membership recently voted to disallow membership, marriage, and some participation in worship services to interracial couples. You’ve also likely heard the many voices in the atheist and Christian communities calling to have the government intervene and have this church closed down. I’ve seen a few – but I’d rather not call any names.
As a white Southerner I’ve been raised by the adults in my life to believe that “race mixing” is wrong. I’ve been raised with the idea that black people are somehow inferior to whites and that it’s best that we just avoid associating with one another. The ‘ N ‘ word was probably the most commonly used word in my family growing up. None of these things are atypical of white people raised in the community I come from. In fact, my county is still arguing over Confederate flags – I couldn’t be more embarrassed by this fact.
All of these things I have always hated. I’ve argued with adults since I was about 8 years old about how ridiculous these assumptions were and how much some words hurt people. Racism has never made sense to me – but it’s always been around me. I do understand what it means, I understand how prevalent it is, and I know what it feels like to stand up for what is right completely alone. While the rest of America may be well past the Civil Rights Movement, many parts of the South are still fighting it daily.
It’s important that my readers understand: I hate racism, I hate homophobia, I hate intolerance, I hate backwards thinking, and I hate bigotry. I don’t tolerate any of these things in my life and I never will. What I’m about to say isn’t in defense of bigotry in any way – let this be made exceedingly clear.
I believe that when the US Constitution demanded that Congress “make no law respecting the establishment of religion or preventing the free exercise thereof” that it meant just that. Despite the many flaws of the men that wrote this document they recognized that any impedance on religious freedom or the freedom to speak freely was a grievous thing that given a society intent on liberty could never be tolerated. Any attempts to force this church into marrying interracial couples by government, or even preventing the Westboro Baptist Church from doing the vile things they do in the name of their god should be crushed – by all of us.
I believe that people have the right to hate. I believe that people have the right to be bigoted closed-minded homophobes and to scream that hate from the rooftops if they so choose. I believe that you and I have the right to shout back, to love, to speak to the virtues of tolerance and understanding, and to use our unified voices to change these minds – but we don’t have the right to silence them.
If you believe in democracy and freedom then you have to take the bad with the good, the grotesque with the beautiful. If we intend to keep the church out of the state (which we desperately need to work on), we must also keep the state out of the church.
I’m not surprised that a small country church in Kentucky is stuck in the 50’s, I wouldn’t be too surprised if one of the over 280 churches in my county decided to adopt the same policy – but what gives me hope is that these churches and the people that drive them will be gone in 10 years because they’ve lost the war of ideas.
Racism is slowly dying in the South, it’s been a long road but every generation amazes me as it moves beyond the ideas that defined our past. Homophobia isn’t far behind – the generations of people stuck on this old way of thought are dying out in groves and their children’s children are now having kids that don’t see color or hate, one day they will have kids and they’ll see even less. It’s getting better, tolerance is winning – but it isn’t winning because we tried to outlaw hate, it’s winning because we’ve decided not to let it continue within ourselves.
No matter how much I hate bigotry, racism, Westboro Baptist Church, and now Gulaney Freewill Baptist I believe fully in the rights of people and churches to hate whom they want to hate. I will despise everything about what these groups do, but I will defend their right to do it and I’ll take my battle into the marketplace of ideas.
1: I’d like to make one exception to the claim of being raised around racism: My mother, to the best of my memory, has never displayed racism. This is an incredibly rare thing in the South, but I credit her for befriending people of different races and helping me to be exposed to different people growing up.
2: There is , of course, one caveat to religious freedom: When people are harmed, this should not be tolerated by anyone – and I fully endorse government intervention when lives are endangered. I think this goes without saying, but if I don’t put it here someone will surely start to gripe.