Dr. Jon Roebuck, Exec. Director
I have written previously about a friend of mine who is the Rabbi at a local Jewish Congregation here in our city. He’s about my age and we enjoy the exchange of thought and ideology that occurs whenever we sit down together. In a recent meeting, our conversation turned to the topic of violence and hatred towards non-Christian religious groups, both locally and nationally. I was interested in his perspective on religious intolerance and prejudice and the ways in which he had experienced such things in his own life. Trying to gain greater perspective, I asked him about his own congregation and how “victimized” by bigotry his congregation had been through the years. This was my question, “How often do you receive hate mail here at your congregation?” His response was immediate, short, and jarring. “Every day.” It was that simple. He said, “We get hate mail every day.”
That’s not the answer that I wanted to hear. I wanted to think that we live in more enlightened times, in a more tolerant and understanding age, where people are not as often victimized as they once were by skin color, national origin, gender identity, or religious belief. I wanted to think that things have been slowly changing for the better. But they haven’t. Hatred and prejudice remains as deeply embedded in the American psyche as it ever has before. To be sure, we may have made some strides in certain areas, among certain groups of people. But for the most part, we have not pushed the needle towards a better age of understanding, tolerance, and acceptance… not even a little bit. It is my belief that some of our dark humanity rises out of generational lessons both intentionally and unintentionally taught. Some rises out of fear of those who think differently than ourselves. Some rises out of the fuel of entitlement and privilege. Some rises out of ignorance and misplaced anger.
So how do we stop the madness? How do we, as individuals, make a difference? The key word is “intentionality.” Conversations about race relations, diversity awareness, civility and respect don’t happen on their own. There has to be the will to begin the process of creating a better world. There has to be that first conversation, that first friendship, that first opportunity for a discussion of differences without the heat of hate-fueled rhetoric. And it has to begin with you and me. Let’s be honest… most of us tend to stay cloistered in circles defined by people who look and think just like we do. It’s only natural to be drawn to those who are the same and be distanced from those who are different. But sometimes we have to step over the lines, reach across the aisle, and forge friendships on the anvil of intentionality and courage.
Developing a friendship with someone of a different race, religion, or nationality won’t change the world… but it might change you. When we build bridges, a lot of healthy dialogue and experiences will walk across the deep divide that our bridges will span. No, you can’t stop all the madness. But maybe you can stop some of the madness within your own life. Be courageous. Be bold. Be intentional.