There are so many conversations about tolerance these days. I had thought by 2012 our species would have grown past basic issues of prejudice. What has happened instead is that our shrinking world has put us face-to-face with people who are different than we are. For many people, knowing there were different types people in the world was much less unsettling than having to actually acknowledge those people as equals, neighbors, or peers.
Constantly I need to remind myself that here in the US mixed-race marriages only became legal within my lifetime, and women have had the right to vote for less than a century.
Recently, ordained ministers of the United Methodist Church conducted a protest at their General Conference. They occupied the assembly floor and served communion, wearing rainbow colors, to decry the Conference’s decision to continue a policy of non-inclusion for members of the LBGT community. It was a protest of which Saul Alinsky himself would have been proud.
On a national level, it concerns me that during a time of unprecedented fiscal concerns the primary focus of the American presidential campaign season seems to be sexual issues; reproductive rights and marriage equality.
I am honestly confused. I was raised to believe it was my duty to stand up against racism, sexism and homophobia, and to speak out when people made comments that seemed inappropriate. Now it seems many people feel that ideals of tolerance include tolerance of those who express intolerant views.
Another question is this. Should I be tolerant of all cultures and religions, even those who promote the abuse of women, or those who organize crime rings to victimize others?
What happens when my neighbor’s religion causes him to believe that our current problems as a nation are caused by our tolerance of homosexuality? Must we be tolerant of that view? How can we honor my neighbor’s beliefs and equally honor the rights of the gay couple down the street?
On a larger scale, how can we as a country, or as a planet, find common ground?
I am reminded of a song by Holly Near, entitled Unity. In the lyrics, she says that unity “Doesn’t always mean agreement, and it doesn’t ever mean the same.”
So how can we have the unity we so desperately need, without the need for agreement?
It is easy to point fingers – to say that the Westboro Baptist Church needs to calm down, or that lesbians need to stop kissing in public. But what can each of us do to promote unity around us?
The answer is found in the tarot card of Temperance. In this card we see an angel balancing one foot on water, and another on land. In each hand the angel holds a cup, pouring a substance between the two – mixing without spilling. The protest at the United Methodist General Conference looked a lot like Temperance in action to me.
Temperance tells us that nothing is perfect. But with patience, caution and creativity we can create the perfect blend and find the perfect balance.
If each of us can, with patience and creativity, find common ground with just a few people who are different than we are, we plant the seeds of unity. If each of us can gently teach, we create tolerance through knowledge. The key is patience.
Homophobia, sexism and racism just make me mad. Having anger can motivate us into positive action, but expressing anger may not be as effective as teaching and guiding with compassion.
Does that mean we shouldn’t speak out against injustice? I can’t imagine standing by silently while others are oppressed, even if only by hateful words. Perhaps the answer is this. We must speak our truth, but we are most effective when we speak our truth with logic, with patience, and with compassion.
By performing the sacred ritual of communion as a heartfelt form of protest, the brave ministers taught us the way toward speaking truth. Even though they did not get what they wanted this time around, they were surely effective in their protest.