Dismissal and acceptance
from 2 Christian women
An immaculate, white canvas hat shading her face couldn't conceal the bright animation in her eyes as the woman chattered away.
She'd recognized me from the mugshot on this page and tapped on my shoulder while I was examining apple bananas at the farmers market one Saturday morning. She enjoyed reading the Star-Bulletin, she said, and especially looked forward to Wednesday editions because she liked food writer Betty Shimabukuro's articles as well as this column.
Most times, it's immensely satisfying to talk with readers, even the ones who have a bone to pick. The woman said we seemed to agree on many things, and counted off a number of issues on which we shared opinions.
She wanted to know where I'd grown up and took my measure through the traditional local-identification marker -- "what high school did you graduate from?"
My answers appeared to buoy her comfort level until the final questions.
"Are you Baptist or Methodist?" she asked.
I said, "Neither," wary of entering ticklish territory.
She persisted. "Well, what church to you go to?"
I don't, I said.
Her sunny disposition evaporated. Without another word, she turned and walked away, her disappointment palpable. I'd been dismissed.
I suppose I could have been more diplomatic or avoided replying, but how was I to know that my beliefs or lack of conformity to hers would rule out even a casual relationship?
Religion, or more specifically Christianity, continues to be worked as a dividing line in America. Politicians and groups claiming to represent Christians persist in mutual exploitation, the former to capture what they think are large blocks of lock-stepping voters, the latter to gain strength to correct what they mistakenly perceive as a country, shaped by "activist judges," that's hostile to their sentiments.
Consider an anti-abortion, anti-gay group's television program called "Justice Sunday" that will feature Senate majority leader Bill Frist and portray Democrats as "against people of faith."
The volatile, sweeping description paints the minority party as anti-Christian for opposing President Bush's radical, underqualified judicial nominees.
Ultraconservatives hope to stack the courts with judges who will give them what they want, a nation that reflects their values and no one else's. Frist, one of the emerging Republican presidential candidates, hopes his participation will place him in the pew closest to the ultraconservatives. It is a harmonic convergence of misguided goals.
For one thing, there is really no conspiracy against religion or Christians, despite hyperbolic characterizations from such people as Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, the group behind the TV show. Says Perkins, "For years activist courts, aided by liberal interest groups like the ACLU, have been quietly working under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night, to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms."
Nonsense. The courts apply our laws, which ensure that no one group, religious or otherwise, gets to impose its creeds on others. What the courts are hostile to is suppressing differences in cultures, beliefs and thoughts.
Another thing. Politicians who think that Christians act and react as aggregates sell them short. They are diverse and multifaceted, much like agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims and atheists. Some vote with their beliefs in the foremost, some with consideration of other factors. Most don't require that all humans adopt their faith to be worthy of friendship.
On another day at the market, I stuck up a conversation with Millie. We've talked a number of times and have become close acquaintances. She invited me to visit her church where there are a few members I know from singing in a choir as a child. I haven't yet accepted, but I appreciate the kindness. I appreciate the gentleness of her encouragement. She's never turned her back and walked away.
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Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org