What’s the expiration date of hate? The shelf life of discrimination? The half life of exclusion?
There is one, you know. Today’s institutional, systemic discrimination is tomorrow’s acceptance.
You can bemoan that fact as a symptom of moral relativism or the liberalization of society or you can champion that fact as symptom of right winning out over wrong, but it doesn’t matter.
Maurice Maeterlinck wrote, “At every crossroads on the path that leads to the future, tradition has placed 10,000 men to guard the past.”
Whether you’re a stumbling block or conduit, discrimination does have a shelf life.
Case in point: if you told me when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s that the presidential election of 2012 would have an incumbent African-American president, a Democrat, sparring with three possible Republican nominees—one a Mormon, one a Catholic, and the other a Lutheran turned Baptist turned Catholic who has chosen wives as many times as he’s chosen denominations—I would’ve laughed at your ridiculous ideas.
Just in my 30 years of life, I’ve heard people argue that a person’s race, a person’s religion (denomination!), or a person’s marital history not only precludes them from being a good leader, but also precludes him or her from being a whole person. The societal qualifications for complete personhood change. Opinions change. Things change.
Things progress. You can call yourself whatever you wish—moderate, liberal, conservative, etc.—and by all means follow and vote your convictions—but the world is progressing. And there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot that people can do to stop it.
Slow it down, sure. But you can’t stop it. The Arab Spring has sprung. Interracial couples marry and are more accepted. Women are ordained to serve as deacons, as ministers, as pastors in Baptist?—yes, Baptist—churches. People with disabilities are finding more societal support and understanding and less discrimination.
You can argue notable exceptions to this white man’s thoughts about discrimination. You’d have a fair point. You can argue that people who peddle discrimination will always have a good living. You’re right. You can argue that, even in this election, people suggest that it’s more tolerable to be Catholic than Mormon (though they don’t care for either one), that it’s more acceptable to be black than to be married three times (though they don’t care for either one), more acceptable to be conservative than liberal, more acceptable to be moderately wealthy than to be ridiculously wealthy (though they don’t care for either one).
Discrimination hasn’t changed, you might argue, but the list of things we’ll tolerate has. Perhaps you’re right.
My point is this: if there’s safety in numbers, opinions that elevate one group of people and subjugate another will only be culturally safe for a certain amount of time. Discrimination is a gamble. History suggests it’s a losing gamble.
Know when to walk away from your hate. Know when to run. Progressing takes blood, sweat, and tears. Not progressing is more difficult and, ultimately, less successful.
What if your principles guide your acceptance or lack of acceptance? What if you’re not concerned about societal whims, just about the difference between right and wrong? If you’re a Christian, this is both your principle statement and your principal statement: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Let the dissection of the words love and neighbor continue just as they have for millennia; the progress of the world will continue even with the etymological dissection.
“The arc of the moral universe is long,” Martin Luther King said, “but it bends toward justice.”
Let the bending continue.
-Josh Hunt is pastor of Ross Grove Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C.