Religion Begets Prejudice

Far from my religion tempering my prejudices, racial prejudice was actually instilled in me by my evangelical Christian church. I … Continued

Far from my religion tempering my prejudices, racial prejudice was actually instilled in me by my evangelical Christian church. I grew up in North Carolina in what we call the Bible Belt. My church taught me that segregation was the will of God and quoted the Bible to prove it. It taught me that men were by nature superior to woman and quoted the Bible to prove it. It taught me that it was o.k. to hate other religions, and especially the Jews, and quoted the Bible to prove it. It taught me that homosexual persons were either mentally sick or morally depraved and, of course, quoted the Bible to prove it. So the idea that being religious might make one less prejudiced is a fantasy. It appears to make people more prejudiced, or at the least, not to confront their prejudices.

Recall that it was the most overtly religious Bible reading, church-going part of our nation that practiced slavery until compelled to give it up by defeat on a battle field. It was then that same region, my home, which practiced segregation with all of its terrors and resisted in every way possible, including fire hoses and police dogs, the march for civil rights and the laws passed by the Congress to insure equality for blacks. After Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 it was not possible to be elected to office in the Bible Belt, if one did not campaign against the Supreme Court. This was when code words like “activist judges,” or “making laws instead of interpreting the Constitution” and the cliché “strict constructionist judges” became the battle cry of the conservative politicians. That is nothing but racism perfumed with pious rhetoric. They did not want the Supreme Court to support for equality for all, they wanted a referendum (in which blacks were not able to participate except in small numbers) to vote on who was to be treated equally and who was not. They did not and in many current political manifestations today, do not understand the difference between a constitutional democracy and a mobocracy.

Today it is from this same part of America, the most overtly religious part, that most of the hostility toward equality in the pursuit of justice for gay and lesbian people comes. The question that should be asked is: What is there about religion in general and Christianity in particular that continues to fuel the prejudices of our day?

John Shelby Spong
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  • Elaygee

    All religions are based on “we are right therefore you are wrong” principles, not a basis for good relations between diverse peoples.At the same time, religion in America is big business, all about how much money can a pastor shear from his flock without actually waking them up from their intellectual comas.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, ,John Shelby, you seem to come from a background steeped in hatred.

  • hammerhead

    You would think if there was any factual basis to Mr Spong’s proclimations of what was done to him be “it” he could name just one detail?

  • Paganplace

    And, just to amplify a bit:”Today it is from this same part of America, the most overtly religious part, that most of the hostility toward equality in the pursuit of justice for gay and lesbian people comes. The question that should be asked is: What is there about religion in general and Christianity in particular that continues to fuel the prejudices of our day?”With Christianity in particular, everyone’s soul is supposed to hang on an authority that there’s ‘one right way’ for *everyone,* ‘men’ do this, women do that, now and forever, absolutely. It’s notable the utter incomprehension of possibilities in this regard, when Christians can’t see the difference between, say, *gay people* getting married and ‘Everyone marrying donkeys.’ To them, their trained thinking says, ‘Everyone treads this ostensibly straight and narrow path or everyone is thrown into utter chaos and ‘sin.’ What gets lost is too often any notion… any comprehension of the possibility that maybe LBGT people are doing what *we’re* ‘supposed’ to do, just as straight people are doing what *they’re* ‘supposed’ to do. They think it’s incomprehensible that the world isn’t an *artifice,* but still think that that ‘artificer,’ smart enough to design a universe down to the merest quark or erg of energy, couldn’t possibly have ‘designed’ an interactive *system* of diverse human behavior and natures. For them, perhaps, it’s not about the wonder and complexity, but rather the notion of a *unitary and absolute humanlike *authority.* Maybe the ‘sanctity’ straight people feel they are ‘losing’ is that *very idea* that ‘Everyone Must Do Thus,’ and that *that* makes their kind of person more ‘holy’ than others. Maybe what they’re *really* so angry and fearful about is facing the fact that they’ve *already* ‘redefined marriage.’ If straight people can go to Vegas and get married by an Elvis impersonator while drunk and enjoy 2400 legal rights and protections, even if a quickie divorce is in the offing, they feel they must ‘draw the line’ somewhere. Even if that’s comparing committed same-sex couples who’ve been together for decades to pedophiles and perverts. It’s about the idea of ‘unitary authority,’ …the Elvis wedding, however trivialized, more or less obeys that idea of unitary authority… whereas those people still need someone to ‘look down upon.’

  • BGone

    Let’s do some figures. 30% are bigots. 10% are evangelicals, so they say. 15% each of the 30% are Republicans and Democrats. The polls have the upcoming election a dead heat. Obama is ahead 24% in California that has been conceded by the GOP in recent elections. California is 12% of the population. Grab your slide rule and see if you can call the upcoming election.Oh yeah. 10% of voters won’t even know the names of the candidates before they enter the voting booth. When they look at the ballot with Obama and McCain as choices which one will they pick?California is biggest commuter state and therefore suffers the most from the high price of gasoline. San Francisco has the highest gasoline prices in the nation, home district of speaker of the house Miss Nancy P who refuses to let drilling come up for a vote. We may not question the 24% Obama lead in California polls but we can question the wisdom of voting against drilling here and now.

  • Paganplace

    “We may not question the 24% Obama lead in California polls but we can question the wisdom of voting against drilling here and now.”Drilling now in protected places is estimated that it *might* shave four *cents* off whatever the price of gas is in ten years. Meanwhile, the oil industry is *still* bringing in record profits. You bet I question the wisdom.Wisdom would have been listening to those of us who’ve noted that cheap gas wouldn’t last forever, and that insisting on keeping our infrastructure dependent on wasting fuel was wasteful and a bad security and econoic risk.

  • Bennett

    Wouldn’t it have been more accurate if you had replaced most of the “it”s in your first paragraph with “they”? After all it means nothing to say you were taught by a religion unless you mean by the written tenet of that religion. You were taught by people. Of course it was wrong for them to use their religion in this way. They used the same scriptures that teach us about free grace from God and love for our fellow humans to justify their hate, murder, rape, theft, immorality, and pride. Of course that is wrong. That in no way infers that “religion begats prejudice.”To believe so would suggest that the absence of religion would lend itself to the absence of prejudice. This has clearly not been the case throughout the world, throughout history. If you think so, explain the atrocities that have happened in officially atheist countries. By your reasoning these should be lands of contentment devoid of any class or race struggles.Also to pin it on one certain religion (Evangelical Chrisitan) would be a mistake. Ask the Untouchables of Hinduism. Ask the Sudanese Christians. What about the entire history of Europe and the world before Evangelicalism?I’m not very sure about your assertion that the South was the “most overtly religious Bible reading, church-going part of our nation…” My impression is that religion in the North did really start to decline until after the civil war. After the Civil War the South was punished by those in power and did not keep up with the rest of the country. A lack of education and economic troubles may be a much better indicator of racism than religion.Finally, if you believe racism to be immoral, how can you justify your open “regionalism” or “religionism” against the place and faith in which you were raised?I grew up in the South as an Evangelical. I do not hate whites or blacks. I do not justify hatred with scripture. I’m deeply sorry that the people in your church affected you in the way you report, but I do not think that you, in return, should foster prejudice against their region or their faith. I recommend seeking understanding.

  • Paganplace

    Well, ain’t that just typical:’If you don’t tolerate our intolerance, you’re intolerant of our intolerance, traitor!’e.g:”Finally, if you believe racism to be immoral, how can you justify your open “regionalism” or “religionism” against the place and faith in which you were raised?”How in the ten thousand names of the Holy do you expect your religion to be worth listening to if you treat any minister who says, ‘Stop being so damn racist and homophobic’ as an ‘outsider’ and ‘traitor?’Maybe you’d best work that out among yourselves before purporting to have ‘moral authority’ to hurt others.

  • Paganplace

    Oh, and typo alert: it’s ‘begets,’ by the way. Nice or not, I’m still in utter wonderment how people purport to rule us all by some ‘divinely inspired words’ and have such terrible command of the language.

  • Anonymous

    Pagan Place,”Begat” is an archaic form of beget. Look at the King James version of the Bible (Matthew chapter 1 verses 2-16)

  • andrew

    Talking about the Bible reminds me of Mark Twain who wrote;”The Bible is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it, and some clever fables; and some blood drenched history, and some good morals, and a wealth of obscenity, and upwards of a thousand lies,”Mark Twain. in “Letters From The Earth.”

  • The Moderate

    Dear Elaygee:”All religions are based on “we are right therefore you are wrong” principles, not a basis for good relations between diverse peoples.”I am not sure that you are even close to right on that. Last Sunday we prayed as follows. The Prayers of the People Form VI”In peace, we pray to your, Lord God.For all people in their daily life and work;For this community, the nation, and the world;For the just and proper use of your creation;For all who are in danger, sorrow, or any kind of trouble;For the peace and unity of the Church of God;For [N. our Presiding Bishop, and N. (N.) our Bishop(s); and for] all bishops and other ministers; For all who serve God in his Church.For the special needs and concerns of this congregation.Hear us, Lord; For your mercy is great.”I just can’t find what you say anywhere in it or in the church I attend. Is what you say actually based on your religion, or is it just something you suppose to be true?

  • Paganplace

    ” Elaygee:”All religions are based on “we are right therefore you are wrong” principles, not a basis for good relations between diverse peoples.”Careful when you say ‘all,’ there. Some religions catch a lot of flak, (and in one case quite recently, some buckshot,) in part for *not* making exclusivist claims to truth. Good relations between diverse peoples come of seeing that diversity as a *good* thing, and treating each other honorably, not thinking it’s a weakness to either overcome/ignore or ‘combat’ with some notion of rivalry. I think, in answer to the columnist’s question, what it is about ‘religion’ today which fuels prejudice is that when you have a whole worldview in which there’s one authority, one ‘goodness,’ one set of rules that’s supposed to be imposed on everyone, …one authoritarian God, even, with everyone competing for ‘divine favor:’ for some to be ‘righteous,’ ….someone’s got to be the ‘damned’ ones, maybe. This doesn’t have to be.

  • Paganplace

    “”Begat” is an archaic form of beget. Look at the King James version of the Bible (Matthew chapter 1 verses 2-16)”Yeees, it’s also the past tense. The present progressive is ‘Begets,’ not ‘begats’ 🙂

  • Paganplace

    Again, call it a pet peeve. But so many people who claim they have the right to dictate my life based on the ‘literal word of God’ quote the KJV, and can’t even read the Mother-loving Elizabethan English.

  • Paganplace

    I mean, does that seem right to you? Not to single out Bishop Spong, who seems to be standing against that very sort of illiterate dogmatism, but, really. This man is not stupid. What makes people think they have some right to try and make others adhere to words they themselves don’t understand?

  • Andy

    Many people think that this sort of thing is a perversion of the Bible’s teachings. However, the Bible is so internally contradictory that people have to make subjective, arbitrary judgements about which parts of the Bible are true and which parts aren’t. If someone thinks the Bible is literally true (which is impossible without employing the Orwellian concept of doublethink since it’s impossible to simultaneously believe two mutually exclusive assertions) then it makes perfect sense to hate jews and gays and non-Christians. If the Bible were literally true, then the Westboro Baptist Church would be completely correct. This is why everyone who takes the Bible literally must be encouraged to stop doing so immediately, because without the arbitrary picking and choosing used to filter the Bible by moderate Christians, it is a very dangerous text indeed..

  • Angela

    Racism and or prejudice comes in all forms and some of these posts are racist and/or prejudiced. All conservative evangelicals are not all racists or predjudice. Stop generalizing. Do you love a murderer, a thief, a liar, a blashemer. Cozy comfortable Christianity….

  • Grieved

    Racism is one thing but Tolerant, Intolerance is another: by a well-known, bible believing pastor who teaches the full counsel of God; Post-modernism’s veneration of tolerance is its most obvious feature. But the version of “tolerance” peddled by post-modernists is actually a twisted and dangerous corruption of true virtue. Incidentally, tolerance is never mentioned in the Bible as a virtue, except in the sense of patience, forbearance, and longsuffering (cf. Ephesians 4:2.) In fact, the contemporary notion of tolerance is a pathetically feeble concept compared to the love Scripture commands Christians to show even to their enemies. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you” (Luke 6:27-28; cf. vv. 29-36). When our grandparents spoke of tolerance as a virtue, they had something like that in mind. The word used to mean respecting people and treating them kindly even when we believe they are wrong. But the post-modern notion of tolerance means we must never regard anyone else’s opinions as “wrong.” Biblical tolerance is for people; post-modern tolerance is for ideas. Accepting every belief as equally valid is hardly a real virtue, but it is about the kind of only “virtue” post-modernism knows anything about. Traditional virtues (including humility, self control, and chastity) are openly scorned — and even regarded as transgressions — in the world of post-modernism. Predictably, the beatification of post-modern tolerance has had a disastrous effect on real virtue in our society. In this age of tolerance, what was once forbidden is now encouraged. What was once universally deemed immoral is now celebrated. Marital infidelity and divorce have been normalized. Profanity is commonplace. Abortion, homosexuality, and moral perversions of all kinds are championed by large advocacy groups and enthusiastically promoted by the popular media. The post-modern notion of “tolerance” is systematically turning genuine virtue on its head. Just about the only remaining taboo is the naive and politically incorrect notion that another person’s “alternative lifestyle,” religion, or different perspective is wrong. One major exception to that rule stands out starkly: it is OK for post-modernists to be intolerant of those who claim they know the truth — particularly biblical Christians. In fact, those who fancy themselves the leading advocates of tolerance today are often the most outspoken opponents of evangelical Christianity. Look on the Web, for example, and see what is being said by the self styled champions of “religious tolerance.” What you’ll find is a great deal of intolerance for Bible based Christianity. In fact, some of the most bitterly anti-Christian material on the World Wide Web can be found at sites supposedly promoting religious tolerance. Why is that? Why does authentic biblical Christianity find such ferocious opposition from people who think they are paragons of tolerance? It is because the truth-claims of Scripture — and particularly Jesus’ claim to be the only way to God — are diametrically opposed to the fundamental presuppositions of the post-modern mind. The Christian message represents a death blow to the post-modernist worldview. But as long as Christians are being duped or intimidated into softening the bold claims of Christ and widening the narrow road, the church will make no headway against post-modernism. We need to recover the distinctiveness of the gospel. We need to regain our confidence in the power of God’s truth. And we need to proclaim boldly that Christ is the only true hope for the people of this world. That may not be what people want to hear in this pseudo-tolerant age of post-modernism. But it is true nonetheless. And precisely because it is true and the gospel of Christ is the only hope for a lost world, it is all the more urgent that we rise above all the voices of confusion in the world and say so.

  • Daniel in the Lion’s Den

    GrievedYou have taken something good and well-established and over-analyzed it and over-thought it. Much of what you have said is just plain wrong.”Tolerance” and “toleration” as political doctrine arose as a result of the wars of religion in Europe, in which many factions believed that their religious speculations represented the truth, and sought to impose this truth by political and military means.The modern concept of tolerance does not mean that you think all beliefs are equally valid and equally true. If you have a belief that you believe is true, then no one would expect you, in the name of tolerance, to believe also that something opposite is also true.Tolerance is another way of saying “live and let live.” If you acknowledge that people of other beliefs should be able to sustain those beliefs in political and religious freedom, then you would be allowed, in the same way to sustain your own beliefs in freedom.It is a pretty simple concept. The problem in the world today is not that there is too much tolerance, but that there is not enough. Society seems to be back-sliding to an earlier time, when people were less tolerant. There are many, many relgions which claim to be true. They are all different, and they cannot all be true. Merely to assert the validiy of yours over the others does not solve this dilemma, since they all make the same cacaphonous assertions.Tolerance and toleration means that each is allowed his own way. This is a fairly sophisotcated way to think. Merely to claim that you are right, right, right, in the face of others making the same claim is childish, isn’t it? And from this attitude comes much of the dissension of the world, and many of the wars.

  • BeowulfthePolitician

    There is no Biblical basis for racism. The Old Testament commanded the Jews against intermarrying mainly to keep them from worshipping other gods (ironically, they did both anyway), however they were permitted to allow “aliens” into their nation provided the alien conformed to their laws and culture. [Ex. 23:9 “Do not oppress an alien, you yourselves know how it feels to be an alien…)In the New Testament, Paul teaches that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.” (Gal.3:28) Spong, as an Episcopalian, I’m surprised you still cling to this belief of Biblically-sanctioned racism. (Oh well, from one extreme to the other, right?)Concurrently, your view of homosexuality is at complete odds with abundantly clear teachings of both Old And New Testament. Since you obviously love it when the Bible is quoted to you, I thought I too, would indulge you:OT: [Lev 18:22] If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.NT: [Romans 1:21-22,24,26,27-28] “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools,Therefore, God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them…and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error…And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper…”NT: [Ephesians 5:3]: “But amount you there must not even be a Hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity…”The issue is addressed so emphatically on both sides that it leaves no room for doubt or debate. The irony of the Episcopalians ordaining priests who actively live this lifestyle, is a testimony to how far your organization has strayed. (See Revelation. 2:12-16 for a good description of Episcopaliansm.) Why encumber yourselves further with that annoyingly-miopic book called the Bible? Perhaps it should be removed completely from your organization, as obviously it is too archaic and backwards to accommodate the current Episcopalian march towards Post-God Secularism. You’d make a much better Unitarian, but then, you wouldn’t sell as many books would you?

  • Yuri Rodriguez

    I’m so sorry John Shelby Spong that you encountered a bigoted, hateful, man-made religion that didn’t represent Jesus Christ. Please recognize that this is not Christianity.Anyone can go and find things to justify hate-filled, destructive attitudes and disguise it as something else. Authentic believers can spot a counterfeit anywhere.Besides, you’re playing chess and only attacking the rogue pawns. You’re “leaders” in the Bible belt are mere pawns in the fight of good and evil. Let’s put our spiritual weapons to fight against the real enemy.No true followers of Jesus I know are bigots or hateful. They are filled with the Spirit of God, who is Love Himself. People need to read the Bible sir, and come to follow the God who loves us and calls us to love others.

  • Daniel in the Lion’s Den

    I agree ONE HUNDERED PERCENT with what Mr. Spong has said. I grew up in the Jiim Crowe South, which was ruled and culturally dominated by the Southern Baptists. Even to this day, I cannot stand the sight of those people, although I try very hard to be polite and hold my tongue in their precense.All white people in the South were not Baptists. I was a raised up in a relgious family in the Methodist Church, which did not support the Jim Crowe status quo, and which welomed the coming of the new Civil Rights movement. But then of course, we were always treated badly by the “stuck-up” Baptists, and we were known by them as “Ni’er Lovers.” Of course being white, we had confidence in our beliefs and in our rights to challenge and offend those obnoxious Baptists.Bennett said:”I grew up in the South as an Evangelical. I do not hate whites or blacks. I do not justify hatred with scripture.”If you were raised in the South as an Evangelical, then I am indeed, very suspicious of your truthfulness. Perhaps you have merely learned what is the PC thing to say, but may still have not reformed your heart.I am, and will forever be, suspicious of Consercative Christians from the South. Perhaps that is my predjudice; so be it; I think it is well founded, and well-justified.

  • Aaron Blumer

    Spong is cherry picking his historical facts. I remind readers that it was devout Christian William Wilberforce who lead opposition to the slave trade in England. He did so with expressly Christian religious motives. Eventually his thinking lead the British empire to rid much of the world of the slave trade at great expense to them as a people.

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