(EDITOR'S NOTE: Faith Matters is a column written by the social concerns committee of the United Churches of Lycoming County. The monthly feature will include local faith-based comment on significant social issues facing us today. Letters reacting to the columns should be brief and clear and may be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in the columns are those of the writers and the social concerns committee, not necessarily the Sun-Gazette.)
God is the creator of color and the creator of differences. Yet, humans are uncomfortable with race and differences.
The primary ethic in the ancient world was, as Jesus noted, "to love your neighbor (people like you), and hate your enemy (people different from you)." (Matt 5: 43) Human beings create boundaries, the same ones Jesus worked so hard to take down. In an attempt to get along or not be discriminated against, people also pretend that real differences don't exist between individuals.
Immigrants entering this country in the 19th and early 20th centuries often would change their names, hide their ethnic background, and attempt to blend with others. It was called the great American "melting pot." It was a necessity for some to survive; for others, it submerged part of who they really were. The strategy may be possible if you were white, but color can't be hidden.
I grew up in an Italian Catholic community and later in life moved to an Irish Catholic district. Within the safe confines of these neighborhoods, ethic similarities were celebrated. There was a bond between people that connected them. Unfortunately, I could not share in it. My father's side of the family was 100 percent German; 25 percent of it was German on my mother's side with the rest mixed, mostly Scotch-Irish. That made me 62.5 percent German, not enough to qualify for membership in the local German soccer club. I always have felt as if I missed out on celebrating part of my heritage while others nearby shared a close bond in theirs. What I do not miss is hearing ethnic slurs being directed at them.
In the past 20 years, a different sort of "melting pot" approach has emerged to deal with race. It proposes an ideal called colorblindness. How did it emerge? In part it was because conservatives linked colorblindness with a commitment to individualism; society should be concerned with individuals, not groups, and racial identity should be a private matter. For liberals, the ideal of colorblindness is connected with the hope for racial equality. For others, colorblindness is accepted because they find it difficult to see racial differences being discussed in a positive, constructive way. However the story of color is spun, racial differences always will be with us. And I believe that racial differences can be appreciated, respected and talked about in a positive way.
I am the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Williamsport and we share a building with Love Unlimited, a predominately African-American Church. On occasion, we share worship services, dinners and participate in other joint events. People from both congregations take the time to get to know folks from the other congregation. There are differences in each other's cultures. We continue to learn from one another. We ask questions rather than presume to know. Our interaction is genuine and compassionate, not forced and superficial. We smile and enjoy seeing one another. What is colorblind about our interaction is that we are all God's creatures and we share a common identity and spirit in Christ. We take something positive away from our experience of each other because there is mutual respect. We listen, learn and love one another.
Thank God we are different. Thank God for color and differences.
- Manzinger is the pastor at First Baptist Church, 380 W. Fourth St.