Thursday, March 1, 2018

Opinion or Bias?

Our nation and our churches are divided right now... including The Episcopal Church. We are all asked to “reach across the divide” and try and engage with those who hold differing positions than we do. We are being asked to engage in graceful dialogue with those with whom we have significant disagreements. We are all asked to try and understand the positions of those on the “other side” of the positions we hold.

I don’t have any problem with engaging with those who hold different positions than I do. I don’t have any problem reaching across a divide. I don’t have any problem with engaging in respectful dialogue for the sake of our faith, for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are all called to that as followers of Jesus.

I am growing increasingly disturbed at being asked to reach across a divide when the difference is identified as an opinion. Opinions relate to whether we prefer Rite I or Rite II. Opinions relate to such points as hymns or readings or Psalms. Opinions relate to concepts where we are simply choosing between options. We like A over B. Our opinion supports X over Y.

What seems to be overlooked is that some issues are not opinions. My sexual orientation as a gay man is not a matter of opinion. It is a fact of who I am as a child of God. A person’s race is not a matter of opinion. It is a fact of an individual’s heredity and genetic make up and earliest origins. A person’s gender or gender identity is not a matter of opinion. Gender and gender identity are either a fact of birth, namely cis-gender or a fact of realization, namely transgender. I cannot and will not engage in an “across the divide” discussion with someone who claims a different opinion about my sexual orientation. Nor can I envision someone doing the same with regard to their race, gender or gender identity.

We are not engaging in differences of opinion when it comes to issues of race, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Facts of existence are not opinions, regardless of who claims otherwise.

I will not engage with someone who is racist, sexist, gender or homophobic. They are not operating on opinions but on prejudices and biases. And hence, we have such a terrible divide in our society and to some degree in our church. Bias cannot be masked, hidden or excused under the guise of differences of opinion. Until we understand that truth, we cannot hold meaningful, redemptive, productive, and holy conversations.

Our current political climate is mired in non-productive and harmful discourses (not discussions) about biases being trotted out as opinions. We will remain at a stalemate, a harmful and potentially deadly stalemate as long as we cling to these fantasies.

As Episcopalians, we should also keep in mind that our canon laws forbid discrimination based on gender, gender expression/identity, race, sexual orientation, etc. Those are not opinions. Those are our canon laws. Continuing to debate as if they were opinions is both hypocritical and demeaning to both sides of the discussion. Let’s use a very simple example: If you have white skin or identify as Caucasian, is that an opinion or a fact? If you are honest you know it is not an opinion but a fact. So why would we treat someone who is Asian or Black or Latino/a as if that aspect of their identity was an opinion? Some will certainly attempt to cast sexual orientation and gender identity/expression as an opinion in their discussions. I see such as the last grasping at straws to support individual and/or corporate discrimination. Perhaps a good question to such folks is: “Is your sexual orientation as heterosexual your opinion or is it a fact of your existence?”

Who we are as children of God is not opinion. What we believe as children of God can be an opinion. Yet what about our baptismal covenant vows? We regularly renew our vows to respect the dignity of every human being, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. Are those vows offering an opinion or expressing our commitment to the concepts? Do we really believe or do we simply give lip service? Or do we just plain lie?

Opinion or bias? We have work to do before we can have a meaningful conversation.

On a different but related note, I offer a recent item below from “Perspectives Journal” about how our society treats guns. We, as a group, have been among the victims of gun violence, the shootings in Orlando are permanently etched in our psyches. Dick’s Sporting Goods just took a very bold position in ending their sales of assault weapons. Ironically, gun violence and gun control are one area where we can engage in discussions involving opinions.

As we continue our journey through the wilderness of Lent, may we reflect on these issues that have such an impact on our lives and seek grace-filled ways to discuss and address them.

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA ... The Episcopal Rainbow

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