Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Most Segregated Hour?

I’ve heard it over and over again…that the hour between 11.00 Sunday morning and 12.00 noon is the most segregated hour in America. Why? Because it’s when we all go to our separate, racially-divided, churches.

Except that I don’t buy it.


Because sometimes something that clearly looks like one thing on the surface is actually something else.

Imagine walking into a college dining hall and seeing three tables: one has nine black students and one white; one has eight white students, one black, and one Asian; and the other has eight Asians and two Hispanics. It would be easy to assume that for the most part, these tables are intentionally divided up by race or ethnicity.

Until you did a little digging…and found that the 10 students at the first table are all from Buffalo, the 10 at the second table are all in the choir; and the 10 at the third table all live on the same floor of the same dorm. People do like to hang out with people who they have some sort of connection with, whether or not it’s one that’s obvious to others.

Now let’s take another look at that “most segregated hour.”

I’ll grant you that some denominations were created from rifts over racial issues. Many denominations split in the run-up to the Civil War over the issue of slavery. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 as the result of a dispute within the greater Baptist church over whether or not slave owners could serve as missionaries. The Presbyterians split in 1861 over the issue of slavery, but for the most part rejoined in 1983. The African Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal Zion churches were created when African-Americans left certain Methodist congregations in the 1800s to form their own, as a result of discrimination against them.

But they don’t tell the whole story. Some denominations exist because of the traditions that different ethnic groups brought with them when they came to this country. Despite their goal to see themselves as a more inclusive and representative denomination, my own Evangelical Lutheran Churchin America (often referred to as the ELCA) is still a largely ethnic church, having large numbers of people of German and Scandinavian descent; those people having brought the Lutheran tradition with them from their home countries. And as Scandinavians and Germans are to the Lutheran Church, Italians, Irish, and Hispanics are to Roman Catholicism.

I grew up in the Episcopal Church, in a congregation with a growing number of African-American members; and I had a fair number of friends who were African-American and Roman Catholic.

Of course there are theological differences; while both being Christians, the largely white Roman Catholic Church and the largely black AME Church have slightly different slants on Christianity, and that’s a very important thing to consider. In addition there are just plain stylistic differences. Many people wouldn’t know a theological difference if it bit them on the nose, but change the music, and you’ve got issues. I’ve often said that given a choice between a black church that did Bach and a white church that did Gospel, many African-Americans would choose the white church…not even thinking about the theology.

And what is Gospel music anyway? To a black audience it means one thing, and to a white audience it means something else. So when a large enough number of African-Americans join a certain congregation that the musical style starts to change, are the white people who leave doing so because they’re racist or simply because the style has changed? And if it’s the latter, haven’t a lot of us done that, no matter who we are or what church we’re in?

So…is the hour from 11.00 Sunday morning until noon the most segregated one or the most diverse one? I say it depends on how you define diversity. If you look at the cereal aisle in the supermarket, the question is “are we looking at the aisle or at the box?” If we’re looking at what’s inside of individual boxes, then a box of Corn Flakes is all Corn Flakes, a box of Wheaties is all Wheaties and a box of Cheerios is all Cheerios. Seems pretty segregated to me. But if you look at the aisle, and all the choices you have, from Corn Flakes to Wheaties, to Trix, to Apple Jacks, to Cinnamon Harvest, and who knows what all else; that’s a pretty diverse selection. And it’s a selection that gives everyone something to choose from.

Calling it the most segregated hour implies that people have no choice as to where they worship, and are forced to worship along ethnic lines. But the fact that I grew up in the Episcopal Church and am now a Lutheran, the fact that I knew black kids who were Catholics, and the fact that I know Italians who belong to traditionally black churches, prove that that’s not the case.

Sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper than what you see on the surface, and find out more about the kids at those tables in the dining hall.

And what kind of cereal they eat.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Primary Elections, General Elections, and Heart and Head Votes

As we officially enter the 2016 Presidential election season (and it can’t be over soon enough for many of us), there are a few things that need to be addressed.

Someone once said…and it might even have been me…I can’t remember, that what we really need are two elections: a heart election and a head election. Either that or the ballot should have spots for your heart choice and your head choice. This way people could still vote for their heart choice without feeling that they wasted a vote on someone who wouldn’t win anyway. Perhaps if people were able to make a heart choice without feeling that they’d wasted a vote, more people would vote for their heart choice, and the heart choice would actually have a chance of winning (or maybe that person still wouldn’t have a chance). Because, you see, in the heart/head system, whoever won between heart and head would be the overall winner.

And then I realized that we already have heart and head elections, but don’t realize it. They’re called the primary and general elections.

Let me explain.

The primary elections are all about voting with your heart. They’re all about voting for your ideals. Which candidate in the crowded field of your party best fits your beliefs? It doesn’t matter whether or not that person has a snowball’s chance of winning; you vote for them in the hope that they’ll win your party’s nomination for the big one in November.

Let me say this again: A vote cast for your ideal candidate in the primaries is not a vote wasted…not even if your candidate gets trounced. And that’s because all that was at stake was who got to run in the big one.

The national general election in November, on the other hand, is most definitely about voting with your head. You are given two, and only two viable choices. And the key word here is viable. There are only two people who have any chance of winning. Third parties have never won an election, write-in candidates have never won an election. The best (or worst) they can do is siphon off votes from the viable candidate that you actually would’ve have preferred to win in a close election.

Case in point, Ralph Nader in 2000. Had the people who voted with their hearts for Nader then, voted for Gore, Bush II wouldn’t have been president.

And this is the mistake that many people make when it comes to the general election. They still think that it’s about voting with their heart. They still think it’s about voting for what they believe in. They still think it’s about making a “principled stand.”

Let me break it down for you. In a theoretical election there are three candidates. Candidates A and B each have a 47% chance of winning, while Candidate C has only a 6% chance. On the other hand, you agree with 95% of what Candidate C stands for, you only agree with 60% of what Candidate B stands for, and you totally disagree with a whopping 95% of what Candidate A stands for.

What do you do?

Believe it or not, there are people who still believe that they should vote for Candidate C, because Candidate C most perfectly represents what they believe in.

Even though they would absolutely hate to see Candidate A win.

They can’t let go of their ideals enough to realize that throwing their votes to Candidate B would give them most of what they wanted. And so, instead Candidate A wins by a hair, and the “Six Percent Club” starts immediately complaining about the election results and the “broken system”, instead of admitting that by being pigheadedly idealistic, they handed the election over to Candidate A.

So let me repeat this, because I have friends who voted for Nader in 2000: You get to vote with your heart in the primaries, but when it comes to the general election, you only have two viable choices. Don’t waste you vote and end up giving the advantage to the candidate you absolutely hate, because you couldn’t bring yourself to vote for the one who wasn’t perfect. Don’t waste your vote and give the advantage to the candidate you hate by writing in the name of your “perfect” candidate who can’t win. Look at your two viable choices, and vote for the one that you’d prefer.

Because if you write in the name of, or otherwise vote for, a candidate who absolutely cannot win, and the person you totally despise wins…

You have no one to blame but yourself.