Friday, September 10, 2010

You've Got To Be Taught...

You've got to be taught To hate and fear, You've got to be taught From year to year, It's got to be drummed In your dear little ear You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught to be afraid Of people whose eyes are oddly made, And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade, You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught before it's too late, Before you are six or seven or eight, To hate all the people your relatives hate, You've got to be carefully taught!

In 1949 the great Rogers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific premiered with this song embedded into the middle of the 2nd act, sung by Lt. Joe Cable.  Nellie Forbush, an Arkansas Naval nurse, who has fallen in love with the French planter Emil DeBeque, discovers that her French lover has Polynesian children by his first Polynesian wife.  The mixed race of the children freaks out Nellie (there is no other way to describe it) and she breaks off the relationship.  When confronted by DeBeque as for an explanation she owns up to her prejudice, but cannot explain why she feels that way.  “It is the way I was born, I can’t describe it any other way,” she says.  Angrily DeBeque counters, “I do not believe that is born in you.”  “It’s not,” says the recovering Marine Lt. Cable, who has his own issues with a mixed race relationship, “It’s not born in you, it happens after you are born!”  Then he plunges into the song.
Not surprisingly the dramatic situation surrounding the song and the song itself were harshly criticized at the time.  Mixed race relationships and racism were considered too heavy for a musical.  According to Wikipedia: “Rodgers and Hammerstein risked the entire South Pacific venture in light of legislative challenges to its decency or supposed Communist agenda. While on a tour of the Southern United States, lawmakers in Georgia introduced a bill outlawing entertainment containing "an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow."  One legislator said that "a song justifying interracial marriage was implicitly a threat to the American way of life." Rodgers and Hammerstein defended their work strongly. James Michener, upon whose stories South Pacific was based, recalled, "The authors replied stubbornly that this number represented why they had wanted to do this play, and that even if it meant the failure of the production, it was going to stay in."
Isn’t it wonderful that we as a nation (and especially as Christians) have grown so much and that this kind of attitude is a part of a long ago past?!?  (Sigh) If only!  So we fast forward to September 11, 2010 – the anniversary of the horrible World Trade Center attacks and this week we the airways are filled with news of potential Qur’an burnings in Florida, anti-Muslim protests in New York, arson aimed at a Mosque construction site in Tennessee. It appears as though hate and fear and scape-goating are alive and well.  The clarion voices speak out: “Islam bombed the towers;” “we are at war with Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan;” “President Obama is a secret Muslim,” we hear spoken by various politicians and media personalities.  Well, none of it is true. But since we now seem to be inclined to make up our own facts and our own news and look only for the “facts” that support our narrow viewpoints, does it really matter?  Who cares about the facts; who cares that to paint all of Islam with the broad brush of terrorism is simply untrue and unjust; who cares that there were faithful and courageous and patriotic American Muslims who died in the 9/11 attacks and who continue to put their lives on the line for all of us by serving in our armed forces; who cares that the kind of rhetoric and hate which has been spewing about Muslims (and others too) is completely unfair and disrespectful, and wholly un-American (not to mention Unchristian)?  Who cares?  “Does anybody care?  Is anybody there?”  (That is a quote from another musical – and it is chosen pointedly – can you guess it?)
Christians care don’t they?  Or they should, right?  What I find particularly appalling is the deep involvement of “Christians” in all of this fear-mongering and hate talk.  “It is my duty as a Christian to stand up against the evils of Islam” I heard one Ground Zero site protester say when interviewed on NPR.  Curious.  And you do this by misrepresenting the plans to build an interfaith cultural center in lower Manhattan, burning the Holy Book of Islam and torching construction projects?  That is not what it means to be Christian to me.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says some things that I think are really pertinent to this discussion:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  (Matthew 5:38-26)

            So, how is this hate justifiable for Christians?  It is not!  Debra Dean Murphy in her insightful blog (see the blog "Intersections..." listed below) points out that Jesus called us to love – not tolerance – but love.  She writes: Jesus preached — embodied, actually, in a way that got him killed – love. Risky, radical, costly, inconvenient love. Messy, complicated, difficult, demanding love. Love of neighbor, of stranger, of enemy.
     Tolerance costs me nothing. Loving others — seeking their good, willing their prosperity and happiness, genuinely desiring their companionship — this is the hazardous business of community, of relationship-building, of making and sustaining friendships for the long haul. Tolerance is all too happy to avoid all this. Tolerance turns out to be a means for keeping us estranged from one another while we pride ourselves on our progressive politics or our general open-mindedness whatever our politics. 

Amen.  We are called to love!  So why is it – Christian brothers and sisters – that we are so inclined to react with hate when we are fearful or things don’t go our way?  Oh, and not just garden variety hate – arrogant hate; as if God shares our hate, and agrees with our politics and our priorities.  It seems to me that if we are going to presume to speak for God we need to demonstrate a whole lot more humility.
Terry Jones is just a flash in the pan – hopefully he will disappear from our TV screens soon.  But the deeper question for me is not really the irresponsibility and a lack of any pastoral sense from this pathetic man – the deeper issue for me is the issue of hate.  If we are to be true to our calling to follow Christ, to follow the Lord who loved us all so much he died on a cross for us, then there is no place for hate – period!  We all need to look inside ourselves, repent of our arrogance and judgmentalism and ask God for the strength and ability to be humble and to help us love – as Christ loved us, and gave Himself for us all!


  1. Wonder how to encourage the press to give ear to majority Christian views, instead of latching on to folks who momentarily catch their attention? My heavens, the power that the press bestowed upon Mr. Jones. It's frightening. National spokes persons for the Lutheran and Methodist denominations - speak up, please!! Bring some sense to this conversation - people across the ocean are demonstrating in response to his remarks. Good grief!!

  2. I think it is time for some of the voices who have contributed to step forward and condemn all of this anti-Muslim hate. It is time we hear from Glen Beck and Sarah Palin and some of the congressional republicans that this kind of hate is anti-American and goes against the core of what this great nation stands for.