Change that scares the dickens out of me

Growing up in the segregated South of the 1950s, I lived in an insulated world where everyone in my circle of influence was white, working class, and, as far as I knew, heterosexual. A “good” black man stayed on his side of town. A “good” white woman bought the best detergent for her family. Girls who got pregnant suddenly disappeared. Aspirin was the drug of choice.

Change we can believe in? How about change that scares the dickens out of me? For I’m part of the Silent generation, Americans between the ages of 66 and 83 who need a map to navigate this new world. OK, not a map: a GPS. My identity can be stolen, my whereabouts tracked, my private conversations monitored. And there’s all that technology I don’t know how to manage: the DVR, features on my cell phone, having to plan my own itinerary on the internet.

But equally disconcerting for me and my generation is the change in values. Teens and young adults engage in sexting and get hooked on drugs. Children are murdered at school. Sex and violence permeate TV programming. It’s little surprise that my generation, which has witnessed such enormous change, tends to hold conservative positions on social issues and is either angry or frustrated with government (http://www.people-press.org/2011/11/03/the-generation-gap-and-the-2012-election-3/).  We fear for the future of our families, our country, and our world.

What do frightened people do? They place blame. It’s the government, It’s the schools. It’s the parents. It’s Obama’s fault. Behind the blame is a yearning for simple solutions. If we just allowed prayer in the schools. If young women would just say no to premarital sex. If poor people would just go out and find a job. If the government would just quit interfering.

But to stay stuck in simple solutions perpetuates stereotypes of—yes, I’ll say the words—old people as complainers. It also makes us irrelevant.

An alternative is to live in the NOW. That is, we can seek opportunities to be with people who represent our changing society: those who are younger, of a different race, ethnic group, or sexual orientation. Not to preach or speak fondly of the past, but to listen and withhold judgment. Standing with them rather than against them might just make a heap of difference.

 

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God and the right to marry

People of faith have a history of denying certain groups of people the right to marry.

Mildred and Richard Loving

Mildred and Richard Loving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not all that long ago, in 1958, Virginia authorities arrested Mildred and Richard Loving and banished them from the state. Their crime: she was black; he was white. “Almighty God,” the judge said, “created races white, black, yellow, malay, and red, and he placed them on separate continents….The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

The first law preventing marriage between races was established in 1664 by the Maryland colony, which was concerned about the number of white servant women marrying slave men. Would their offspring be slave or free? Over time forty states banned some form of interracial marriage. Lower courts upheld these antimiscegenation decrees on grounds that making laws about marriage is a prerogative of the state; natural law dictates that the races not intermarry; non-whites are physically and mentally inferior; and marriage between people of different races threatens the order and peace of the community.

Not until 1967, in Loving v. Virginia, did the Supreme Court strike down (unanimously) these statutes. “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” the court opinion stated.

Today few Americans oppose interracial marriage on the basis of God’s disapproval. Did we decide that God is more tolerant than we thought? Or did we misunderstand God’s intent?

Now the target is gays and lesbians. Scriptures against homosexuality are not as clear as many claim. I’ll let theologians argue that point and hope they cite other scriptures, such as ones saying we are to stone rebellious sons to death (Deut. 21:18-21).

For those of us who are straight, our lives daily intersect with gay women and men. They are our sons, our daughters, our colleagues, our neighbors, our friends. We know them to be active citizens, hard workers, conscientious parents, devout Christians. Many in long-term loving relationships want not just the legitimacy of their relationship to be recognized by the state but also the same legal protections heterosexuals take for granted. These include property rights, inheritance, insurance coverage, parenting rights, and life and death decisions.

It is time to grant our fellow citizens full legal rights. Including the right to marry.

 

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman. Currently she is seeking a publisher for Before it was Legal: a black-white marriage, 1945-1986.