I have a friend who came to the United States from Germany as a young adult, shortly after World War II. I asked him, “Do you remember Hitler?”
“Of course,” he replied.
“And what did you think of him?”
“I thought he was a great man.”
My expression revealed my shock. He quickly added, “Not now! Not now! I don’t like any dictator! But what did I know then? I was a child. My parents said he was a great man. So did my school teachers. Everyone I knew said so. So I thought so, too.”
I could relate to that. I grew up in the South before the Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation. In my hometown, we had separate black and white drinking fountains at the bus station. Of course, there were separate schools. Blacks sat in the balcony at the movie.
What did I think about that? To my shame, nothing. It was the way things were and, I assumed, the way they should be. People explained to me that cardinals and blue jays didn’t mix or mate; each stayed with its own kind. You should never hurt or speak hurtfully to a black person, but segregation was the way we should live.
How could I have thought that? As my German friend said, “What did I know then? I was a child.”
When I was a child there were still old people alive who remembered the Civil War. High school football was played at night with the bleachers full of fans, and the band put on a wonderful show at halftime. Whenever they played “Dixie” everyone stood. It was a different time.
But once I went to seminary, studied the Bible more carefully and met wonderful black people, my views changed. I learned that Scriptures such as “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling …” could not apply today. The Bible also said “… in Christ there is neither … slave nor free …”
I am amazed that African-Americans were as patient as they were. Later, when people said they were pushing too fast, they didn’t stop to think that they were asking victims to put up with injustice indefinitely.
All of this comes to mind now as I think about what is happening in our society with regard to gay and lesbian people. Many people, including myself, were brought up to think it was a deviant and harmful lifestyle. In fact, it was sinful. There were proof texts in the Bible that seemed to support that view.
But once the Bible is studied in context and, even more importantly, when one meets homosexual people who are admirable and living good and constructive lives, one must rethink.
Someone said that people’s minds are never changed by arguments. There is always a counter-argument, and most of us don’t listen carefully to the other viewpoint; we’re too busy thinking of what we can say next to object to that statement.
This is not a call to gay and lesbian people to be patient, any more than we have a right to call on black people to be patient in the face of discrimination. It is a call to those of us who are accustomed to a certain way of thinking, and who have been trained in a certain way, to stop and think again.
If my friend and his people were wrong about Hitler, and if I was wrong about accepting segregation as normal and good, isn’t it possible that you or I might just be wrong again today? So let’s think again.