Posted by Trina Bartlett
Even though I like to consider myself an open-minded and fairly accepting individual, I haven’t always behaved in a manner that demonstrates this. In fact, there are times when I’ve acted foolishly and treated people horribly.
One of my worst infractions occurred when I was a teenager in a place that was supposed to promote love and acceptance: church.
At the time, our church was predominantly middle class. Parishioners were well-groomed, nicely dressed and carefully coiffed when they arrived on Sunday morning. Most were neighbors or co-workers who socialized with the same general crowd and who shoveled their dirty laundry into the closet to either hide it or pretend it didn’t exist.
Their equilibrium was disrupted one Sunday when a family from a nearby trailer park came to church and then began attending services on a regular basis. The parents and children were certainly wearing their Sunday finest, but they were anything but well-groomed and carefully coiffed. I remember the other adults at church were a bit patronizing but outwardly nice. The kids weren’t. We did our best to exclude the children, and we made fun of them behind their backs.
Eventually, the family stopped coming to church, and until recently, I had forgotten about them.
But I was reminded of them again a couple of weeks ago when a young woman who works at a local restaurant told me about her Sunday regulars. Her customers’ routine is to go out to eat after Sunday service, but the dish they enjoy most isn’t on the menu. Instead, they loudly and openly share what everyone else did wrong during the church service. They complain about children who misbehaved, and they make fun of the appearance of some of the adults. Apparently, they are too busy judging others to hear the sermon.
What I can’t fathom is why, as older adults, they feel the need to act this way.
As an adolescent, I know my behavior was contrary to the way I was raised. But, I was insecure and believed that I wouldn’t be at the bottom of the social ladder if someone else were there instead. As an adult, I realize how inconsequential, meaningless and ridiculous that social construct is. I also realize that there are a lot of adults who still buy into it. They falsely believe some people are superior to others and that asserting their superiority will ensure their place on their senseless social ladder.
For the most part, their behavior isn’t nearly as blatant as the hypocritical, church-going restaurant patrons, but it is still based on their need to affirm their status. Take, for example, a local non-profit leader who complained about business people being asked to attend community meetings at the local Department of Health and Human Resources office. This individual, who also lays claim to being a good Christian, said that community and business leaders shouldn’t have to be in the waiting room with the people asking for help/welfare.
Not to be presumptuous, but I’m pretty sure Jesus would point out that the people in the waiting room are the same people the community leaders see every day at school functions, churches and grocery stores and that the people on the presumed top of the social ladder are no closer to God than the people on the bottom. That’s assuming he would even acknowledge such a foolish concept to begin with.