No man is an island, entire of itself.
Every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
Any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.
—John Donne, Anglican priest and poet
“Dear people of God, be merciful as the Father in heaven is merciful. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. These are probably the most frequently quoted of Jesus’ words,” said the Most Rev. Edward K. Braxton at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His mediation title was “Do Unto Others as You Would Have Others Do Unto You.” His text was Luke 6:27-36. This was his fourth mediation based on his pastoral letter, The Racial Divide in the United States.
“What does this [do unto others] mean?” Braxton asked. “It is more than ‘be nice to others and others will be nice to you.’ At its deepest, it means we have to walk in each other’s shoes and share our hearts and mind and spirits and get to know their hearts and minds and spirits.”
Many people today are careful not to use crude, insulting terms for women, people of color, people of different religious beliefs or sexual orientations.
“This is not just being polite or politically correct,” Braxton said. “Those terms are offensive and hurtful at a deep level, and it is an act of mercy not to use them, to be merciful as your Father is merciful.”
Language, he said, can reinforce the racial divide. The bishop called into question the use of the words “minority groups,” “minority communities” and ”the minorities.”
These words, he said, “are a reflection on the validity of the community. To talk about ‘minority’ Americans and ‘minority’ Christians is radically incorrect and its worsens relationships.”
The use of the word “minority” came into vogue in the 1960s as people sought to redress the systemic and systematic prejudice against people of color, Hispanics and Asians, Braxton said.
“Few fair-minded people would argue against [the proposition] that some people have long been denied access to education and economic advancement,” he said.
But, according to the bishop, the term “minority” is used selectively and inconsistently, and it perpetuates negative stereotypes.
“It is not applied to all Americans who are statistically a small part of the United States,” he said. “People from Luxembourg, Sweden and Belgium are not statistically a large part of the population, but they are never referred to as minorities. Why not?”
Minority is a code word, he said, with negative connotations meaning poor, unemployed, uneducated and dangerous.
Who is the “majority?” Braxton asked.
“There are no ethnic Americans like there are ethnic Japanese in Japan,” he said. “There is no single group of true Americans. Those who came over on the Mayflower are not more truly American than those who came over on slave ships or the Native Americans who were not granted citizenship in the ‘New World’ until 1924. If we are citizens, we are Americans; every group is a minority.”
Braxton said this is not a truth accepted by all. When Europeans who came from Ireland or Italy first arrived, they were considered undesirable, as were Jews. Why are they not a minority today?
The answer, he said, is not because any one of these groups now constitutes the statistical majority of the population of the United States.
“As Matthew Frye Jacobson’s Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race notes, the process of gathering together those Americans whose ancestors were from various European countries with very little in common and making them the ‘majority’ group and relegating everyone else as ‘minorities’ is, historically, a rather recent and arbitrary development,” Braxton said.
It began with the great migration of people of color during the Depression away from the Jim Crow laws of the South to the urban North, the bishop continued. Migrants began to compete for jobs and houses, which quickly made them the common enemy of European immigrants who had little in common with each other and who even brought their “old world” animosities with them.
“Even when people of African or Hispanic descent are the majority in a city they are called a minority,” Braxton said. “In 2050, most Americans will not be from European background. The minorities will be the majority — an unusual use of words, don’t you think? We would do well to pause and wonder why we designate people by what they are not and not by what they are.”
He noted that, at Chautauqua, there are at least 20 religious groups that collaborate for a common purpose.
“Protestants are happy when they are not referred to as non-Catholics,” Braxton said. “They prefer Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Disciples, Baptist. No one ever calls Catholics ‘non-Presbyterians.’ People prefer to be called what they are.”
To step across the racial divide, he said, society needs to acknowledge that all Americans come from different backgrounds and no group constitutes a majority.
“We have a common humanity,” Braxton said. “We are made of the same dust and have the same destiny and the hope of eternal life. A step in the right direction would be for churches to challenge the use of the word minority — not just to be politically correct, but because words have power and meaning.
“There is no majority or minority because we are all just Americans,” Braxton continued. “If we can see this, we will contribute to reconciliation and harmony. It would be beneficial if we really did do unto others as we would have others do unto us.”
He asked the congregation, “Is it likely that we will? It is likely that you will change? Is it likely that I will change. Remember the slave song ‘God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more warning, the fire next time.’ Praise be to Jesus Christ.”
Deacon Ed McCarthy presided. Ashley Walters, a scholarship student with the International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons and a student at the University of Mobile, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, led the Chautauqua Choir in “Ubi Caritas” arranged by Dan Locklair. For the prelude, Debbie Grohman, clarinet, and Willie La Favor, piano, played “Amazing Grace” from Five Old American Songs arranged by James Sclater. The Randell-Hall Memorial Chaplaincy provides support for this week’s services.