Monday, March 13, 2006

Religion and Social Status

I wanted to rant about an experience I recently had, but try as I might, I cannot do it justice because I am bound by the necessity of maintaining confidences. I can only speak to it in the most general terms.

As much as we value diversity, the average person in our society rarely operates outside of his/her established social circle except in situations for which society has well defined interfaces. I might, for example, briefly interact with a maid at a hotel or a server at a restaurant, but I do not deal with the realities of those people’s lives.

Most of us live in neighborhoods surrounded by others that are similar to us in social standing. Occasionally we purposefully step outside of our comfort zone to benevolently help someone that we perceive to be of a lower social order. But I find that we often feel very uncomfortable when circumstances force us to deal with such a person on a close basis.

A couple of weeks ago I was a parent volunteer on a field trip for my son’s Kindergarten class. We put the kids through a lot of physical activities. One little girl told me she was so tuckered out that she wanted to go home and lie down, but said that she couldn’t because nobody was home—because her dad had gone to get her mom out of jail. I felt like somebody had punched me in the gut. No little kid should have to deal with that kind of baggage. I wondered what I should do, if anything.

I recently found myself in a gathering with people that purport to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Pretty much everyone present shared a similar social status. I was shocked at the attitudes this group displayed with regard to some people of a lower social status that have some serious problems. I was dismayed by some of my own thoughts on the matter.

There was a very libertarian air that these people deserved to lie in the beds they had made for themselves. We could piously pass by them on the road to Jericho. One person present, almost embarrassed to do so, made a quiet neutral-sounding one-sentence comment that caused everyone present to quickly reassess his/her feelings on the matter.

I should make it clear that this occurred in a volunteer group. I am generally opposed to government social programs that exacerbate the problems they are designed to solve, that create worse problems than the ones being addressed, or that absolve individuals of responsibility. But this was a group of Christians that have the ability to actually make a difference in the lives of others.

I feel like each of us that was there that day needs to really ponder the Savior’s teaching in Matthew 25:31-46.


Anonymous said...

I left the Church 5 years ago because of this very real bigotry that goes on all the time. I am a fifth generation Mormon. I have relatives whose names appear on the granite monument at Immigration canyon park, or whatever it's called for this decade. Who cares. I felt like such a hypocrite, I couldn't stand it. I hated what I was, that I was actually involved with people who sit so high on their own personal mountains. Rather than try to use my energy to continuously fight this battle at church every week, I simply left, deciding to be the best Christian person I could be, without the weekly/daily baggage that comes with the Church's corporate/social structure. I am a peaceful, content person, and I am a better Christian person now than I have ever been in my life. Oddly, without the need to "make the numbers" and get out there to do the hometeaching, etc., I now simply and genuinely care for my neighbors and friends, and check in with them all often, to just find out how they are doing.

Because I am not "in the club", I am shut out of most the goings-on, because, as you note, people don't go even one foot outside their own comfort zone, and if I had the guts to actually leave (I was the first counselor in the bishopric at the time I bolted - I spent several years in that position, with three different bishops, and more years as a high-councilor as well...), well, I must be BAD, and therefore not in need of anyone's input into my life, certainly not worthy of any regard whatsoever. Incidentally, there were several others who came to me after the fact and told me they wished they had the guts I showed in standing up for my own welfare and taking matters of my life into my own hands. "More of us should care engouh to be able to do that". I heard that from the most unlikely people - people I thought were the typically mindless drones the church is so good at pumping out (see the State Legislature for all the examples of that you need.)Everybody should have enough guts to make their own calls.

Anonymous said...

"Everybody should have enough guts to make their own calls."

Frankly, the Church should have more people who DO have the courage and energy to stand up and really act like Christians WITHIN the Church community, but alas, I was not that person. My personal well-being was more important to me, and still is. No regrets.