Thirty-three years ago, I was attending the police academy in Albuquerque, N.M., preparing to become a police officer in that city. I was one of about 30 young men and women who were completing our last month of training before we would be commissioned.
During that last month, the city of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Albuquerque incorporated a lot of discussion and dialogue with the leaders of civic groups like the NAACP, the American Indian Movement, and La Raza.
I was part of the professionalization of law enforcement that was taking place through programs put in place by then-President Richard Nixon to reduce tensions between civil rights groups and police departments after the riots and civil disturbances that followed the civil rights era and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Those tensions were still very much alive when I became a police officer. Less than a year before I entered the police academy, the city of Albuquerque had experienced a race riot in which police cars were overturned, businesses were burnt to the ground and the police station was surrounded by an angry rock-throwing mob.
There were very good reasons for the city of Albuquerque to be encouraging dialogue between police officers and the city’s civil rights leaders.
Not surprisingly, some veteran police officers were assigned to attend the various sessions in which we were to dialogue with civil rights leaders. It did not take long to learn why some of the department’s veterans needed sensitivity training.
The first session involved a leader from the African-American community who advised police recruits that it was not wise to address black males by calling them, “boy.” He said such language is derogatory, demeaning and disrespectful when addressed to African-American males, because it harkens back to the way masters addressed slaves on the plantations in the South.
That suggestion was followed by an extended two-hour argument by two police veterans, who insisted they saw no harm in calling black males who were younger than them “boys” and argued that they had a civil right to continue to address them in the way that they had always addressed them.
A month later, when I graduated from the police academy, I was assigned to serve in the squad of one of those veterans. I worked with him for the next two years. During that time, I learned that he faithfully attended the Baptist church in his neighborhood and that he had taught a young men’s Sunday school class.
He was a better police officer than his argument with civil rights leaders at the police academy that day would indicate. But, I could never understand why he refused to practice the Golden Rule with people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. He simply had a moral blind spot when it came to being sensitive to people of a different race.
I mention this because it has become obvious to me that many Christians in this country are displaying a moral blind spot when it comes to being sensitive to people of a different faith.
Today it is no longer socially acceptable to be prejudice against Jews and African-Americans, but it is fine to spew out hatred of secular humanists, homosexuals, liberals, Muslims and people of other faiths.
A lot of Christians are displaying the same bigoted, prejudice and insensitive attitude toward people of other religions that they used to express toward people of different races.
Worse than that is the campaign that many of these Christians are now waging to bully businesses, public schools and politicians into displaying the same insensitivity toward people of other faiths that they insist on exhibiting themselves.
This morning, any business or public school or politician with the sensitivity to try to include people of other faiths in their greetings this holiday season is being declared a “foe” of Christianity.
Anyone who says “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings” instead of Merry Christmas can no longer be considered a “friend” of Christ, according to Jerry Falwell and fundamentalist Christians.
Target stores are being boycotted and the city of Boston has been ridiculed for lighting a “holiday tree.”
All of the arguments that Falwell uses for his “Friend or Foe” Christmas campaign remind me of the arguments that those old police veterans used for continuing to call African-American males “boys.”
Those veterans said “political correctness” was depriving them of freedom of speech. They said the government was persecuting “white people” for their religious beliefs about the need for the segregation of the races. And they argued that their culture and their way of life was being “discriminated against.”
It is time for thinking Christians to start discerning the spirits on issues like this. The spirit at work amongst Falwell and fundamentalist Christians is a spirit of dominance, belligerence and superiority.
Most moderate, mainstream Christians are repelled by this spirit when it manifests itself in the church. Why some would find it attractive when it manifests itself in the life of our society is beyond my comprehension.
The spirit of fundamentalism has nothing to do with the Spirit of Jesus. This Spirit of Christ is one that serves others, promotes peace, and elevates the lowly to a position of love and friendship.
Bruce Prescott is executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists. These comments are from his opening monologue on Sunday’s “Religious Talk” radio program.