Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Rambling Thoughts on Religion and Civil Rights

Several years ago the Reverend Matt Tittle ran a blog, Keep the Faith, which was domiciled on the Houston Chronicle. Pastor Tittle moved from the Houston area and the blog was passed on to the minister (the Reverend Beth Ellen Cooper) of the Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands, but it was never quite the same for me. While I have been missing reading his points of view about life and religion, I recently learned that he has retired and is living in Austin, Texas. You can learn more about the Reverend Matt Tittle here -- 
I know that we raised our three children outside the confines of organized religion and that it was difficult for them growing up in the Bible Belt to be the "only" kids who were not devoted Christian-church goers. I apologize for that; and I want you to know that I am not trying to preach Unitarian-Universalism to you, just introducing you to a person who wrote with conviction on a subject which has been a touchy one for me throughout the years.
I think what was missing for them as they were growing up, and I know what is missing for me now, is that sense of "belonging" and community that comes from being a part of "religion." When I was a child, my family and I attended St. John's Lutheran Church every week; we sat in the same pew, we followed the liturgy and knew all the responses by heart. My brother, sister, and I were all baptized and confirmed by the same minister who had married our parents and instructed my father as he converted from Catholicism to Lutheranism (another story for another day). Even though I questioned the teachings of my church and Christianity from the time I was old enough to ask questions, I always knew I had a  "home" at St. John's. 

The summer that I turned 15 (1962), my mom, dad, and I moved from Sidney, Ohio to Macon, Georgia. The South was still deeply segregated; even Christ's faithful white believers did not worship with "coloreds." I knew no black families ever sat in the pews of Holy Redeemer Lutheran Church during the time we were members there; and it was there that my faith in organized religion was broken. During Sunday School one morning, the son of my Sunday School teacher announced that "no nigger had ever better try to integrate his church." I asked myself, "What would Jesus do if a family of blacks chose to worship in the Lutheran church?" I thought that at St. John's Lutheran Church in Sidney, Ohio that family would be welcomed, perhaps not with open arms, but welcomed; and although I knew the Deep South was deeply prejudiced, I was still naive enough to believe that no Lutheran Church would ever block a person of any color from worship. I told the boy, "That's not a very Christian attitude;" and he responded to me, "Well, you're nothing but a god-damned nigger lover." His father, the Sunday School teacher, let that statement pass as if it was the word of God. I told my mother about the incident, and she told the pastor. Basically he told us to live with it; this was the Deep South and he wasn't willing to rock that boat of social and religious injustice. My mother left that church, and I left THE church. 

Over the intervening years, I have lost and regained my faith, not in Christianity (I do not consider myself a Christian), but in a god who listens to my prayers and answers them in his/her own way, a personal sense of spirituality if you will. Yet I have not found my "religion," that feeling of community, and I sometimes miss the sense of peace and acceptance that comes with religion. Reverend Tittle helped fill that perceived void, almost but not quite.

I believe that we may have failed our children by not showing them that our disassociation with organized religion was not a rejection of faith.  We all need that sense of community and commitment to some belief or another. I hope that they find it, and me too.

Reverend Tittle usually closed his entries with this benediction. I found it inspirational, I hope you do also:

For those who seek God, may God go with you.
For those who embrace life, may life return your affection.
For those who seek a right path, may a way be found, and the courage to take it.
Step by step. 

(Robert Mabry Doss).

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