Monday, March 5, 2012

Churches Keep Racism Alive

In an effort to be sure religion descends even further down the ladder of self-respect, a church in Kentucky first banned an interracial couple – who dastardly sang and played music in a Sunday service – and then, under immense public pressure, reversed itself two weeks later.

Retiring Pastor Melvin Thompson led the charge to ban Stella Harville, a lifelong member of the (ironically named) Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church in Pike County, and her black fiancĂ©, Ticha Chikuni.  The vote was 9-6 as many of the 40 members of the tiny red-brick church abstained.  The vote to reverse the decision was unanimous, according to new Pastor Stacy Stepp.

Some of this idiocy, of course, stems from the long-held Southern beliefs of racial superiority.  Racism has a long history in rural communities like this, where the only African-Americans were once slaves and, if any hung around after the Civil War, dirt-poor tenant farmers.  The poor white residents, needing to feel superior to someone, naturally stigmatized and demeaned their black counterparts.

The churches happily aided and abetted that effort.

Scene from South Pacific
In such settings, parents carefully teach their children – in lyricist Oscar Hammerstein III”s words from South Pacific –“to hate all the people their relatives hate.” (left)  That won’t end anytime soon, at least not in places like Pike County, which, according to census figures, is more than 98 percent white.

More importantly, this kind of bigotry once again emphasizes the importance of an unfettered education, one based on accumulated and supported knowledge and not on random beliefs.

If local schools taught about modern investigations into the human genome, members of this church would have learned that the idea of “race” has long since passed.  There’s no such thing.  Genetically, we are all the same, whether we have different colored skin, shapes of eyes or anything else.  We all have the identical genes; they are simply expressed differently.

People there could have learned that by studying evolution, something religion continues to fight, despite the immense amount of data that fully supports the concept.  People developed darker skin as protection against the sun.  That’s why Africans are darker. White people got their skin coloring because of the need for Vitamin D, which is generated by the sun.  It’s a simple formula: less sun = less melanin, and lighter skin tones; more sun + more melanin, and darker skin tones.

Some of the genetics also reflects mixtures of genes donated by other, now-extinct human species.  For example, Europeans have Neanderthal (right) genes, but Asians do not.  On the other hand, Asians show evidence of genes borrowed from an extinct human species that once lived there and interbred with Homo Sapiens.

Recently, yet another extinct branch of hominids was unearthed in a South African cave.

Moreover, members of this church also would have learned that mixing genes from various groups tends to generate offspring with superior qualities to the individual parents.

As a result of a little studying, the parishioners of the Freewill Baptist Church (left) would have realized    that, regardless of his appearance, Ticha Chikuni – a native of Zimbabwe – is no more or less a human than every Kentucky native who voted to prevent him from worshiping there. 

Moreover, even a cursory glance at the outside world would have shown parishioners in this tiny church that they are far behind the rest of this country – and most of the world – in recognizing that fact.  

I can recall an era when a black face never appeared in any commercial, when black performers could only appear in movies with black themes or were relegated to menial roles.  I can recall the furor when black neighbors, the Jeffersons (right), moved into racist Archie Bunker’s neighborhood on the All in The Family TV show, or a mixed-race couple was part of the cast on a spin-off comedy named for and featuring the Jeffersons.

Today, black and white performers appear in all types of television programming without condescension.  Today, a black coach can be hired or fired without some commentator mentioning skin color, a de rigueur not that long ago. 

Former Republican presidential aspirant Herman Cain didn’t run into a firestorm because he was black.  He was undermined by his attitude toward women and his apparent long-term romantic liaisons.  

We didn’t elect a black president because of his color.  We elected a person to be president, regardless of his color.  Society as always led the political process.

What happened in Kentucky is a reminder that racism – and its evil twin eugenics – still lingers.  As long as religion continues to push such ideas, it will bedevil society.  Only education can counter such barbaric, outdated notions.

Maybe that’s why churches are so opposed to education.  Parishioners might actually learn not to think they are superior to someone else.  That’s as true in the social arena as it is in religion.

Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. 

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