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Dec 5 2011

How is a Racist Kentucky Church like a Conservative Synagogue?

By at 1:45 pm

Stella Harville / AP via TIME. The Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church, voted to ban interracial couples after this couple sang a song there.

This past week, a pastor from a Baptist church in Pike County, Kentucky instituted a ban against interracial couples from either joining his congregation or taking part in select church activities.

And I’m okay with that.

(I know, easy for me to say. I live a few hundred miles away in New York City, and, at this time, have no interest in ever joining a Baptist church, either with my African-American husband, or without him.)

Like Evelyn Beatrice Hall (and not Voltaire; although it’s a common misattribution) wrote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” I heartily and wholly disapprove of the sentiment – but I insist that the pastor had the right to express it.

A church is a private organization, and a private organization can pick and choose its membership based on any criteria they desire. It is then up to the current members to decide if this is an organization with which they can, should, and will continue to identify. (They can also, presumably, vote to change those aspects with which they do not agree – if the association is structured in such a manner, and current news reports suggest that may soon be the case in Pike County, either from the general membership or from higher-up in the church’s hierarchy.)

Obviously, my husband and I would not – even if we could – remain members of a church which did not allow White/Black (or any other combination) of couples.

On the other hand – before anybody gets to feeling too superior – we are currently members of a Conservative Jewish congregation which allows us to pay the family membership rate – but does not consider my non-Jewish husband a member, and does not extend him voting rights.

When we got married 13 years ago, there were rabbis who refused to perform the wedding ceremony. And when we had our first son (and our second), there were mohels who similarly would not do the bris.

And I was – still am – okay with that.

Those clergy held a certain set of beliefs which we, with our marriage, were defying. What right do we have to ask someone to alter their beliefs to fit ours, even if we – and others; maybe even the majority – believe ours are “right” and theirs “wrong?”

Granted, the logical response becomes: A person may convert to Judaism, but they cannot change races – that’s why this isn’t the same thing. One is optional, the other isn’t.

But, why should it be?

My husband did not want to convert. He was willing for us to have a Jewish home, for our sons to be ritually circumcised, for our children to attend Hebrew school, and for all of us to go to Saturday morning services. But, he did not want to convert.

That was his belief. Mine was that I wanted to marry this man, and raise a family with him, anyway.

A public school has no right to turn my child away because her father is a non-Jewish African-American. A private Jewish school can (and has).

Groucho Marx may not have wanted to belong to any club that would have him as a member (also, funnily enough, as a result of a country club refusing membership to his family; Groucho’s response, “My daughter is half-Jewish, can she go in the pool up to her waist?”). But, my husband and I aren’t that clever – or that sensitive.

The synagogue we belong to meets our current needs, and so we are willing to overlook his lack of status – mainly because it doesn’t affect us on a day to day level. We are all equally welcome at services, at holiday functions, and especially at donation time.

Should matters ever change and our interracial family finds itself persona non-grata like in Pike County, we may make a token gesture towards having the edict rescinded. But, I suspect, we would probably just leave and find another spiritual home. Why stay where you’re not wanted, among hostile people who think differently from you, when there are plenty of likeminded places elsewhere?

Though not, presumably, at one particular church in Kentucky.


Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on Kveller are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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