Inclusion Leaves Room for “Old White Guys” Too

“Old white guy.” I said the words and I didn’t like the taste they left in my mouth…a bitterness I have no desire to cultivate. I didn’t say them as an honest and simple descriptor. I said them with a twinge of disgust as I was talking about Joe Biden entering the 2020 Democratic race. I said them with a rolling of the eyes. I said them despite the fact that just 3 years ago I was hoping against all hope that he would run for President.  I said, “old white guy” with the same ugly tone I hear from the talking heads day in and day out. Then, just a few days after uttering those acidic words, I went on a walk with my dad and we talked about the strength of women, the wisdom of women, the value of women. I went on a walk with an “old white guy,” and I was blessed. During our walk, I realized that I would never use those words, with that tone, in front of my dad, because he is my “old white guy,” and he is my rock, my friend, my father whom I respect and admire and love with all my being. I can’t fathom intentionally saying something that might make him feel less than or unworthy of my honor and respect. That night, I went to bed frustrated with myself for falling into the trap of binary thinking…us vs. them, either/or, in group vs. out group. I went to bed admitting that my heart hopes for life-giving conversation, but my tendency is to soak in the culture around me and thoughtlessly repeat the rhetoric I hear. I went to bed praying for the wisdom to speak up and out for those whose voices have been silenced and to do so without spreading hate or shame or fear.  

I do understand that when people say, “old white guy,” they aren’t actually referring to ALL older white men. In context, this phrase is usually being directed towards 1 person, 1 small group of people (i.e. congress), or 1 specific situation. I also understand that this is said to express the idea that the majority has been in charge long enough, and in order for much needed change to take place, others MUST be promoted to positions of decision-making power. I agree whole-heartedly with this notion. I desperately want to see women and people of color given equal opportunities to succeed and lead. I want to see them as the heroes in movies, the leads in shows, the CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, the headliners at conferences, the owners of booming business, the Presidents of universities, and on and on. I want to see an America that honors and respects minorities and embraces diversity. I want to see equality and equity for the marginalized. I want to see all people treated with reverence and regarded as equally worthy of life and liberty. I want to speak out and stand up for the rights of minorities while continuing to honor and respect the individuals within the majority who have earned that honor and respect. I don’t want to perpetuate the false dichotomy that insists we have to be hateful towards one group to love another, dishonoring to one group to honor another, tear one group down to lift up another, ostracize one group to include another. 

Let me be clear. When there is an “old white guy” who is racist, minsogynst, homophobic, power hungry, discriminatory, arrogant, intolerant, etc., I will hold him accountable in the same way I would any individual with toxic beliefs and behaviors that poison our culture. If there is a “boy’s club,” such as the hundreds of cops across the country who shared racist sentiments on social media, I do and always will strongly advocate for real and felt consequences for their bigotry and corruption. Beyond holding individuals responsible for their overt prejudice, I also see the crucial need for the privileged to understand implicit bias and to do the internal work required to break free from this damaging unconscious attitude towards others. I believe it is immensely important for white men to step up and be an ally, an advocate, a champion for women and people of color. I want to see them admit their privilege and then use that privilege for good. I want them to acknowledge their position(s) of power and then seek equality and equity for the under-privileged. I want them to thicken their skin and consider not taking every comment about white men personally. I want them to make a noble effort to hold a deeply intimate perspective of what it means to be a white man versus a woman or person of color in this country. I believe the majority has a responsibility to LISTEN to the outnumbered and the oppressed and to deeply consider the effects of historical trauma and systemic racism in our society. I believe the majority has a moral responsibility to sit with the discomfort of deeply understanding the roots of white supremacy and how white people, as a collective group, have benefitted from structural racism. I believe white men have a responsibility to bring diverse participants to the table, to build bridges of multiculturalism, to open their minds and hearts to the inherent struggles that touch the lives of minorities before they’re even born. I believe these efforts should be a daily exercise. I do not feel sorry for white men. I do believe that some white men are part of the problem, however, I do not believe that speaking about them as a collective whole in a disparaging way will lead us to the loving and lasting change many of us seek. 

I am holding onto hope that we can stand for diversity and equality without tearing others down. I’m hopeful that we can carve out those who divide us while holding close to those who unite us regardless of their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, age, and so on. I believe I can tell my dad, (my “old white guy”) that his wisdom is priceless and that I have much to learn from him while also demanding more diversity, equality, and equity in our government, our companies, our universities, our churches, our media…our country! 

The Changes I Plan on Making:

  1. Instead of using the term “old white men” as if they’re disposable and should be ignored or discarded, I will say: “I want more diversity…others deserve and need to be at the table…I want to hear from someone who represents women and people of color…I desire a fresh perspective around this issue…I would like to see change, and I believe that said change would be best lead by (enter name of woman or person of color here).” I’ve decided that I do not have to say, “old white guy” or “old white men” in a tone of disgust to make the point that I would like to see very different faces and hear from very different people. 
  2. I will honor the gifts of individuals in any and all groups. I’m thankful for the wisdom my dad has to share due to his years of life experience and education. I’m also thankful for the varying perspectives and knowledge that individual women and people of color bring to the conversation. I will continue to advocate for equal and respectful treatment of minorities while avoiding disparaging the majority as a whole.  
  3. I will object to certain individuals and their behavior without objecting to the entire group of people that those individuals demographically belong to.
  4. I will encourage white men and women to do the work of understanding implicit bias, white privilege, systemic racism, and white supremacy without attaching a shaming message, and I will continue to do this work myself.
  5. I will avoid divisive language and over-generalizations to pursue conversations that are unifying, kind, loving, candid, and inviting. As I seek change, I want my words to welcome others to the table. I want my words to summon others to join me in my pursuit for social justice and I want Love to be the leader. 

I aspire to find a firm foundation in standing up for the marginalized while protecting my heart from the destructiveness of hate. I yearn to speak up and out for what’s right while being careful not to treat an entire demographic as if they are wholly responsible for every individual or small group of bad actors. I don’t want to overgeneralize in a way that labels the many older white men in my life as obstacles to a better America because they were born white and lived too long. I don’t want them feeling belittled or devalued because we’ve decided there’s no longer room for them at the table. I want to lift minorities up while maintaining respectful language for those who deserve respect. Our words carry weight. Our words matter. I pray the small changes I’m dedicated to making will bring light to my small circle of influence, and that eventually it will be easier for me to resist the temptation of using language that produces hurt rather than healing. I pray for life-giving dialogue around hard issues and grace when I get it wrong. 

If you have other ideas on how we can have hard conversations without shame and blame, or maybe there’s something you’ve said that’s kept you up at night, and you’ve decided to change your approach, I would love to hear from you!

“$h*!-hole!” The Day I Cussed at My Parents

The President said some bad words this week. I said some bad words once…

I was 11. I walked through our front door after school and there was no mistaking that something was about to go down. Both of my parents were sitting on the couch staring at me. They invited me to sit with them and I knew this was not a friendly offer, but rather the beginning of the end. I had no way of predicting that what was about to occur would change the way I spoke forever.

My parents explained that someone (who I will refer to as a tattle-tale) had shared with them the “choice” words I had learned and begun using at school. They claimed to know every obscene word I had spoken and their disappointment was palpable. Then, befell the most humiliating punishment I have ever received. They required that I say out loud every swear word I had ever uttered.

I thought I would throw up.

I had never heard anyone in my home swear. My dad was a pastor of a small home church with strict rules around taking the Lord’s name in vain and my mom is quite literally the most wholesome woman you’ve ever met. I think it’s possible that the only time my mother has used foul language is when she didn’t know it was foul language.  

I cried and cried.

They waited.

After what felt like an eternity I started with things like, “A-hole” and “the S-word.” My dad responded by asking me if I had only used the abbreviated versions or if I had said the whole word? He reminded me that the expectation was to say to them exactly what I had said outside our home. No cheating. They were not about to make this easy on me.

I don’t know how much time passed while I sobbed and choked on the ugly words I had so flippantly used on the 6th grade playground, but I know that in those moments I realized that the people I respected and admired most in my life deserved better than a daughter who resorted to 4-letter words just to fit in at school. I realized that to be true to myself I needed to speak in a way that represented my heart and who I was regardless of my surroundings. I realized there was a reason I could barely cough up these words in front of my parents…because this language was unlovely and they were the most loving people I knew….because this language was base and I held them in high regard…because this language was dishonorable and I wanted nothing more than to honor my parents…because this language brought no beauty, no peace, no joy and I wanted all of those things for my family, my friends, and myself.  

To this day I don’t know how, but I made it through the embarrassing list. My parents forgave me and then, my dad added a lesson that sticks with me today. He said, “If the only way you can describe something is by using profanity, then others might come to conclude that your vocabulary and intelligence are limited.” Such a big dose of truth for a pre-adolescent!

The lesson I learned that day changed the way I spoke.  An expletive didn’t escape my lips for years! At 11 years old I stopped using this language because it didn’t line up with my heart or my parent’s rules. Naturally, as I grew older I also began to see the importance of context and tone. It didn’t take long for me to realize that how I used my words was more important than the words themselves. The truth is that every now and then I break my parent’s rules (sorry mom and dad). In fact I burned my finger on a casserole dish this morning and was relieved that the kids were at school when the physical pain expressed itself through my mouth as an unfiltered exclamation point. However, that sour word I used to describe the pyrex dish is not a word I would use in a context that requires sensitivity and love. Because of that lesson 27 years ago, I strive to hold a standard of language that represents who I am, who I want to be, and what lives in my heart. I strive to use words that emphasize love and beauty. I strive to honor those around me and the Lord I serve. I strive to consider how my words affect those around me. I strive to use words that bring life and build relationship, give respect and bring value, lift up and include. And of course I strive to make my parents proud.    

If an 11 year-old was capable of learning this, certainly the President of the United States could as well?

A Lesson from my Letter to Mormons

Words Matter

After posting my blog, A Letter to Mormons, I received a comment from a woman who spoke to an issue I think many of us have struggled with on both sides of the fence. I want to bring attention to this quote because I have spent weeks sifting through its meaning and how it made me feel.

The woman wrote, “I live in Utah, where my husband and I have moved to dedicate our lives to sharing truth with Mormons and helping them out of their religious cult, which is exactly what it is.”

When I read this comment, my heart sank, blood rushed to my head, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I physically bristled. I immediately began imagining how hurtful this statement could be to the Mormons following the comments on my blog. The whole purpose of my letter was to connect with my Mormon neighbors and this divisive comment broke my heart. I will admit that I struggled with anger as I felt the need to defend all the open-hearted, courageous, loving Mormons who had poured their hearts out in their responses to me and trusted me enough to share their stories. After I processed my initial disappointment, I paused. I paused and considered all the times I had heard this term used in my circle of influence while growing up. It was not until this moment that I realized how damaging this 4-letter word could be. I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never thought about the implications of this language until now. I had always assumed that Mormons knew what non-Mormons meant when they used the term “cult” and that any hurt feelings were due to a misunderstanding. Please forgive me for my short-sightedness. As I was reflecting I began to put myself in the shoes of my Mormon neighbors (and new friends, Praise God) and it brought me back to the many moments of name-calling, shaming, and embarrassment I’ve endured throughout my life when I didn’t fit someone’s mold. I began to realize how painful this must be to hear and how nasty it must sound even when the person using the word doesn’t have malicious intent.

First, I want to share (for better or worse) how this term was used in my world. I grew up in a non-denominational Christian household and I was taught that a cult was any faction of Christianity that adds to or changes the Holy Bible, or any religious group that dismisses or alters the main tenets of the Christian faith with unorthodox beliefs. If this is the theological definition and it’s taken at face value, then it explains why Mormonism (with its addition of The Book of Mormon) would be referred to as a cult by non-Mormons who practice the Christian faith and believe the Bible is the Word of God. So, I grew up believing that the term “cult” was a religious technicality that described why and how our faiths and belief systems are different, and although an important difference from my faith perspective, I had not considered all the inherent damage that could be caused from casually throwing this word around.

After some soul searching the last couple of months I’ve come to realize that even when non-Mormons believe this definition, refer to this definition, and use this definition to substantiate their desire to share their faith with Mormons, the issue is how this word makes people feel…what it does to a person’s heart. In our present day and age, the word “cult” goes beyond the theological definition and carries a much heavier and sinister connotation since the tragedies of the Jonestown massacre in 1978, the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, TX in 1993, the 1997 California Heaven’s Gate group suicide, and many others.

Words matter. Words can cut us to the bone and labels can destroy any chance of connection we may have with another person. Even if you are referring to the genuine theological definition please stop and consider how this word might make people feel. Consider what is heard when you use this label. When I hear the word “cult”, I picture darkness, fear, coercion, abduction, suicide, murder, death, loss, powerlessness, brain-washing, evil. If we are truly seeking to share the love of Jesus Christ with our Mormon neighbors, are these the words we want them hearing us use to describe them? Are these the words that open another’s heart to our faith story? Are these the words that build bridges and fuse connections? Are these the words that open the doors to vulnerability and whole-heartedness? Are these the words that ignite receptiveness and intrigue? Do these words break down walls and allow for authentic, loving, respectful dialogue?

If someone approaches me with a label that feels like name-calling, my defenses go up, my walls get higher, my heart closes shop and there is no longer room for relationship. I am not going to hear how you love me and care for me and want to share your heart with me after you’ve insinuated that I am dark, scary, and evil. Labeling is not helpful. Relationship is helpful. Breaking bread and fellowship are helpful. Lifting others up is helpful. Loving one another, sharing each other’s story, giving context to why we believe what we believe is helpful. Pointing fingers, calling names, using words that make others feel like they have to defend who they are and what they believe is not helpful…even when you have the best of intentions.

Regardless of technical definitions, the words we use to speak to one another or about one another often carry emotional meaning, which in turn causes emotional reactions. Regardless of why you choose to use a certain term, considering how your language affects a person’s heart is more important than driving home the point you are trying to make. The words you choose matter.

With all of this being said, I also had comments from readers that have experienced what they called a “kidnapping” of a loved one by the Mormon Church. I have not experienced this with the LDS community, but I want to share my story. There are churches of all faiths and denominations that have unfit representatives who use their church to abuse power and perpetuate sin. My great aunt was preyed upon by a “pastor” of an evangelical church in rural Oklahoma. She wasn’t able to have children, so he used the hole in her heart, the vulnerability, the pain to convince her to adopt him. He has parents, a wife and kids, a church and yet he is also an adopted son of my great aunt. She uses her life savings to pay for his expensive trips, his gorgeous house, and his kid’s college tuition. As soon as she began to show signs of forgetfulness, he moved her into a nursing home and wouldn’t let her leave. My family isn’t allowed to visit her because he is now her guardian and has requested that none of us be allowed into the nursing facility to see her. It has been a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, rage-inducing, grief-stricken process to watch and live. So, please let me say that if you’ve experienced something similar I can understand, truly understand, why you would look at the religion affiliated with that person or those people who tore your family apart and feel nothing but disgust, fear, and anger towards them. The challenges for me and for anyone who has experienced something comparable to this is to (1) refrain from judging the whole lot according to the actions of a few and (2) seek the heart of Jesus who is the only one with the grace to love and forgive all people under all circumstances.

If we do witness this sort of behavior in our faith communities, we must speak up. If there are people attending a church, any church, who begin to shun their family because they practice a different faith or if there are people being “ex-communicated” for their sin, their lack of faith, their decisions, their lifestyle, their humanness, then we are called by Jesus to call this out. Jesus was not exclusionary. Jesus did not say “love those who are like you” or “love those who live up to your moral standards” or “love those who attend the same church” or “love those who never show their sin.” Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31.

In summary, if we’re going to love like Jesus and proclaim a faith in a God who is Love then we must love our neighbors as ourselves. We must be cautious and caring with our words, bold in our response to injustice, forgiving of those who have hurt us, and inclusive of all of God’s image bearers! When we share our faith and our truth and our beliefs, may we do so with words of love void of judgement, words of connection void of shame, words that build bridges instead of walls and words that embrace the hearts of others in the warmth of agape love. May we always speak our truth with kindness. Words matter!