Kanika Magee is the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs and the Special Assistant for Interfaith Programming at Howard University, a leading HBCU in Washington D.C., and a 2020 Interfaith America Racial Equity Fellow.
Red. Blue. White. Democrat. Republican. Independent. Socialist. South. North. West. East. Protester. Rioter. Freedom Fighter. American. Voter. What are we really trying to say?
Interfaith. Multifaith. Faith Diversity. Faith Neutral. Faith Nonconforming. What are we really trying to say?
Today we want everyone to accept the freedom of faith choice yet in accepting this freedom we are overtly diminishing those we call extremists: those who are deeply invested in and tied to a specific belief system that doesn’t allow room for the beliefs of others to be different from their own. Today we want to proclaim unity and forge ahead as a United States, when around half of us voted on opposites sides of the polls: 71.5 million of us voted for one and 76 million for another. This is my struggle. I want to believe that I am open to and accepting of diversity of belief and expression at its fullness – yet in our expression and opening of inclusive space, we have closed a door and ensured there is little to no room left for them.
In a religious context, “them” is the extremists, the Crusaders, those who espouse holy wars, they who justify slavery and genocide in the name of a higher power, the ones who interfere with our ability to worship in peace and safety. In race, “them” is the skinheads, the KKK, perhaps the Proud Boys…or for those who don’t believe as I do, the #BLM protesters. For gender, “them” refuses to acknowledge gender pronouns, or (heterosexual) male privilege, or learn what LGBTQ+ or LGBTQIA stands for. In politics, “them” is conservatives or liberals, Democrats or Republicans. Am I really comfortable with a diversity that creates and protects the same space for those who promote fear, bigotry, and hatred as for those who espouse equality, justice, and humanity? Do I really want “them” to live in the same neighborhood, ride the same bus or carpool, attend the same school, and work in the same place as me, my friends and those I love most? Do I really want to be assigned to a project or team, to be invited to a game or happy hour with “them”? Would I really be okay if my child brought one of “them” home for dinner? While my refined response may differ, my most guttural and true response is no.
Truth be told, I’m okay with this – but I also have to reconcile within myself the hypocrisy of this. Because our beliefs are often so divided, I must clarify, I am not suggesting acceptance or protection of the freedom to murder, threaten, or physically harm someone in the name of a belief system or ideology. I am tempted in this moment to take the easy retort that “they” would have rejected me – my presence in their neighborhood, on their bus, in their school, etc. – anyway. I am also reminded of the warning that “they” want to destroy me, so my attempt to recognize their humanity could be my inadvertent acquiescence to their death warrant for me and my kind. But I am willing to acknowledge that perhaps I am not as open and accepting as I want “them” to be. For I want to destroy their belief just as vehemently as they want to destroy mine – our tactics are different, our endpoint different, but our rejection of the other is the same. When I acknowledge my own hypocrisy, I am able to accept that, to those I call extreme, I may appear equally extreme; to those by whom I feel threatened, I may appear equally as threatening. So, just as this Christian girl from a Catholic city in a red state in the U.S. has evolved to understand and accept Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and others; I too am evolving to accept radical, right wing, left wing, evangelical…and the list goes on.
This is my struggle – my journey. For faith, for religion, for race, for culture. For I must somehow learn to honor and accept those for whom #BLM is an abomination. I must learn to somehow accept and respect those who believe in racial segregation and inferiority, in American superiority, and who sometimes use the Bible I believe in to justify beliefs I believe are bigotry and against God. I must learn to reconcile each of my identities – as a heterosexual, African-American, female, not just ordinary Methodist but AME (African Methodist Episcopal), adoptive mother, only child (not spoiled), university professor, administrator, and now wife and step-mother. I must find a space within me that opens a space for others – some of whom I understand and many whom I never will – and be willing to live in the mystery that is constant discovery. I must be willing to speak with and hear those whose opinions and beliefs make me cringe and yet still open my ears, my heart, and my life to truly hear them and to see them in their humanity…Let the journey continue.