On ‘Race,’ Genetics, and Silence

By Mel Harkrader Pine

I visited a friend — like me, a white Unitarian Universalist — at a nursing home last week.

We talked about things in UUism that give us hope. For me, one of those is All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I told my friend about Bishop Carlton Pearson, an African-American Pentecostal preacher who built a mega-church in Tulsa only to see it crumble after Pearson realized that a loving God would never condemn anyone to hell. He became perhaps the words’s first Universalist Pentecostal and lost most of his flock.

The church that permanently took him and his congregation in was All Souls. That was in 2008, and to this day Pearson preaches there once a month. What’s unique about All Souls is how it handles worship style — three services every Sunday: traditional, contemporary, and humanist. Many of Pearson’s former congregants attend the traditional service, which many of us would identify as often having an African-American “feel.”

I suspect that our preferences in worship style are overwhelmingly cultural and not genetically determined. My DNA is 98% Ashkenazi Jewish, but I’d choose a “black” worship style any day.  Nevertheless, my mind is open to the idea of some genetic propensity contributing to such cultural choices.

Getting back to my nursing-home visit, as I told my friend about All Souls, part of my mind was keenly aware that his black roommate was just a bed’s-width away. I found myself wondering whether even mentioning race — in a neutral way — crossed some line of acceptable behavior in mixed company. My bad. I wish I didn’t think that way.

But our American culture has come (or gone) that far. Liberal churches are sponsoring classes in how to talk about race. That’s a good thing, I guess, as long as it loosens tongues and opens ears for all in a spirit of honesty.

These thoughts today were spurred by the New York Times Sunday Review article below by a Harvard professor of genetics about the potential harm done to science and medicine by fear of even considering genetic differences. It’s good reading.

Copyright 2018 © Mel Harkrader Pine

One comment

  1. Mel – I totally agree with you about All Souls Tulsa. I regularly listen to Marlin’s sermons as well as Bishop Carlton Pearson (who is amazing) – his sermon this week on “Transformation and Expansion” was profound! And, All Souls hosted Thandeka a few months ago with her “Love Beyond Belief™” workshop series and “Got Race!” public lecture – which I feel is absolutely critical for every UU congregation to embrace.

    Liked by 1 person

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