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The Myth of American Tolerance   Leave a comment

The other day my wife and I were talking with an Iranian-American woman. We mentioned that we might teach English in order to finance travelling abroad. She asked why we didn’t become missionaries if we wanted to travel abroad.

I think that question caught us both off guard. Becoming missionaries wasn’t really something my wife and I had ever talked seriously about doing. For me personally, given my Catholic background, that kind of evangelism is deeply counter intuitive. Evangelism happens in the context of a other ministries to the under-served. But even more  than that, it just seems rude to me now. I have been abroad and I am shallowly aware of how little I know of other countries’ contexts and experiences. Going to another country, any other country, with the message “I know what you need,” just seems presumptuous and arrogant at this point in my life.

But my wife responded a bit more simply, “We have more respect for other religions than that.”

And that’s when it happened. It’s only happened a few other times in my life, but every time it does I get a few warm fuzzies and my heart almost breaks with sorrow.

Our Iranian-American friend looked overjoyed and relieved at the same time. She asked if she could hug my wife and looked as if she might cry.

And so the myth of American tolerance died for me all over again. This woman, this person who had come to my country years ago and started to raise a son here, had found it notable that my wife and I did not want to go to her country and tell them all the ways they were wrong. And not just notable, she had found it moving that my wife and I did not feel comfortable being missionaries.

I have never felt like that. I have never felt like that because the people of America have accepted me in a way they never accepted this woman. I have never felt like that because the people of Morocco accepted me too. I never had to ask my mother not to wear a headscarf when she dropped my son off at school so he wouldn’t be bullied, the way this woman had.

As a white Christian male citizen of the country with the world’s most expensive army, sometimes I’m glad that I don’t know the extent of my own privilege. Because even the glimpses of the unprivilege of others  shake my soul.

Posted 02/28/2013 by reluctantliberal in Generic Post

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