“Ah, you’ve got jungle fever.” I’d just told this individual that my girlfriend was a Pacific Islander. I knew they were joking, that they often had a cheeky, irreverent wit. I don’t remember how I responded but, 13 years later, I do remember the comment.
When I wrote an editorial about cross-cultural marriage, I received a letter telling me that I should keep my marriage because God requires no divorce, but that we should never have children, because—I don’t remember the exact words—“half breeds were an abomination.” The comment had the potential to tear the heart out of a young couple wrestling with infertility. Luckily, I’ve been diagnosed by my doctor as having thick skin. I chose not to share it with my wife.
I have thought about how having a brown wife might impact my career in the Church, how people might receive us if we went into pastoral ministry or some other role. I’m hopeful to say that I don’t think it would have too much impact. But I wasn’t sure all those years ago.
These examples are mild compared to what some people have lived through. But well-meaning, good-hearted church members are allowed to get away with comments like this in Sabbath schools and potluck conversations, while the rest of us, although we might feel uncomfortable, say nothing.
Jokes that come at the expense of another people group, belief system or gender are not funny. They are hurtful and propagate false stereotypes and narratives. Any feeling of superiority against another group of people is suspect and should be interrogated. This includes our Adventist feelings of superiority against other religious groups. I am not speaking against something that I have not been complicit in.
I am a recovering racist. I repent. I have heard and passed on jokes about Aboriginals and other minorities in my life. I have sat through conversations that perpetuated unkind or untrue stereotypes and said nothing.