Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Pride can be a Dangerous Thing

Since yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I watched the movie Selma last night and was struck with a strong sense of pride. During a moment of intense struggle between whites and blacks in the South, Greek Orthodox Archbishop IAKOVOS participated in the March on Selma. His involvement was depicted also in the movie. My personal pride peaked while I watched the scene which depicted a brief dialogue between MLK and IAKOVOS.

MLK: “You came!” (smiling and embracing)
IAKOVOS: “You called, and I came.”

What struck my pride was that this was the ONLY interaction between MLK and other religious leaders that the movie chose to depict. I have no idea what other interactions MLK had with national religious leaders that day, but I was quite proud that the movie’s director felt strong enough sense to include the brief interaction. There are many possible reasons for the director’s choice, but I don’t want to dwell on that. Instead, I want to consider the role pride plays in how I watched the movie last night, and how Greek Orthodox Christians react to the, now famous march and presence of IAKOVOS on the cover of Life Magazine, story.

At the time, many Greeks were very upset at the decision of the Archbishop to participate in the march. Several of his advisors at the time advised the Archbishop not to participate, but he insisted. Following the march, many Greeks turned against the Archbishop and several protests took place among southern Greek communities.

Fast forward to 2016 and almost every Greek publicly announces that OUR ARCHBISHOP marched with MLK, with puffed up chests and pride. Admittedly, I doubt most people who speak proudly today were active in the Church fifty years ago, but what changed? Is the pride I felt last night based upon the same aspect of pride for those who boast today, 50 years later? I must admit my pride was based upon the director’s choice to include what otherwise would have been insignificant piece of film that would have not affected the movie in any way if it ended up on the cutting room floor. My pride seemed to be generated by the presumption, on my part, that the director recognized the value of the original interaction, if it actually historically occurred in the first place. My Archbishop was bold enough to stand up to his own advisors and many within the Church for the truth of the Church – all people should be treated with dignity. I was thankful for his boldness.

But what causes a population to protest against their archbishop one year, and then fifty years later with pride proclaim how proud they are of their archbishop. The only difference between today and fifty years ago is the public perspective on the situation. So long as other Americans were protesting the march, the Greeks felt pressure to protest as well. They felt they could not risk gaining the reputation of being pro-black in the South. I can’t ignore that organizations such as the KKK burned crosses in many front yards, not just black front yards, and many of those yards were Greek!  The 1920’s must have been fresh in the mind of Greeks who had only recently (by the 1960’s) raised their own stature among America’s elite white class. Today with very few exceptions, the March on Selma is considered an important turning point in race relations. Now from the comfort of social acceptance many Greeks find themselves able to show pride in their Archbishop.

One thing still sits uneasy in my mind....is the pride of today and the protest of yesterday the same issue? Are we just trying to stay with the majority in an attempt to be seen as normal? Are we simply not willing to stand up for what is right, whether or not the elite white class agree? What do we really have pride in; the boldness of an archbishop or the acceptance of the elite? Pride can be a dangerous thing. 

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