|HS:||Let me ask a question. The question is the way in which your religious beliefs as the daughter and the wife of a minister, and a woman deeply involved, it sounds to me, in the Methodist church, how these Christian beliefs wove into your experience of being in Mississippi.|
You have to remember that the only religion that I knew was Christianity, which meant that for me, Jesus' gospel, his messages were all I needed. So I took his messages literally, up to a point. I'm not prepared to discuss what the meaning of "up to a point" is at this time. But it seemed to me that his message was very simple. There was never an instance in the stories in the New Testament where Jesus was not open to everyone, all of the sinners, all of us as sinners. He never walked away from any problem. He spoke to everyone who came to him, and he told them what the message was, which was feeding and clothing and taking care of your neighbor, or your brother. So I didn't need any more than that. I didn't theological discussion. I was raised on that. I heard it every time my father spoke, and, subsequently, that was my husband's message. So there was no question that I was living out my faith. And it was not to-well, it couldn't be argued with. It stood as the raison d'etre. It was just where I was, and am still, pretty much.
I have grown much more aware of other religions, and much more accepting, and have had many more diverse experiences, and believe in diversity and all of those things, but I think that whether Jesus was divine or all that, well, I don't know, any more than you or I are divine. I just think that his message was pretty wonderful, and that I accept it.
But the thing about him was that he reached out to everybody. He reached out to the tax collector, who was a bad man, dishonest. I mean, I'm saying stereotypically he was. He reached out to the woman who had had all of these lovers. He forgave them and he didn't hold grudges. So that's the essence, the acceptance and understanding and is why I'm where I am.
|HS:||You went to Mississippi, and you're in Jackson and Canton, and you are connecting. You're there to make a connection with white women and black women across the regions, but to a large measure you're also reaching out to women who are Christian. So when you're there in Mississippi, can you talk about what that Christian belief and sort of structures of beliefs meant to you as you were in Jackson and talking to these women and meetings, or going to this church service?|
|MD:||I think that for me, I saw it as such a beginning-underlined. I didn't feel that I was being called at that moment to go any further than to be a fact-finder as well as to be a witness. I think that I didn't have the wisdom or understanding or the personality to see immediately what we needed to do. That had to come from someone else, or it had to come with my continued presence with this kind of group, so that in twenty-four hours or thirty-six hours, whatever time we had there, I didn't have any messages. I was not inspired in a way that would say I had this vision of what we could do. And I am not that kind of person anyway. I go in rather slowly and think, well, I need to figure out what the situation is. I need to hear what they have to say. I need to feel it inside me and absorb it.|
|HS:||So it's striking to me that there's this connection, despite color, despite region, that you had this interesting connection, and it's a connection based on faith.|
Yes. And even the style of worship wasn't that different from the fundamentalism of southern Illinois in the thirties and forties, so the black religion wasn't that different at that point. I wasn't so sophisticated in terms of the ways of worship until I became so later.
But even so, I didn't look on it as-I don't look on anything with as critical an eye as some people do, and the word critical I use both positively and negatively. Some people are immediate with "That's different from me," or, "They're different from my beliefs," or, "I don't believe I could accept that." I think that I'm a very accepting person, and slow to make a judgment on something that is out of the ordinary, that is a new idea, something different from what I grew up with. So I'm proud of that, but at the same time, there are traps with that kind of posture, and that is that you will begin to support something that you really don't believe in.
But my feet are pretty much on the ground, so that I don't go off into do support for something that I've regretted in my past. I don't think I ever have. But it just takes me a while to be convinced, so that I am questioning. Lots of people talk about that. I'm a questioning person, and that keeps me from doing something dumb, but it also does not propel me into action as quickly as some people do.
So that said, my participation in this worship, yes, is akin somewhat to my background, quite a bit to my background, but the experience didn't produce in me these feelings of "That's different." It was like "These people are feeling their religion, and this is the way it comes out, and isn't it interesting."