An Open Letter to My Religion Teacher
I'll never forget the first time I met you. I rolled my eyes at you, thought you were crazy, as you yelled, "Salvation!" while pounding the desk on each syllable, and I thought you fulfilled every stereotype of that Bible-thumping Christian claiming to know Jesus personally. At the time, I thought that was bad, thought the next thing I'd see was you on street corners harassing people with their sinfulness, but four years later, I'd come to realize that your message wasn't that I was bad. Your message wasn't, "You're a sinner. Turn to God and be saved." Your message was that I could be saved, that no matter how lost and broken I ever felt that I was worth salvaging.
You didn't teach me anything about Jesus that I didn't know. You didn't make me believe in God more or less. You only made sure that if I was atheist, I should have some damn good arguments for atheism because your arguments for theism were always better. And that's the best part. You weren't trying to convert anyone. You were just trying to educate us so that we could make our own choices on the matter, and hopefully the right one.
You taught me the importance of social justice, taught me that racism wasn't what they said it was, that gender inequality wasn't the myth they kept telling me it was. You taught me to stand taller, speak louder, and fight because it was worth it. It is worth it to fight for the common good, worth it to work for a world where every man, woman, and child can be afforded equal opportunity, worth it to build a world without hate. But you never said it would be easy. Four years later, as I do exactly what you sent me out to do, I am met by all the obstacles you said were there but that I naively thought the world had been kind enough to let die with time. Can my spirit, which they have viciously and maliciously murdered, be considered a martyr?
You accepted me for who I was. I was cosseted in your classroom. You would look at me and see that we were different, that my experiences as a colored female would be different from yours as a white male, but you would never treat me differently. You would hold me to the same standard as everyone else, never once let me use circumstance as an excuse, because in your classroom you were so fair that I never needed to. Your classroom was a level playing field.
Why was I so eager to leave you? Why was I so eager to enter a world where they don't have to and don't accept me the way that you did? They say horrible things to and about me for my gender and for my race, and I wish I was back in your classroom. I wish you were here. I wish I was still under your care because you would never have tolerated any of the things that I have to tolerate.
Thank you. Thank you for making me who I am. Thank you for everything you taught me, whether you meant to or not. Most importantly, thank you for accepting who I was in the most perfect way, for never tolerating an environment where I would feel unsafe. You could have been awful too. You could've turned a blind eye to everything that would make me cry once I left. But you didn't. You set your heart out to prepare me and educate others. You instilled in me a fire that even they can't burn out because my self-worth isn't something they can take away. You taught me that one too.
You always said that your goal as a religion teacher was to make all of us saints. I think I'd know a saint if I saw one, and I'm no saint. But you are.
Your Former Student