In the United States it’s very common for houses of faith to end a weekly service with a receiving line. The ritual is essentially the same, no matter the location or the religion – the religious leader in charge of the just-completed service stands at the exit and shakes hands with every participant as they file out the door. It’s something I privately refer to as ‘The Line.’
I refuse to participate. It may seem odd, but I go out of my way to locate an alternate exit route for the sole purpose of not participating in this activity. I’m not the only one. When you are scoping out escape routes, fellow escapees become easy to spot. The people who are offended by this habit are equally easy to identify because they grimace, scowl, point, and make comments to the people around them.
Here in the Midwest, they’ll also make comments to their friends while standing within ear-shot of the offending person. If you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘Minnesota Nice‘ and wondered what that was, this is an excellent example. Essentially, it’s culturally required passive-aggressive behavior. Here in the Midwest, no one does (or says) anything directly. Therefore, making comments within general physical proximity of the targeted individual and assuming that target will both hear what is being said and modify their offending behavior accordingly is common practice. In fact, stepping outside of this passive-aggressive pseudo-communication technique can be considered offensive and even taboo, depending on who the target is and the relative mannerisms of the speaker.
Having said that, the point of this post is a particular form of human behavior within a religious context, not Midwestern social mores. Minnesota Nice can be expanded on more fully by another person, or at another time.
I have actively participated in a multitude of religions. I have traveled all of the lower 48 states and made random visits to all kinds of houses-of-faith. The Line, and it’s negative aspects, are everywhere. Every. Where. This is not unique to a religion or a region. It’s a common and nasty aspect to human behavior here in the United States. (Others will have to comment on it’s existence in other countries.)
The Line is a seemingly simple and harmless tradition. People politely file out, shake hands and exchange a few words with the religious leader. And yet, I have seen it used to commit viscous and brutal acts of social annihilation – over and over and over. The best scientific term for these behaviors is Mobbing, which is a form of group-bullying frequently utilized by adults. Personally, I think of it as modern-day human sacrifice. The community needs blood and the individual marked for death is identified while walking The Line. Yes, that is melodramatic…yet true.
Effectively, what happens is this: a targeted individual approaches the religious leader in The Line. The leader scowls, grimaces, makes mean comments to other (approved) individuals standing nearby and/or simply refuses to acknowledge or shake hands with the targeted victim. This becomes law. The community immediately ostracizes said individual and coordinates to take actions that eventually eliminate the victim from the religious community.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, this behavior rarely stays within organizational walls. The victim frequently becomes the target of continued and similar behavior in the community at large, finding themselves effectively barred from most (if not all) houses of faith within the area. Often it continues to spill over into daily life, until it has seeped it’s way into work, civic organizations, professional organizations, volunteer activities, etc.
The same technique is successfully used by ‘pillars of society’ and ‘church ladies’ and ‘popular people’ and other, similar, members of the house-of-faith with the same results, regardless of the religious leader’s opinion and/or participation.
For some reason, these attacks are almost always initiated in The Line.
Granted, boycotting The Line does not fix the behavior. However, it does protect me from becoming an easy target while eliminating the possibility of being expected to willingly participate in an attack on someone else, which I simply will not do. Will. Not.
That’s not just a political statement or a decision to take a stand. I’ve been confronted with similar situations many (MANY) times. Despite all self-preservation logic to the contrary, I find myself going up against the biggest and baddest of them all, making it clear I do not approve. Every time. Every. Dern. Time. As it turns out, even in houses of faith, bullies don’t give a rats-behind about ethics, community or living a non-hypocritical life.
Social annihilation. Ostracism. Fun stuff.
Johnny Cash may sing proudly about Walking the Line. As for me, I refuse The Line altogether.