We gathered around a table for a small group discussion. The topic of the workshop was professional ethics for clergy. One of my colleagues shared: “I have a problem I’m not sure how to approach. A woman in my church, a leader and active member, emailed and said that she just “unfriended” all the church members from her Facebook account. She said she’s enraged and offended that some church members voted differently from her. She can’t get past their political views. Rather than “unfriend” the ones with whom she doesn’t agree, she “unfriended” everyone from the church. My church is divided, both Republicans and Democrats. It’s becoming hard for people to be civil with each other because of the political divide.”
Many commentators have pointed out that the nation is more divided now than it’s been in recent history. There’s ugliness and hatred, harsh judgments, and open hostility today because of politics. It impacts every part of our lives, including participation in religious and spiritual communities. What will it take to heal the social breach?
In a different setting, another colleague shared: “I’m a liberal Democrat. But my neighbors are all Trump supporters. I don’t understand their politics because it seems to me that Trump is ruining the country and that these people are going to be hurt badly. But I can’t say anything because they all think that I’m wrong. So, I just try to be a good neighbor. In doing so, I realized that several of my neighbors are better Christians than me. For instance, there was a woman who lives alone who unexpectedly became ill and will be off work for weeks. My neighbors organized themselves to bring her food, care for her yard, and to do practical things for her. I didn’t even think about that.”
Her story struck a deep cord in me. I know that one of my neighbors is a leader in her very traditional Black church which is known to be anti-gay. Several homes in the neighborhood are gay or lesbian households. She’s warm and friendly with everyone. Further, whenever there’s a death in the neighborhood, she goes door to door to collect money for the family to help with funeral costs. A few years ago, when I spoke to her about what appeared to me to be a contradiction, she told me, “I can’t go against the Bible. What’s wrong is wrong. But if God loves everyone, then I need to as well.” Honestly, I have a difficult time saying something similar about some people and groups with whom I significantly disagree.
Yes, there are deep disagreements about politics and the future of the country. I’m not trying to ignore those very important issues. But rather than judging people and treating them badly, we need to find ways to engage in civil discourse about those issues. Yes, we may disagree. But we may also find that we have common ground. Without dialogue, we’ll never know. What’s really hurting society today is not the disagreement. Instead, it’s the tendency to view those with whom we disagree as people who do not deserve respect or decency.
Even though I couldn’t disagree more with groups like Alt Right and those who represent the resurgence of various hate groups, I still need to recognize that these individuals are human beings. When I deny their humanity, I lose part of what it means for me to be human. When I view them as less than human, I am implying that people are expendable. But that’s not at all what I believe. Instead, I believe that each human being is fundamentally good even when that goodness is buried deeply and is not apparent to me.
Simply because I hold a different view from others doesn’t make me a better person. Instead, all of us are a mix of positive attributes as well as aspects of ourselves which prevent us from being whole. At best, some of us may have more insight into our personal limitations than do others. That doesn’t mean that those of us who may have greater self-understanding are better human beings than others.
Perhaps some of us need to disengage from social media to not feel overwhelmed with messages that are offensive to us. Perhaps my colleague’s church member had it right: she went on to say that she wasn’t quitting the church and would still be there for and with others. She knows that being with other people to build the future is critical. She just can’t maintain a sense of wholeness when confronted by the negativity that often transpires on social media. As my other colleague observed, even people with whom we disagree can be better in some ways than those of us who believe we a right.
Photo credit: Oliver Dunkley via Foter.com / CC BY-NC
© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.