Regardless of the outcome of the national elections this month, half the country will be happy and the other half unhappy. That’s not new, but the degree of delight and despair may be.
We like to think the local level is different since some of our elections, such as school boards and propositions, are nonpartisan. Supposedly. We used to say all politics is local, but expanding national media outlets with points of view on the news and social media outlets with points of view that may be fake news, our neighborliness is waning and partisanship waxing.
It’s harder now to remain friends with people who differ from us politically. Politics may not be everything, but it has turned civic life into tribal warfare.
Is there any way out of this moral morass?
Faith communities incubate unity in diversity and can model the way forward for the rest of society. Don’t laugh. You may think we are a big part of the problem. Sometimes we are. But we have been practicing for centuries, albeit with mixed results; and, we’re still here. How have we lasted all the fights and feuds, the reformations and counter-reformations, the splits and splinters?
First, focus on our common humanity and our equal dignity. The language may differ slightly among our faith traditions, but a fundamental confession is that we are all children of God, image-bearers of the divine. No matter how diverse our ideas or way of life, God is making something of God’s presence known through each and every person. Which means we can’t dismiss one another without missing something God wants us to learn.
Second, come together. Talk to each other, don’t withdraw from each other. Look for the best, not the worst, in others. Do not characterize the convictions of someone else by the weirdest or wickedest of those who share them. You would not want someone to do that to you. What Ben Franklin said during the American Revolution echoes still: “We must, indeed, all hang together or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
Next, as Stephen Covey paraphrased St. Francis: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” If your chief goal is to persuade someone to think like you, you will only listen for an opening to pounce. When someone feels you have heard and understood, something intimate has happened. Knowing that someone has heard and understood you moves you closer, still.
Finally, accept that oneness is not sameness. We say in church that we are many members of one body. Each is different and important to the functioning whole. E pluribus unum — “out of many, one” — is America’s motto. Oneness does not mean everyone must assimilate into a single culture where all consent to a dominant story of America. We can tell different stories that can be equally true and mutually enriching.
Whether standing at attention or kneeling in protest, we do so together before the same flag as the anthem plays. O, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave … ?
GEORGE MASON is pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church, president of Faith Commons and host of the “Good God” podcast. The Worship section is underwritten by Advocate Publishing and the neighborhood businesses and churches listed here. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202.