"Again and again in history internal feuds have destroyed nations great and small...Such a danger cannot arise as long as the American people are careful never to allow party spirit to become so embittered that the destruction of their political enemies seems to be more important than the safety of the country.
However strongly devoted you may be to any particular cause; however strongly opposed you may be to some other cause; the vital thing is to remember is that any cause, however good it may be in itself, is secondary in importance to the supreme cause of national unity. Any other doctrine than this is pure treason."Emmet Fox (1932)
With the election behind us, the opportunity to make choices continues in a whole new way. We decided who our leaders would be. Now we get to decide who we want to be and how we want to be together. For well over a decade now, our national political discourse has been growing more bitterly divisive. Some of us surrounded ourselves entirely with like-minded or like-speaking people. This is okay if we’re trying to learn a whole new language (total immersion works) or if we need to completely change the way we think (like when an alcoholic becomes sober). The problem is, we have no opportunity to grow or learn anything new, our beliefs are never challenged and our dialogues become echo chambers.
For the past few years, I’ve simply refused to discuss politics for the most part. As a minister, it’s important to me to make sure I am approachable to everyone, no matter what the political beliefs or culture might be. I live in a predominantly conservative section of the country. But no one here has ever asked my political affiliation before holding a door for me if my hands were full. It seems to me that the challenge for all of us is to remember who we are – good people who want this world to work for all of us. The challenge for leadership today is to find a way to begin a conversation that is sincerely respectful of the person if not their views, and that allows us to hear each other without becoming offended.
I know this isn’t an easy thing to do, but I also know it can be done. We just completed the process of integrating two denominations. These two organizations grew out of a split in the denomination that happed close to 70 years ago. We taught the same classes, from the same book, quoting the same philosophers, mostly about the same subject – the Unity of All and the presence of the Divine in each and every being. Believe me; our teens had a field day with that one. Over and over, we were asked the question – how can we have two different, competing organizations preaching unity…and keep a straight face? The answer is we couldn’t. It took years of work to heal the rift. It took humility from our leaders. It will take more of the same for years to come. It’s a constant re-examination of our values, our beliefs and our willingness to actually live what we teach. We talked a lot about finding the third way – not making one side right and the other wrong, but finding out what really works and using the greatest wisdom available to the group. We had to decide how important it was to be right, and be acknowledged as right, versus how much we wanted to get on with the living of happy, productive lives.
This is the story of our nation right now. Opinions and viewpoints are more easily shared because of the internet. Diversity is a greater reality as minorities, some of whom used to be silenced and hidden, find their voices and take their place on a national stage. Traditional “Christian values” have to be reexamined as mainstream culture moves away from traditional religious beliefs and practices. Change is the in-your-face and speeding up constant. I happen to this this is good. The challenge is to learn to live with diversity and still get on with the business of living in one nation.
Because if we don’t learn to have a conversation with “them”, and they with us, we’ll never get out of these echo chambers we’ve created.