We are a nation that seems hopelessly divided, immersed in what seems to be a senseless culture war that is tearing us apart. It is not unlike previous conflicts such as during the Civil War when families were pitted against families and friends against friends. For many, it is “my way or the highway.” We are unable to see another’s point of view or admit there might be another way of looking at a situation. We wear our intolerance like a badge of honor, shutting out those voices that don’t agree with us.
When did tolerance and compromise become “dirty” words? Why must we stubbornly cling to our partisan stance or remain blinded by our prejudices? Are we afraid of being converted to another’s viewpoint or that we might be forced to admit we don’t have all the right answers? Both politicians and religious leaders often seek to enflame our passions in support of their cause and blind us to what may be best for the common good.
Why must everything be seen as “black or white”? Somehow we have we lost the ability to hold things in tension; we don’t appreciate or understand paradox. For example, I can admit that I am against abortion but I am for a woman’s right to choose. I am against divorce, but I recognize that couples may need to end an unhealthy relationship. I am against war, but I realize that it is important to defend ourselves against outside aggression. I value religious freedom as the right for all people to worship God as they wish but do not believe it is license for me to force my morality or religious practice on others.
Rather than pitting ourselves against each other, we need to find a way to come together to heal our nation and make the world a better place for all of God’s children. Years ago, the prophet Isaiah spoke to a stubborn and conflicted people called Israel who had lost their way, pursuing their own selfish desires and basking in their own self-righteousness. He chastised them for their pious acts of prayer and fasting while harboring malice and greed in their hearts. The prophet called them to return to God and embrace God’s mission and purpose.
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not the share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; When you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly… If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, Then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; And you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58:6-11)
Perhaps this could be our way back as well. If we can put our differences aside and rediscover civil discourse, we might be surprised at how much we can accomplish together for the good of all.
Rev. Dr. Rick Rouse is the coauthor of The World is about to Turn: Mending a Nation’s Broken Faith, available now from Chalice Press or wherever you buy books.