How Do We Go Forward?

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We just set the record for voter turnout in the United States. That’s a very good thing. A bunch of us voted for one pair of running mates and a bunch of us voted for the other.

It’s a bad thing that many of us see the “other side” as the enemy of our country.

I assume I don’t need to explain why that’s the case. I desire to reconcile. I’m also afraid our problems are bigger than a good whisk broom and a stout rug can handle.

I’ve been debating with myself whether we go forward by digging in and trying to understand one another better or by choosing to set aside these differences so we can rediscover our common ground, even our common humanity. In typical Mike fashion, I can see arguments for both. I’ve considered asking several conservative friends to write a paragraph on why they voted as they did and sharing those as a blog post, without editorial comment, simply to try to hear what others say that goes against what I think. I’ve also been told, “We’re not going to understand each other with disagreements at this level; focusing on them will only dig the trenches deeper.” 

Here is what I know: I have to initiate offering grace. If I am going to resist the temptation to do to others as they have done to me, I can’t review all the ways I have not been extended grace and insist that they show me something better first. Again, “deserve” is not our condition for extending grace. “Deserve” and “grace” don’t live in the same apartment complex or go to the same barbecues. 

Initiating offering grace does not mean anyone gets to bully or even cajole us into “Let that go! It’s past now.” A good friend suggested that what the U.S. needs is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as South Africa, Rwanda, and many other countries have formed. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission is, in some sense, the opposite of sweeping things under the rug or agreeing never to mention them again. These commissions are based on the belief that going forward requires naming and acknowledging wrongdoing between perpetrator and victim. I have this mental image of everyone showing up for our Truth and Reconciliation Commission, going to line up, and then the shouting begins:

“Wait! You’re the perpetrator! We’re the victims!”

Therein lies our impasse: both sides in this political divide believe the other side has committed wrongs and abuses. One side believes that the President they elected to drain the swamp has been persecuted and demonized, while the other side believes….well, you know. The other side believes that four years of all he did somehow wasn’t a dealbreaker and they wanted to re-elect him. 

A dear friend reminded me that as we have this conversation, we don’t begin with the wrong the “other side” has done–or still believes–but with the certainty that any individual I address is loved by God, right now. “The truth about them is that God’s presence is in them. These people are already in the center of the love of God.”

I’ve proposed this before, but I think it may become even more crucial now: I can encourage “my side” as a group, but I can’t confront or work through conflict with the “other side” en masse. I simply don’t see that bearing any fruit. Do you? I’m going to keep speaking up about what I believe is true. I’m going to do my best to confront injustice and bolster (or challenge) others to do so as well. But for our national healing, for our reconciliation across party lines in which each side has identified the other as “the enemy of the people,” I’m increasingly convinced that the part I can play is in personal relationships. 

I still have many conservative friends. It’s funny, when I make a statement like that, some ask “How?” while others ask, “How can you say such a thing and why wouldn’t you?” Some consider me a peacemaker for remaining committed to that while others see me as lucky that, after all I’ve said and done, some remain so long-suffering as to be friends with me. To quote Sting, “I don’t subscribe to that point of view.” I shrug my best Elmo shrug and ask Jesus to show me how to love people today. 

My pastor, Tim, who also happens to be one of my best friends (I’m a pretty lucky guy), told me his take on approaching the divide:

I think mine would be taking responsibility for my part in the rift knowing that I have the capacity for being too dogmatic or too aggressive. I would do this without the expectation of the other person doing the same. And then seek common ground. There has been way too much focus on uncommon ground. 

Unfortunately, his advice doesn’t apply to me, since I am never too dogmatic nor too aggressive–and I also never deal in absolutes.

I jest. 

Breaking down his advice, 1)Acknowledge and actually consider my part in the rift, because repentance works poorly when I leave it at “I’m sure I did something wrong,” 2)Don’t fish for or even expect reciprocation–if I’m repenting, I’m doing that with no strings, not as a means of getting the other person to apologize, and 3)Seek. Common. Ground. 

I’m going to warn you now that if you approach someone with whom you’ve disagreed for the last four years and say, “Hey, I’m sorry for my part in our conflict,” they may tell you, “Yeah, you’ve been a real jerk and I’m glad you see you were wrong now.” Those words will not swallow down easily and may lead to a deeper rift than you’ve got presently. I’ve lived it. I mean, I’ve been told, in response to an attempt to reconcile (in a completely different context), “Yes, you should be sorry.” Oof. Another chance to see for myself that I’m no saint. 

I’ll conclude here: we have a tension between recognizing the depths of our differences and seeking our common ground. I don’t think these have to be mutually exclusive. I believe I can seek common ground with a person with whom I vehemently disagree without pretending that we have no differences. In fact, pretending or sweeping under the rug is like planting landmines. One or both of us eventually will trip them and then boom! Acknowledging our differences but choosing to go forward anyway means we are showing mutual respect–not to the other’s views, which we may despise, but to each other as people. We are more than our political views.*

I strongly believe that healing will need to begin at a grassroots, individual level. I’ve had many conversations which included, “We have irreconcilable differences with seventy million people.” I can’t tell you how sad that makes me. But I remain convinced that Jesus breaks down the dividing wall between us. The label “Christian” doesn’t do that, nor does church membership, nor one’s theology; Jesus does. Following Jesus now may require the unpopular choice to seek reconciliation with those whom others might consider “unforgivable.”

I mean that in both directions.

* “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” –James Baldwin. I’ll need to address this in the next post. Even if it’s not my oppression, disagreement over oppressing people cannot end with an Elmo shrug.

6 thoughts on “How Do We Go Forward?

  1. Trish G

    hmmm ~ that’s a pretty sticky asterisk there at the end. I’m glad you plan to address it in your next post ~

    Not to be a naysayer ~ but many would consider that James Baldwin argument to invalidate everything else you said ~

  2. Sherry Dearborn

    Excellent article. I totally agree with offering Grace to others first. And agree with Tim’s words too. I have no shrugs about the Baldwin quote.
    Read CASTE by Wilkerson

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