I am troubled by the way our country seems to have gone over the last ten years. A pattern has been established which should cause all of us to pause and take some in depth inventory of our attitudes, perceptions, and reactions. When I assess our country’s current situation, I see more division than unity. This is clearly visible in social media, the press, and the public conversations. The norm currently appears to be for people to choose sides and to argue vehemently with one another without consideration of the impact of their words and actions.
I am reminded of two important responses to division. The first is found in Scripture in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is speaking in response to accusations of religious leaders and his family regarding their perception that he is possessed by Beelzebub, or at the very least insane. He was drawing large crowds who listened to his unorthodox teachings. Jesus’ response is that there is no way he can be from God and be possessed by an evil spirit at the same time. He makes the statement, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25, NIV) Clearly, Jesus is indicating that division will bring about negative results.
The second response is a speech given by Abraham Lincoln in 1858 when he was accepting the nomination of the Illinois Republican Party to run for United States Senator. Lincoln is warning against slavery-based disunion in his speech. He quotes the passage from Mark by stating:
Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.
Lincoln understood that the nation could not move forward as long as division existed.
I feel a lot like Lincoln must have felt at that time. Looking around I see constant uncivil debate and an apparent unwillingness for anyone to listen to another perspective. I see a large amount of energy being expended to identify differences without seeking areas of agreement. Little effort is being made to address the points of contention. Instead, the prevailing attitude is one of “my way or the highway.” Add to this that there are agitators on both sides of each issue whose main goal is not resolution but continued acceleration of the division. This division is increased by a population who seems to be easily offended by everything that is said or done.
Our current state of affairs is not unique to our contemporary setting. Division among peoples can be found throughout all history and within every facet of human life. If one reviews history, when division becomes great, then separation is attempted. Sometimes those attempts are successful and probably in the best interest of the parties involved. Other times separation is prevented and a healthier whole is produced.
There is so much feeding into the growing division within our nation. Debate is one of the positive aspects of living in a free society. Expression of thoughts, feelings, and ideas is vital to a healthy democracy and representative form of government. However, when the methods and tactics used to express those thoughts, feelings, and ideas are meant to tear down people and their lives, they are not beneficial but destructive. When it becomes easy to label and accuse without evidence and a fair examination of that evidence then those labels and accusations do nothing more than persecute and oppress. Sharing of information continuously and quickly without ensuring the accuracy of the information only leads to distrust and misinformed individuals.
We need to find the wisdom in the words of Jesus and Abraham Lincoln. We need to listen carefully to one another. Instead of being offended by those who have a different point of view, we need to take the time to understand that point of view even if we continue to disagree with it. Energy needs to be expended in an attempt to identify those areas of life we have in common while celebrating the diversity which makes us whole.
Everyone plays a role in mending our division. The press needs to stop being concerned about finding the latest sound bite to grab people’s attention and instead identify the truth and facts which will honestly inform the people. The political leaders need to discontinue attacking the personhood of individuals and seek ways to compromise with the goal of benefiting the nation as a whole. Religious leaders need to present the examples of those who have brought healing to the world from their faith traditions and strive to show what it means to live in unity as the human race. Each individual needs to work at ending their own selfish focus and seek ways to be educated, informed, and compassionate. Name calling, violence, false information, personal attacks, labeling, assumptions, and setting up battle lines needs to end.