“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” (from The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou) I was reflecting on Ms. Angelou’s words today and thinking of how healing they potentially could be.
Diversity is a beautiful and enriching thing. At Marble Church we pride ourselves on being inclusive. A deep stream of that pride is based not merely on making room for all persons but, indeed, on celebrating the unique qualities that a diverse population brings to the fellowship. However, in the current political climate, far from celebrating diversity we too frequently suffer the painful results of divisiveness. Diversity and divisiveness are profoundly different, not just in meaning but also in public morale.
Our nation stands at a critical crossroads where we need to celebrate diversity while overcoming divisiveness. Otherwise, we do the work of our enemies for them, destroying our foundations from the inside without Al-Qaeda or ISIS having to fire a single shot. We’re better and smarter than that, and it’s time to begin acting like it.
I think a step in the right direction would be to carefully consider the wisdom of Maya Angelou’s words. We really are more alike than we are unalike. Consider just a handful of examples.
Did you know, e.g., that the overwhelming majority of Americans in both parties desire the government to take positive steps toward addressing the problem of climate change? Somehow we have the misperception that only Democrats are concerned with the environment. Most probably are, but currently also over 70% of registered Republicans express a desire for our nation’s elected leaders to be diligent in protecting the Earth. Remember, Teddy Roosevelt was the first President with an environmentalist agenda and Richard Nixon signed into being the EPA. Both were members of the GOP. Vice-President Al Gore was the first Democratic presidential candidate who embraced the environment as a defining issue. Bottom line? The vast majority of voters in both parties believe in green. That’s because all their children breathe the same air and drink the same water, and all their grandchildren deserve a healthy planet. We may not all agree on how to reach the goal, but the goal itself is increasingly jointly embraced. “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”
Or, take the issue of gun control. There’s a hot button topic. Obviously we understand that the 2nd Amendment has nothing to do with the sale of assault rifles at a weekend gun show. The 2nd Amendment allowed farmers to possess muskets to be used in the quick formation of a militia to defend against an invasion by British forces. That was a long time ago, and no one any longer need fear that “the Redcoats are coming.” The issue at stake now is whether or not Americans have the right to possess arms and what measures must be taken to protect us all from placing arms into the wrong hands. Again, the opinions we might expect are not reflected in the statistics available to us. Instead, apparently over 90% of Democrats agree that all persons who satisfy relatively minimal standards have the right to possess firearms (for personal safety, hunting, etc.). And, 73% of the members of the NRA now agree that there should be a more careful (and longer) vetting process before guns are sold. A significant majority of Republicans agree that regular folks like you and me do not need assault rifles or machine guns. In short, pretty much all of us think if you want to go hunting, no one should be able to tell you “No”... and if you want to buy a gun, the government should be able to say, “You have to wait until we check you out properly” so that potential murderers or terrorists do not have easy access. “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”
As we pour over surveys and reports, additional interesting facts emerge that are not always completely consistent with what we may assume. Apparently lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are in almost unanimous agreement that: labor compensation should not be based on gender... that provision and application of law should not vary due to a person’s color ... that discrimination under the law based on age or disabilities is, in fact, unlawful... and, that every child should be given equal opportunity for a quality K-12 education. Again, philosophies of how to make those things happen vary, sometimes dramatically, but the basic commitments are shared. “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”
None of this is to deny the differences that exist in our current climate both politically and socially. We are not of one mind regarding refugee issues, immigration issues, our relationship to NATO or Russia or many nations in the Middle East, Roe v. Wade, multi-faith relationships, etc. All those issues must be reasonably addressed (as well as all the other issues previously mentioned in this blog). And it is imperative that those issues be tackled in ways with sufficient wisdom to place patriotism over partisanship. We have differences, but more importantly we also have a country to protect and provide for in spite of those differences. Therefore, we are praying for the return of diplomacy where Republicans and Democrats put aside self-interests, rediscover the time-honored principle of rational compromise, and devote themselves purely and solely to what is in the best interests of all the people. ALL the people. That being noted, a strong first step toward healing the painful divisions we see in America right now would be simply to realize that on numerous key issues, we have similar goals and commitments in mind. Maybe we simply need to let go of ego, of a win-lose mindset, and begin listening to and learning from one another in order to forge a strong path to an equally strong future. Particularly in church, we need to remember the words of Paul: “We are one body with different members. If the ear should say `Because I am not an eye, I am not part of the body,’ is it any less a part of the body?... Now you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it.” (I Corinthians 12: 16, 27) We as communities of Faith should be the model for the nation to observe. It is our privilege and responsibility to display how spiritual unity can be achieved not only in spite of but often because of diversity. We are “one nation under God,” and our unity (“one nation”) is more important than either political party’s agenda, and our identity as a people of faith (“under God”) is likewise more crucial than our commitment to any individual politician, Republican or Democrat. We in church are “the Body of Christ,” and that image can help our nation learn how to rediscover unity amid diversity. There is reason for hope. I believe that. “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” Perhaps The Church can show the world what that looks like.