If you enjoy the privilege of driving and you are able to drive, then you are undoubtedly familiar with road construction. It seems to me that there are two basic kinds of road construction; that which is building something new and that which is repairing something already existing. Both kinds of construction cause me the same amount of lost time, both force me to slow down from my frantic pace to go nowhere in a hurry. Yet, somehow when I discover that the construction that is slowing me down is something new it doesn’t bother me like the repair work does. I see it as progress. On the other hand the repair work usually aggravates me – “Why can’t they find a better time to do this?” I know, I know, what would be a better, less inconvenient time for me is not necessarily better timing for you. Isn’t it odd that we can look at something like road construction and have such vastly different reactions to it? Why is it that something that is essential to our smooth journey and our forward progress can be the cause of vastly different emotions?
These past few weeks our nation has undergone some heavy duty road work. The apparently racially motivated murders in Charleston, South Carolina should slow us down so we can do some repair work. The road of public spirit, of honoring others as also being a part of God’s family, the road of civility are all in need of essential repair. These murders have been the catalyst for debates about gun control, the questionable public flying of the Confederate flag, and the fact that years after the celebrated Civil Rights movement, there is still a great deal of work to be done to eradicate the deep issues of race and ethnicity in our world. The Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality has sparked an unconscionable divide among some who presume to speak for all followers of Christ regarding this decision (both those in favor and those opposed). I cannot for the life of me figure out why a church that preaches love, reconciliation, prayer and justice wastes so much time arguing about who is and who isn’t a Christian depending on whether or not they hold similar political views. I fail to see how giving someone else a title I enjoy (married) and its attending perks, like tax breaks and other powers of decision take something away from me. The ruling on Healthcare or “Obamacare” has sparked yet more criticism of a President who has demonstrated time and again that at heart he is a compassionate man who wants the best for the people of this nation.
Construction on the road ahead. Whether or not we agree or disagree with any of these Supreme Court rulings, or who should be able to own what kinds of weapons or who should help fund health care or public education or feeding the hungry, I hope we can agree that these issues are important enough that we should find a way to have public conversations about such matters and their underlying issues without demonizing those disagree with us. To suggest that someone on the other side of the question of marriage equality is not a Christian is an abomination to the faith. To suggest that someone who believes that one race is superior to others or ought to be more privileged is an abomination to the founding values of our nation and the Church. To suggest that those who need help with affording health care or an education or food or a place to live are unworthy of such help is a basic selfishness of turning our back on all God’s children. This is road construction. Some of it may be construction that builds new roads to new futures and some of it may be repair work, but in the end all of it will make our way better and might even make us better people.
Each and every one of us has a right to our own opinions, our own beliefs, and our own core values. From my perspective, you can still be a person of the Christian faith, as am I and still disagree with me. I will never suggest that just because you believe something opposite of me, that you are not a Christian. Frankly, when we declare that someone is not a Christian because he or she takes a public stand that is opposite ours, we are the ones standing outside the faith and we are the ones acting contrary to our deepest defining beliefs. Nothing saddens me more than Christians attacking each other in this manner. Yes all of these issues of road construction have national importance and some of them will impact our lives to a greater or lesser degree. Loving each other in spite of our differences, treating all people with the grace of Christ, with mercy, humility and compassion has have eternal importance.
To my way of thinking the church has an opportunity at times like these to show our nation and the world the way. We have the opportunity to demonstrate love for those we disagree with. We have the opportunity to encourage each other to the greater good. We have the opportunity to give each other dignity and respect by listening, by sharing what we believe, by trying to understand those who differ from us and by engaging in conversation and action that builds people up. If you are going to criticize me, it is likely I will become defensive and not listen to good points you might make because I will be looking for the faults in your argument. If you actually try to understand where I am coming from you run the risk of changing your mind, but you also have the opportunity to change mine when I listen to you with the same respect that you have shown me.
It’s time to stop encouraging polarization and division and instead begin to invite everybody to the party of mutual education and understanding. It’s time to stop always proving we are right, or that we have the moral high ground, or moral superiority and instead realize that we are all human beings with dreams, hopes, goals and plans with different ways to try to make them a reality. The road ahead will always be under construction. Will we ever learn to share the journey in a way that honors all people?