Weekly e-newsletter for members and
friends of the
November 10, 2006
We Live in the Areas of Gray
Back in the early 90’s, after the tragic beating
of Rodney King in
That phrase contains the most optimistic and the most naïve of all hopes. “Can’t we get along?” As a person of faith, I must say, “yes, we can get along.” As someone who is, like you, caught in the midst of the political season, I must say, “No, it seems as if we really can’t.”
Don’t get concerned here, and think that I am
going to endorse one candidate or the other. Don’t worry that I am
going to sing the praises of one political party and chastise the other.
You’ll be glad to know that as a concerned and proud American, I care
deeply about the American political process; and as a pastor who has been
through the mill I usually know when to keep my mouth shut. And besides, by
now, the election is over (though one can’t always be sure about
So today’s thoughts are mainly about how the un-civility of politics spills over into the un-civility of religion. Many might say to me, “Bob, you’ve already got it wrong…the un-civility of religion is spilling over into the political arena and making politics even more un-civil.” That is a very interesting notion. Religion is polluting politics?! Sort of a “chicken and the egg” thing; which really comes first and does it matter?
It seems to me that no matter what issue is debated; be it political or religious or a combination of both… no matter what it is, the issue is portrayed as either black or white. The issue has a distinct right and wrong. There are no areas of gray. You are either for or against something and if you are on the opposite side of the issue from someone then you are not only wrong, but also stupid (or evil or hopelessly misled.)
Such polarizing of all issues does not leave much room for discussing nuances and thoughtful consideration of another person’s perspective. There is no room to agree to disagree.
Look at the mud slinging of political ads. Both parties are adept at this and it is nothing new, but I must admit that the art of political attack ads has heightened the angry words and finger pointing.
Watch TV news and you will often see commentators on both sides of the issue shouting it out. The notion of being fair is really the notion of giving the microphone to two or four people on two opposite sides of an issue…he or she who shouts loudest before the commercial break is the winner.
I feel bad for that. I certainly think that the war in
You and I in the church get caught in this too. Issues that should be rationally considered in all their complexity are the war, stem cell research and issues of poverty, homosexuality, prisons and global warming. But, it is almost too difficult anymore to try to address them in all their complexity, in the context of religion. Since we live in a “right and wrong” society, if I take the opposite side from you, then I am wrong before you even hear me…and then you don’t hear me. (In the same way, I just might be tuning you out before I even hear your careful explanation of the issues that mean so much to you.) And have you noticed that my lists of political and religious topics are pretty much the same?
A few years ago, I was involved in a rather noisy debate (or mud-slinging) where two sides of people in the community were debating the morality and decency of some photos at an exhibit at a local college. It wasn’t a pretty debate. There was essentially the debate of being right and wrong concerning the photos. For one such fellow, I was clearly in the wrong and he told me so in angry terms. His pastor was there and even he would not apologize for his parishioner’s rude comments.
But a half year later I saw the “rude” fellow in the video store. I first made certain that he did not see me looking at videos the “foreign film section” and then I went over to him.
I asked him to tell me what he thought about those photos and why. Then I told him what I thought about the same photo display and why. We both looked at each other and realized that we were virtually in agreement on the photos and their appropriateness in a public setting. I think we then re-stated our positions just to make certain that we had heard the other and ourselves clearly.
No, we heard each other correctly. We were quite close to in our positions. The major difference is that he approached it from one end of the religious/political spectrum and I from the other. In this case, we actually did nearly meet in the middle. We sheepishly shook hands as we each silently acknowledged our mutual misunderstanding of the other at the meeting six months before. Even years later we remained friendly as we greeted one another all over town.
So, when the question is asked, “Can’t we
all just get along?” The answer is, “possibly.” But
we’re all going to have to find that video store in south central
Rev. Robert Tussing