Over the past few years I have heard people lament about how divided we have become in our country. Newscasters have lamented about the good old days when politicians in congress used to socialize and make friends with one another even when fighting bitterly over policy issues. They imply that this is rarely the case anymore. A recent survey by the University of Chicago Institute of Politics suggest that around 75% of both republicans and democrats think members of the other party “are generally bullies who want to impose their political beliefs” while 70% believe members of the other party are generally untruthful and push disinformation. Among independents 40-50% feel the same way about both republicans and democrats. Close to 30% of all respondents agreed that “Someone’s political views tell me most of what I need to know about what kind of a person they are.” About 52% of respondents said that political views were important to whether they would make friends with someone. About 48% said similar interests in music and entertainment were important, 30% said religious beliefs were important, and about 23% said favorite sports teams mattered. Only 20% said that ethnicity was important to becoming friends.
All of this tells us that much of what Americans think of one another depends on stereotypes. Another article I read pointed out that much of what the older generation thinks about the younger generation is based on an unconscious view of ourselves. Complaints about “the younger generation” date back at least to the ancient Greeks. But this article pointed out that older people who have lived productive lives tend to believe the younger generation is lazy. Those who are more educated or spend much time reading feel the younger generation are less educated or don’t like to read. And it goes on.
So how do we react as Christians? One of the passages that comes to mind is Matthew 7:1-5. It begins by saying “Do not judge,” then says the measure we use to judge others is the measure that will be used to judge us. It then goes on to say that when we focus on judging others, we may miss the faults in ourselves that God is observing. So Jesus is telling us that we should not focus on other people’s wrong beliefs, but should let God take care of that. That is not to say that we must overlook bad behavior. We are called on to oppose wrongdoing that brings harm into the world. We must ask God to show us where we should intervene and where we should not.
The next passage is Matthew 5:44 in which Jesus said to his followers, “I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in Heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Instead of treating people with hostility because they are different from us, or even oppose us on certain issues, we are called to treat them with love and concern. Later in this chapter (5:48) Jesus tells his followers that they should “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Part of being perfect is to treat one another with love and respect no matter how “wrong” they may be. I heard the story of a young black man who, because of his faith, reached out to the head of a white supremacist group. Instead of reacting to hate with hate, he invited a dialogue. He didn’t judge, he listened to why the man felt as he did. He was then able to tell of his views as one of those from the hated class. Over time the man changed his views on “blacks” and resigned from the group he had headed. Love had overcome hate.
We may not change the world but one by one in our relationships that may become friendships, we can make a difference, and God can use us to bring back some civility in our discourse, political or otherwise,