I was poignantly reminded last week of how we as Americans have loss the art of disagreement. We no longer gather to debate issues, whether secular or religious, with the goal of perhaps finding mutual ground that leads to a common good. Instead we viciously attack one another with the hope of destroying “the other,” self-righteously convinced that “we are right because we believe it, and if you don’t believe like me you are wrong, vile and beyond redemption.”
This phenomenon has been pervasive in our culture for a while. Think about how many brilliant proponents of ideas worthy of reflection have been uninvited to speak at galas, churches and college campuses simply because we disagree with his/her position. The list is extensive but it includes former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice, former Harvard University President Larry Summers, actor Alec Baldwin, human-rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, DNA co-discoverer James Watson, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, filmmaker Michael Moore, conservative Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George Will and liberal Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Anna Quindlen, to name just a few.
I was scheduled to teach a course in February in recognition of Black History Month on Black Hermeneutics, Black Liberation Theology and Womanism at Columbia’s largest white, evangelical church. The course was to demonstrate how African American Christians have read and interpreted the Bible from their lived experience(s) given the reality of racism and sexism in America. Long story short, I was asked by the senior pastors not to come and present my research because of our theological differences. In fairness to the pastors, they did pay me for my intellectual work, though they withdrew the opportunity to speak. I guess their Bible did not include the Nazarene’s statement to his disciples, “They who are for us (in principle) are not against us.”
One of the worst results of the Trump Era is that it has become acceptable to be closed-minded. Republicans brag about how they will not entertain any Democrat idea, and Democrats pride themselves in discounting all Republican discourse. Conservative Christians dismiss Progressive Christians for being too liberal, and Progressive Christians denounce Conservative Christians for being far too rigid and trapped in patriarchy. The Black-White divide is widening, yet white nationalists are screaming for more racist policies. Sexism is still a reality for most women in America particularly in the arena of economics. The systemic oppression of the LGBTQIAA+ community is becoming more entrenched and more frightening.
When our society closes its mind to other thoughts and ideas, we lose our ability to grow and develop. All of us need to stop and listen to each other instead of operating out of our fears and prejudices. We need each other if this great democratic experiment is to survive. If we do not recommit to finding common ground and establishing the common good for every American, I am afraid America will be lost beyond the point of salvation. We cannot defeat the real enemy we all face if we continue to fight among ourselves.