Saturday, November 12, 2016

Calls for Reconciliation and Unity: Just Emotional Nonsense?

Two big splits happened in Western nations this year. The British voted to exit the EU and Americans fought or endured a presidential campaign punctuated by harsh words and allegations of crimes, treason, and immorality.

I've heard calls for reconciliation and unity. Sometimes the calls make sense. Sometimes they almost seem insulting. And at other times the encouragement to reconcile or unify is ridiculous.

The only way to make sense of these calls is to get beyond the glibness. I'm talking about the kind of glibness that fits on a bumper sticker like "Missouri values." What values do you claim--that's what I want to know.

RECONCILIATION- Should we get together and trust each other?

It is nice to seek reconciliation. It's a feel good word. I noticed earlier this year that Pope Francis met with Lutherans - in case you haven't heard, the 500th anniversary of the big split comes up next year. The "Reformation" was indeed a major split--but that's another story.

Reconciliation presupposes there was a good relationship that ruptured. Now both parties wish to try and work together again. So, it makes sense for the UK to reconcile with the EU to find ways to work together--perhaps trade and defense.

In the US, families and friends have taken opposite sides in a tough political campaign. Some of the rhetoric is appalling--bound to hurt someone. Reconciliation can make sense provided there's no risk of harm. I clearly mean no physical harm. But I also mean no ongoing emotional abuse too.

What's crucial in reconciliation efforts is trust. Trust is built one small action at a time. A promise kept. A commitment honored. You can't work with someone who says one thing and does another.

You can't trust someone who has the power to carry out threats of harm. Reconciliation with an abuser is ridiculous. Why should anyone take such a risk?

Equally absurd is asking people to reconcile who haven't ever had a relationship. There's nothing to build on. Nothing to repair. Calls for reconciliation sound like self-righteous self-promotion when there's no relationship to repair.

Reconciliation requires trust.

UNITY- Should we be united? All in?

We are all humans. We are all Americans. We are all (enter ethnic group). We are all Christians. Whatever!

Humans have always been divided over something. Calls for unity can make sense when there's a superordinate need. Indeed it happens. Massive storms, earthquakes, and disasters bring out the best in many people within and outside a national boundary. People are united in a common cause. Peoples' lives are saved.

Americans, like many people of many nations, can be united in the quest to achieve common goals. We value education, strong families, security, and so on. But the rub comes when the details are put before us and someone has to pay the bill.

Calls for unity only make sense when people share a common value or cause. Calls for unity are dangerous if a powerful majority squashes minority opinions.

Calls for unity can serve to cover crime and deceit.

Calls for unity can be an excuse to silence opposing voices.

Unity is not always the best policy.

Consensus can result in harm to a family, business, church or nation when wise dissenters are ignored.


What makes sense to me are calls for decency and respect.

Let's disagree with ideas, policies, and plans in an effort to make a country or the world a better place for its inhabitants.

Let us reason together. Let us be persuaded by reason and evidence.

Let us not destroy another's humanity to win a debate or argument.

Let us check facts before insisting an opinion is true.

Let us listen to what other's say before denouncing their views.

Let us confront harm and wrongdoing forcefully.

And let us grant others the freedom to disagree without compelling agreement.

And let us apologize when anger disrupted relationships and served no righteous purpose. To be sure, when we've hurt co-workers and friends in arguments, let us show good faith through kindness, affirming comments, and cooperation where values are not compromised.

RELIGIOUS FIGHTS- A special call to the religious.

Some religious folks have a knack for claiming God is on their side.

A famous leader will lead in prayer or claim God spoke thus and so. If a group of people disagrees with this self-appointed grandee then they are branded as sinners, godless, heretics, blind and worse.

Religious folks can perpetuate conflict when they assert divine knowledge and use their social power to pit one group against another within their own faith group or between groups.

Of course, that's why I wrote A House Divided-- I've seen a worsening in the harshness of rhetoric dividing religious cultures. And often in the US, the divisions involve politics -- as if the church did not have enough issues to resolve!

Because most Americans are Christians and the most vocal commentators on culture call themselves evangelicals, the call for decency and respect ought to begin with evangelical leaders. I'm calling for it but I'm not a leader so maybe some of us nonleaders can challenge the leaders to transform their rhetoric.

But I'm not asking for evangelicals or any other group to give up their ideas about what is best for Americans. Nor would I want Christians to give up a strongly held conviction for the sake of unity.

I am asking Christians to disagree in a respectful manner most of the time. And to apologize when emotions interfere with decent discourse. We'll not be saints. And we need not be pushovers. We will get angry but let us be quick to apologize, strengthen self-control, and find ways to cooperate.

And let us not forget to love our neighbors.

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A House Divided

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