Posted by: Robert A. Holsapple | November 24, 2009

Bridging the great divide

There is a great divide in our nation, one that has been present for the better part of our history as a nation.  One which if left untended may result in the squandering of an opportunity to change the way in which we relate to and live with each other and perhaps to begin the process of healing and reconciliation that has been needed for so long.  It is astounding that an opportunity for healing and for dialogue on the important issues of race, ethnicity, oppression, poverty, immigration and the like – such as that presented to us through the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency – is being utterly squandered.

In fact as I consider it more carefully this would appear to be a divide that is as old as the history of humankind itself.  For thousands of years one group of people or another has sought to selfishly gain for themselves at the expense of another exploited or oppressed group of people.  This can be seen in the Exodus account of the control wielded by the Egyptians over the Jewish people during the time of the Pharaohs.  In the New Testament we see this in the domination by the ruling Roman Empire of Jewish and other people at the time of Christ’s ministry on earth.  People have been divided along racial, ethnic, economic, nationalistic, gender, age, culture and class lines since the dawn of time.  And perhaps they will continue to be until the end of time.

What makes this issue fresh for me is the recollection of an incident that occurred in the autumn of 2008.  I was excitedly sharing my hope that with the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States we were being presented with an opportunity to begin a dialogue about race and ethnicity in this country.  This was not intended to place all of my hope for such a dialogue in the mere fact that our President was for the first time going to be a person of color; but rather to acknowledge that it would be all but impossible to ignore this fact.

I cannot adequately convey the extent of my disappointment at the response I received from my friend:  “Oh no Rob, you don’t understand.  Obama is going to tear this nation apart.  He is going to be the cause of increased hostility and tension, not peace and reconciliation.”  I asked my friend to explain how he could think such a thing?  Surely as Christians we would not allow such a thing to happen.  We are told that we should not only love our neighbors but our enemies as well.  (Matthew 5:44).  And yet my friend could not extend this love to unknown others who might hold a different theology, ideology or point of view.

Was my friend being prophetic at the time about the direction our national discourse was going to take?  Or was he perhaps proclaiming to me that he – and others of similar temperament – would diligently work towards bringing about the sad state of affairs with which we are now being faced?

Christ said that we are to come together in unity, to fulfill kingdom purposes; to achieve what had previously been unattainable.  He came to deliver the good news of the kingdom and simply asked that we follow his example in our behavior and more importantly in the attitude of our hearts.  I ask what must be the attitude of the heart of people like Rush Limbaugh, or Glenn Beck, who collectively speak to the fear that divides us; fear that at its core is un-American. Fear fuels hatred and perpetuates ignorance.  Rather than reconciliation this fear facilitates re-birth of the worst of American history and our segregationist and blatantly racist heritage.

It is unfathomable the degree to which so-called Christians and others on either end of the spectrum of political ideology talk at and over each other rather than with each other.  Consider the not too subtle campaign promoting the idea that because of his name and biological lineage President Obama is not an American citizen and therefore should not be allowed to serve as President.  This does nothing to benefit anyone other than perhaps the purveyors of angry talk radio and other narrow special interest groups.  It is demagogic, inflammatory rhetoric that fuels the basest emotions among a self-proclaimed elect segment of the citizenry.

So what are we to do?  Perhaps we need to take a step like that of both Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church and St. George’s Methodist Church, both in Philadelphia.  Recently they came together for a reconciliation service more than 200 years after a congregational split wounded the Philadelphia community.  Or perhaps we reach out across the aisle, across the street, from neighborhood to neighborhood, from church to church, from school to school and from house to house. What we do is begin to spend time experiencing the reality of each other for ourselves.  Turn off the radio and dial down the rhetoric and the hatred and simply hear from each other, not about each other.  This would, in the final analysis, go a long way towards bridging that great divide that exists in our society and in our hearts.

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