As we move full speed into the election of 2020, we can feel the pull toward division, domination and revenge in our politics. We write this as two veterans of America’s culture wars who fear that this round of battle could lead us toward violence.
As political activists we both know something about trying to bridge the divisions in politics. In 1998, Joan Blades, watched our nation polarize over the impeachment of the President. She co-founded MoveOn.org as a bipartisan effort to move the nation toward healing and away from division. Earlier that same decade, Rich Tafel, a minister living in Massachusetts saw the increasing brutality of a culture war between the far left and religious right. He jumped in to bridge the divide by launching Log Cabin Republicans in 1993.
More than two decades later, we have joined forces as a Democrat and Republican to bridge the divide again. Rich is now a pastor and leads the American Project at Pepperdine School of Public policy that seeks to find healthy path for the conservative movement. Joan has co-founded an open source, scalable, left-right dialogue model called Living Room Conversations that is being used in faith communities, schools, libraries, by video and yes, in living rooms, to connect people across the country.
Today we are working to fight the pull toward division and hatred by looking to a core teaching of all the major faiths. “Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.”
This past November, the National Institute for Civil Discourse organized a Sunday dedicated to bringing the Golden Rule into our political life. Churches across the country preached on the ways houses of faith could lead in bridging the divide in our nation by employing compassion, curiosity and forgiveness.
Simply reminding ourselves that in our political life we should treat others as we would want to be treated is a great start.
Last month, leaders from across the political spectrum gathered for a virtual “Living Room Conversation” to go beyond partisan affiliation and get to the deeper teachings in all of our traditions. People of faith are not only called to love one another. They are also reminded that we are all created in God’s image. Faith communities have a unique ability to provide a sanctuary for all voices to be heard.
The hateful rhetoric and disrespect so prevalent in our politics may tempt us to opt out and give up, but people of faith, rooted in practices that see the divine in all humanity, can help lead our country to a healing and respectful place in this moment when we need it most. Politics is causing more and more Americans to perceive people on the other side as the enemy…and as less intelligent, less kind, less human. Extreme political polarization has been used as a tool to justify unthinkable atrocities throughout history. We must own our responsibility for our division and change our course. Faith communities are showing leadership in this change by asking communities to see the divinity in everyone.
Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Fr. John Crossin reflect, “Meeting with someone who is made in the image of God should produce a feeling of profound respect, and an expectation that we might grow from the encounter, even if we begin in disagreement. Since we are all children of God, the common good involves mutual respect. Respect, not agreement, is the key.”
This is not the first time our country has faced internal challenges. We have come through serious divisions before this moment, and we can do it again. The key is to call on the better angels of our nature to help guide us—to remember our common humanity as we meet this emergency with care for each other and for our country. The words of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, written from the Birmingham jail almost 60 years ago, are addressed to us in this hour: “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
What George Washington called the Great Experiment has been a beacon of hope for two centuries. As members of the oldest modern democracy in the world, we need to do better. The good news is that long tradition guides us—teaching us to treat others as we would like to be treated.
Joan Blades is a Co-founder of MoveOn and Living Room Conversations. Reverend Richard L. Tafel is Minister at Church of the Holy City & Founder of Log Cabin Republicans.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.