We recently remembered the tragedy and horror of January 6, 2021, when Americans attacked other Americans and our U.S. Capitol, attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. They brutalized police officers, invaded and vandalized the House and Senate chambers and threatened elected officials, with a few even calling for the hanging of Vice President Mike Pence. People died in the insurrection and as a consequence of it, including police officers. Despite evidence to the contrary, many Americans still believe the election was stolen and refuse to recognize Joe Biden as the legally elected President.
Arguably, we are more divided today as a nation than at any other time since the Civil War.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further separated us from one another. More than 810,000 of our fellow citizens have already died of the virus, and yet many, believing conspiracy theories and rejecting science, continue to oppose mask mandates and refuse vaccinations. They say these and other public health measures threaten their freedom. And the pandemic persists, even worsens.
School board meetings, including here, have been disrupted and sometimes suspended because of outbursts and threats over mask mandates and distance learning necessitated by the pandemic.
Moreover, a relative few parents and activists here are also angry over what they mistakenly believe is the teaching of critical race theory, or CRT, in Springfield public schools. Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan emphasizes that CRT, the scholarly analysis of historical and present systemic racism, is not part of the district’s curriculum. She stresses, however, that our public school system, like others, promotes equity, diversity and inclusion.
Meanwhile, locally and nationally, an organized and vocal minority, again acting on misinformation and disinformation, seeks to remove factual references to slavery and racial oppression from history texts. Some are calling for banning books.
What has created this deep, growing division and conflict in America? Supported by research, Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center says part of the answer lies in “the polarizing pressures of partisan media, social media, and even deeply rooted cultural, historical, and regional divides….”
Our “relatively rigid two-party electoral system,” he maintains, “stands apart by collapsing a wide range of legitimate social and political debates into a singular battle line that can make our differences appear even larger than they may actually be …Finding common cause — even to fight a common enemy in public health and (the) economic threat posed by the coronavirus — has eluded us.”
Yet, I see reason for hope, believing that we can heal this broken nation. Instead of turning on one another, as if we were engaged in a new civil war, we can turn to one another, even despite strong differences, and learn to treat one another as members of God’s one human family, as fellow Americans, perhaps even as friends.
How? We can start by getting to know one another. After 23 years of living in the same Springfield neighborhood, my wife and I decided to become better acquainted with more people on our street. She and a few neighbors hosted an outdoor potluck dinner, which, regrettably, I was unable to attend because of illness. The dinner was a great success. People enjoyed good food and company. They got to know one another at a deeper level than polite waves and shouted hellos. Our neighbors are now more like friends than strangers.
And rather than associate only or mostly with people who are like us, or rely on news and opinion sources that simply confirm our views instead of challenging them, we can broaden our circle of acquaintances, experience and knowledge. I have made a new friend at a local fitness center. He is a conservative evangelical; I am a liberal Episcopalian.
He asked me one recent morning in the locker room, “Do you believe in Jesus?”
“I do,” I said. “He is my Lord and Savior.”
He responded, “Well, that’s the only thing that’s important.”
I told him I would pray for his upcoming operation and his recovery. He and I are one in Christ.
This is my first monthly column for the Springfield Daily Citizen about the intersection of faith and community. I worked as a newspaper reporter, a freelance writer and public relations practitioner before I went to seminary and was ordained as an Episcopal priest. I recently retired after nearly 27 years as rector of Christ Episcopal Church and now devote my time to writing, to community activism, to chaplaincy to the staff of Council of Churches of the Ozarks and to my family.
I welcome your ideas. How can we, in the words of the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, be instruments of God’s peace? Where there is hatred, how can we sow love? Where there is injury, pardon? Where there is discord, union? Where there is doubt, faith? Despair, hope? Darkness, light? Sadness, joy? In short, how can we bring more heaven to this earth? Email me your thoughts using the contact information below.