It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences. – Audre Lorde

Silly me…I commented on a Facebook post several years ago. It was a political post and seemed like a legitimate question. Someone on the left wanted to know the thoughts of someone on the right. Within moments of my response I became a homophobic, woman hating (!), arrogant, money grubbing, uncompassionate, pig. Okay, let’s be fair…I added ‘pig’ to the list. The thing is, I am none of the above. My problem is that I tend to question the effectiveness of bureaucracies. Because of that, people who don’t know me or my beliefs labeled me as a right wing conservative and seem to feel I am fair game to lambast with inappropriate and untrue generalizations.

I couldn’t let go of the Facebook incident, indulging myself in my own brand of labeling.  I took their challenge and threw back at them the kind of rhetoric we all know does nothing except build political schisms. I never actually shared any of my negative comments, but shot hundreds of verbal darts at them in my mind. After several long, hard days of tormented pondering, I did respond with a bland statement apologizing for thinking a rhetorical question warranted an honest, heartfelt response. I thought the labeling and accusations were over.

Over the last few weeks, I have seen an increase in similar conversations when reading the comments section for internet news articles. If the publication is conservative, the comments slam liberals and vice versa. It’s as if folks are finding venues to spew frustration and seeking acceptance among like minded others. Very few individuals appear to be focused on listening to ideas that are foreign to their way of thinking. It becomes a cyber shouting match with both sides claiming to be right because their brand of rhetoric is supported by others who accept their generalized thoughts and ideas as facts without realizing “the facts” aren’t always true. It’s like gossip – unless you have personally experienced something, your version of the situation may or may not represent an actual occurrence. Scripture warns us about sharing gossip – a lot! The problem is, if we didn’t directly experience something or if we don’t know all of the facts, we can cause unimaginable damage to another. We start to believe only a part of a story and share it as if it is the truth when indeed our version of the situation may not resemble anything that actually happened. It’s like we pick and choose what we tell so we can label someone or something that we don’t agree with. Some labels stick so completely they make super glue look like homemade flour and water paste.

It gets worse. I follow several blogs written by respected 21st Century theologians, some of who identify themselves as “progressive Christians.” There is an irony to many of them. I mean, they throw around the Gospel and their Christian title, but judge anyone who doesn’t think their thoughts or believe their beliefs. One recent post even gave a list of adjectives for opposing political parties that seem to identify one side as a group who should be nominated for sainthood and the other side standing with one foot – or maybe both feet – in hell. Labels. It seems to me the only thing they do is polarize through judgement. Yup…pretty sure scripture says something about judging as well…

I mean, what would have happened if Jesus judged people? Would the woman who was to be stoned for adultery have died that day? (John 8:4-10) Would Jesus have spoken with the Samaritan woman? (John 4: 7-42) What about Zacchaeus, the tax collector? (Luke 19:1-10) Would Jesus have been kind to these folks if he bought into the current politically correct labels for them? Okay, they had issues – but don’t we all? The point is, Jesus didn’t point a finger and tell them how disgusting they were because they don’t think the way he thinks. Each one of them had conversation with Jesus and it was through that conversation they found a better way. Keep in mind, the conversation happened because he approached them, he listened and he cared about what happened to them. I have to believe it was his compassion that changed them. It wasn’t an attitude of arrogance that his way was the only way. Actually, Jesus could have pulled that one off better than any of us because his way is the perfect way. We get in trouble when we try to define details about what that looks like instead of simply acting out of love.  However, if we assume others are acting out of love as well, we have opened the door to conversation, understanding and developing a plan that is better than either individual could have made if he or she remained chained to their own perspective. You see, I firmly believe most people are intrinsically good. And…I can accept that most people want what is good for others well-being. Where we differ is in how we get there. Those differences should not come wrapped with accusations, slander and hate. They should be met with conversation leading to solutions that are greater than either side could make without the other.

The thing is, this isn’t even about politics. It’s about our human tendency to label someone because they don’t agree with your group and, based on that label, having the audacity to think you know everything about them. It should be about putting personal agendas aside long enough to listen and really hear a perspective that is developed through a lifetime of experiences even if they are different than your own. And, it’s about having the courage to agree or disagree with someone in a way that allows for open communication to sort through the differences.

There is a saying in our country – United we Stand. The full statement is, “United we stand, divided we fall.” To some this is a statement of power. Maybe…but maybe there is more. Scripture speaks of the positive nature of unity. Yet scripture also speaks of our differences and how those differences feed into the completeness of creation. Surely these aren’t conflicting statements. Surely we come in varieties of colors and sizes; right brained and left brained; male and female; social conservatives and social liberals; book smart and street smart; and a plethora of additional differences so that we can learn and grow with and because of each other. Unity doesn’t mean we should all agree. It does mean that we must live together in harmony, respecting what is good and right and true in God’s creation and appreciating that the manifestation of that respect will shine in a variety of ways.

The 1960’s and 1970’s were turbulent times in the United States. The divides were deep between young and old; establishment and new age; hawks and doves; men and women… As children we practiced drills requiring us to huddle under classroom desks as if they could somehow protect us from a nuclear holocaust. Demonstrations spanned from flag burning to bra burning. “Don’t trust anyone over 30” forged a generational us-against-them mentality. In the midst of demonstrations, war, drills, and sagging breasts – okay, the bra burning was a silly way to prove a point – a song written by Dino Valenti and recorded by the Youngbloods beaconed to us to come together, right now. The lyrics reverberate the teachings of scripture:

Love is but the song we sing,
And fear’s the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Know the dove is on the wing
And you need not know why
C’mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Ev’rybody get together
Try and love one another right now
Some will come and some will go
We shall surely pass
When the one that left us here
Returns for us at last
We are but a moments sunlight
Fading in the grass
C’mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Ev’rybody get together
Try and love one another right now
If you hear the song I sing,
You must understand
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It’s there at your command
C’mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Ev’rybody get together
Try and love one another right now
Right now
Right now!

The key, as Christ tried to teach us and the Apostle Paul reminded us, is love. So – how do we find love in an increasingly polarized society? We go boldly, knowing that it is the only option we have. We learn from the true Christians who brought coffee, sandwiches and cool water to hate-mongering demonstrators. We reach across political aisles with a handshake and understanding. We smile on our brothers (and sisters) and try and love one another right now. Right now!