How to Heal Our Divides Today

Thought leadership from organizations and individuals dismantling walls

We have a moral obligation

In the debate over climate change, does it not make logical sense to take out a life insurance policy on the planet? If there is any chance that the prevailing science is right about climate change, as the vast majority of climate scientists suggest, then we have a moral obligation to do what we can now to prevent it from continuing. 

Jesus advocated for such prudence when he told a parable about two men who built houses. One of the men dug deeply and laid the foundation of his house on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against his house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. Said Jesus, “the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of the house” (Luke 6:49).

For Christians, there are more than purely logical, pragmatic reasons for caring for the earth. There are profoundly theological reasons as well.

From “A House Divided: Engaging the Issues through the Politics of Compassion” by Mark Feldmeir – Chalice Press

What are you going to do about it?

To understand my evolution as a reconciliation leader,  you must first understand that I began my journey sincerely believing that if I could convince evangelical Christians that reconciliation was not some politically motivated agenda but a biblical calling rooted in Scripture, they would pursue racial justice. For years I tried to be biblical enough, nonthreatening enough, patient enough, persuasive enough, theologically rigorous enough, so that no one could say I had a hidden agenda. I wanted to see a revival come to and through the church by helping Christians become more actively involved in changing the world through the ministry of reconciliation.

And that’s what my ministry was about for a long time. I preached the good news of multiculturalism and diversity at churches and conferences. I led workshops and taught seminars and told people about inclusion and equity and how Jesus demonstrated these principles in his ministry. But along the way, there were indicators that my approach, while good and well-intentioned, was not effecting the type of change I knew in my heart needed to take place. 

As I have continued to wrestle with making sense of what is happening in the world around me, another question has emerged: What are you going to do about it? The answer is clear in my spirit, but not easy to fully accept. I decided to become brave – to say the things that I must say and to stand for the truth, regardless of the consequences. I knew that I had to start preaching a more honest and direct message about how we, the church, must work to repair broken systems, alongside those affected by them, in order to engage in reconciliation.

From “Becoming Brave: Finding The Courage To Pursue Racial Justice Now” by Brenda Salter McNeil – Brazos Press

The language we need does not yet exist

I want at once to break down the association of “bad = dark” and “good = light” because of the way our stupid human brains will equate this to people and their skin. Like so many things about issues of race, the language we need does not yet exist; there is a paradigm void that we must work to fill. In a world where good guys were white hats and bad guys were black ones, human skin falls on a spectrum of shades that are meaningless apart from two things: their inherent beauty as an expression of God’s diversity, and the structures of social hierarchy we place on them for the purposes of oppression.

From “Good White Racist? Confronting Your Role in Racial Injustice” by Kerry Connelly – Westminster John Knox Press

Corporations’ outsized power

But the departure from our past is visible not only in rising inequality and resultant pessimism – it is also apparent in the institutions that increasingly define our nation. Corporate conglomerates are replacing local and craft economies in almost every sector, including agriculture. America’s rugged individuals struggle against the loss of identity, autonomy, and mastery as they are subsumed into the anonymous labor of hyper-consolidated corporate machines and forced to pool meager wages to make ends meet. Corporate monopolies have hoarded profits and gained unrivaled economic influences through a wave of mergers. Because of corporations’ outsized power, workers’ leverage has eroded, and capitalists cite their responsibility to shareholders and market forces as justification for keeping pay low. Corporations search at home and abroad for ever-more-vulnerable populations to employ at ever-lower wages. 

In important ways, life is much improved at the bottom of American society, which makes some commentators optimistic that things will only get better. But these gains have come mostly at the price of long hours in insecure low-wage work. Slavery has been abolished, of course, but the still ruthless reality of structural inequality condemns many people of color to a life of intergenerational poverty, and in some ways the situation of black Americans is actually worsening. And women still struggle to participate equally in a society that manifestly favors male wage earners. The economic well-being of the middle class is eroding, and soaring private debt has become a common buttress to lagging incomes. 

The economic power of corporations has in turn become political power. While profits mount, so, too, does corporations’ creativity in evading financial and ethical responsibility to the public systems that allow them to flourish. Commercial giants successfully fend off feeble efforts to regulate them by buying off politicians and parties. Politicians collect exorbitant amounts of money from wealthy donors which they use to win elections, creating a dangerous mutuality between wealth and power. Interest groups also relentlessly pressure elected officials both to prop up corporate agendas and, paradoxically, to get out of the way of the free market. Thus, huge swaths of an increasingly interdependent economy go largely unregulated, and the system as a whole occasionally careens out of control. But the stratospherically wealthy remain insulated, even though their reckless actions often contribute to the crashes. 

From “The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again” by Robert D. Putnam

Is it just your journey, or is it our journey too?

The church I served for twenty-four years in the Washington, DC, area was full of people like you. Many were raised Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or Pentecostal but dropped out either because their questions were unwelcome or because the church’s answers were unsatisfying. But over time, life outside of a faith community was also unsatisfying, so one way or another, they found themselves in our company. Many told me our church was their last hope: if we couldn’t help them, they were done with religion forever.

Year after year, these spiritual seekers would come to our church and then get up their courage to make an appointment with the pastor. They would enter my office full of hope and caution, some with long and well-articulated lists of questions and nearly all with a vague but pervasive sense that, on one hand, their beliefs weren’t working for them, but on the other hand, those beliefs connected them to something real that they couldn’t walk away from.

They would leave my office with my best answers, and I would often be left with their toughest questions.

Between their doubts and my own, it’s no surprise that I went through my own intense period of faith deconstruction. Doing so is hard for anyone at any time, but doing so while being paid to believe and spread belief can feel like a combination of temptation and torture. It’s made all the more difficult when all of one’s professional peers are similarly being paid to believe.

I was fortunate: a member of my church leadership team came to me one day and said, “We need to decide if the journey you’re on – this journey of rethinking your faith – is just your journey, or if it’s our journey too.” I begged him not to bring this question up to the leadership team; I was afraid he would precipitate my being fired or half of my board quitting. Thankfully, he did not do what I asked but did what he felt was right, and the whole board responded with a message that brings tears to my eyes decades later as I write these words: This is not just your journey, but a journey we’re on together, they said. Please lead us through it. We trust you. And we need you.

That pivotal moment made it possible for me to remain in the pastorate and explore, question, learn, and grow with this congregation for over two decades. We walked together into the valley of the shadow of doubt, and I wouldn’t have survived as a pastor or as a Christian without their companionship.

From “Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What To Do About It” by Brian McLaren

When the cost of error is too high, the wise hedge their bets.

If, for ideological reasons, we cannot agree that human activity contributes to climate change, then we should consider it pragmatically, through the lens of risk-reward analysis. Even if we cannot prove the veracity of human-caused climate change, the most prudent approach is to act as if it is true. This is because if it is true, the benefits of betting that it’s true are enormous. Yes, we incur the cost of self-restraint by altering our lifestyles, but relative to the payoff, which in this case is the survival of human civilization, our cost is pretty low.

By contrast, if human-caused climate change is real and we bet against it, the cost is catastrophic: floods, drought, and international conflicts over water, land, and food could potentially end civilization as we know it. That is an infinite loss.

If we cannot agree that human activity contributes to climate change, then we can at least agree that the consequences of betting against it and being wrong far exceed the consequences of betting on it being true and being wrong.

This simple logic serves as justification for why so many of us purchase life insurance policies. For most people who own life insurance, the likelihood of dying prematurely is extremely low. Most of us will pay our far more money than we’ll ever get back. Nevertheless, we still believe in the efficacy of life insurance. We are willing to incur a small cost today to mitigate a potentially enormous cost to our families tomorrow. 

In the debate over climate change, does it not make logical sense to take out a life insurance policy on the planet? If there is any chance that the prevailing science is right about climate change, as the vast majority of climate scientists suggest, then we have a moral obligation to do what we can now to prevent it from continuing.

From “A House Divided: Engaging the Issues through the Politics of Compassion” by Mark Feldmeir – Chalice Press

They can’t identify as Christians any longer

I’ve traveled around the country working at the intersection of progressive politics and religion for the past decade and met countless activists bogged down by un-Christlike conservativism prevailing in our public square. Headlines in the media about conservative Christians doubting climate change or supporting a wall on the southern border defy a third-grade Sunday school understanding of Christian social ethics. One of the saddest trends I’ve encountered is people of goodwill and conscience who work for social and economic justice in their communities and feel they can’t identify as Christians any longer because they fear this self-identification will be taken the wrong way.

From “Just Faith: Reclaiming Progressive Christianity” by Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons – Broadleaf Books