For many of us, the events of the past few weeks have been uppermost in our minds. The fact that people can march and speak openly is universally accepted and indeed a part of our heritage. It is in our Constitution, our right to free speech, even when others don’t agree with us.
But when those marching come bearing guns and clubs, proudly wearing symbols of hate groups such as the KKK or Neo Nazis, our tolerance is stretched to the breaking point. When they start spouting lines such as “Jews will not replace us,” we know that it is not only Jews that are being threatened. Should we keep silent as many people did in earlier periods of history, on the theory that if they are ignored, eventually they will go away. Or because they are not talking about us, but some other group?
In 1967, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a book entitled “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”
Our country was in turmoil, polarized into multiple factions. We were fighting an unpopular war in Vietnam, had declared war on poverty and had people fighting in the streets. We have been here before. In his book, Dr. King cites a story after a famous novelist has died and left a list of potential plot lines:
“‘A widely scattered family inherits a house in which they all have to live together.’ This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a large house — a great ‘world house’ in which we have to live together…a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who because we can never live apart, must learn to live with each other in peace.”
Easy to say, but how are we, so polarized now, to find middle ground? We can’t even talk to each other in a rational fashion anymore. Open your mouth with the wrong person and you get an earful.
So many Facebook responses are loaded on all sides with expletives and slurs; I cannot find middle ground with my cousins on one side of the family. Friends sometimes go too far in the opposite direction. We forget that we all have to live in this “house” together, recognizing the commonalities among us, not the differences.
And that is the key — our common goals and beliefs.
In Galatians 3:28, Paul writes “There is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
If we are to maintain the concept that we are a Christian nation, we have to follow the teachings, and the examples of Jesus Christ. To mouth his words without treating our fellow men and women as He did is repudiate our professed beliefs in Christ.
Jesus gave us two commandments, the only ones we need. The first is to love God with all your heart. Ask anyone, and they will say “of course,” even when you frame the question include people of different faiths.
But then Jesus throws in the tough one — his second and equally important commandment — to love and treat our fellow men as we love and treat ourselves. And there we are, back in that large house trying to live together.
What do we choose — chaos or community?
Jody Gebhardt is a member of St. David’s Episcopal Church.