Let Us Find Common Ground
COMMENTARY: I want to talk to my conservative friends.
This nation is too divided, and we may not survive (literally) if we cannot come together. I don’t mean we have to agree. Diversity of ideas is our nation’s brilliance. The dialogue of different ideas is our strength. So, we don’t need agreement (we actually need some healthy disagreement!) – so being able to talk is indispensable, literally essential to the health of a democracy.
As I listened to the mean-spirited campaigns in the recent mid-term elections, I was appalled at a lot of the vitriol, and over and over I was just sadly bewildered at what conservatives told me that I believe. These voices weren’t actually speaking to me, personally, but since mean-spirited politics is all about stereotyping and demonizing, caricaturing with broad brush judgments, when someone curses “the liberals,” well, as they intend, I take that personally!
And as long as you honestly believe that I don’t love this country and that I want to take away all of your guns and that I love killing babies and that if you have a decent job I want to give your paycheck to some undocumented immigrant (who’s already getting free healthcare and education), and if you believe that I love spotted owls more than children, well, there’s very little chance we are going to have any conversation.
I’m not exaggerating, and I’m not talking about arguments of purposely overstated, tongue-in-cheek hyperbole. I’m talking about literal words I have heard from conservative people, good – but very misguided Americans – who apparently really believe their liberal neighbors hate the constitution, really believe it is impossible for a Democrat to be a Christian, really believe we all want wide-open borders, really believe the Democratic National Committee is actually paying Central Americans to form caravans for the purpose of storming the southern border.
To my conservative friends – if this is what you believe about me, you must trust me that you have been deceived. This is crazy. And worse, these kinds of extremist overstatements are very dangerous. You remember the guy with all the mail bombs? He believed those kinds of things, and because he believed liberals (who don’t believe all those crazy things) are demons, he felt motivated and justified to put explosives in their mail boxes.
You’ve got to stop this. We’ve got to stop this.
Yes, my understanding of issues, my beliefs about the cause of our problems and my convictions about the solutions to them show the bias of my education, my global outlook, my fearless approach to multiculturalism, my enthusiasm for religious pluralism, my “communitarian” approach to economics – yes, I am liberal in my approach to religion and culture and economy – but I’m not evil because I am “open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values” (the definition of “liberal”). Some old behaviors and opinions and traditions actually need to be discarded! The question is when and how we got so hard-hearted and so close-minded that we could feel good about hating people who differ from us in the way we think about things? (This happens on both sides. I can’t listen to Fox news or MSNBC (“Fox for Liberals”). The defeating, destructive anger literally turns my stomach.)
So, let me channel a little inner Joan Rivers and say, “Can we talk?”
I don’t just think we could learn to respect each other. I know we could, because I’ve had these conversations, and what I always – always – learn is that what I want for the world and for my children is pretty much the same things my conservative friends want. Yes, we want to go about achieving those things in a different way, but you really must quit believing I am wicked or stupid because my ideas about the problems and the solutions differ from yours.
We’ve got to stop demonizing one another. I have always believed that I do not have a hold on the Truth. (And I have always believed you do not, either!) I have always believed that Truth comes to us, with some mysterious mix of fate and faith, in the marketplace of ideas. It is the genius of our democracy – and we risk losing that democracy if we continue this lunacy. Honest people, respecting one another, looking for a vision that is broader than any one of us can have alone – almost always find it.
So, let’s talk… immigration and abortion and globalism and religious tolerance and gay marriage and economy and environment… I’m not afraid of any of the questions. I won’t “preach” – but I won’t be demeaned, either. If we can come to one another, honestly, with respect and civility, we’ll all be better off.
Can we talk? My door and phone and email are always open… or, better yet, find a liberal friend this week, invite her/him for a cup of coffee and have some conversation. We’ll all be better off.
(Dr. Russ Dean is a graduate of Clinton High School. He and his wife, Rev. Amy Jacks Dean, also a CHS graduate, are co-pastors of Charlotte’s Park Road Baptist Church.)