“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
President Lincoln’s famous paraphrase of Jesus was a wise word to a nation torn apart by the issues of slavery and states’ rights.
Lincoln’s words seem as true today as they were the day they were said.
The 2016 election, 2018 midterm elections, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh hearings and the current scandal in the Catholic Church have all been factors in dividing the nation.
American families and friends avoid discussing the election or issues of faith for fear that the inevitable passion of the discussion could create deep wounds that might be difficult to heal.
But avoidance of a potentially divisive issues is counterproductive. The division remains, and the gulf inevitably widens between the sparring parties.
This is true in families, between loving friends and among and within religions and nations. The task, local religious leaders said, is not to seek a society, a family, or a friendship free of conflict, but to discover how conflict and civility can exist in the same space.
During her sermons at First United Methodist Church, the Rev. Susan Patterson-Sumwalt said she has talked about civility among her congregants.
“Scripture talks about the importance of ‘our tongues’ being used for good and not for ill. I have talked about my vision of wanting this church to be a place where we talk about things that are important to us even if those conversations are difficult,” she said.
“I have talked about not demonizing people who think differently. I have not directly talked about the Kavanaugh appointment yet. The emotion is high. However, we do need to talk about relationships between men and women on so many levels, along with the reality of sexual assaults and what happens to women in those experiences.”
Society has become polarized, and the Catholic Church approaches these discussions not from the politicized view, but from principles and values, explained the Rev. Robert Weighner, pastor of St. Anne Catholic Church.
“For example, if you are Republican you have a political stance, but if you are a Catholic Republican, you do not accept the party line blindly as we are commanded to care for the poor and care for social issues,” he said.
“I can be Republican and have a personal responsibility to use funds that I have accumulated and the responsibility to think about the place where I live and how to benefit those who go without,” he said. “The Lord said that with the giving of alms, all things are made right. The Lord even speaks to the power of giving alms and works, which means mercy.
“And for Democrats, we should not rely on government funding to do things but take responsibility for ourselves. If you are a Democratic Catholic and come to a way of living like that you have to remember that being pro-life is the No. 1 issue of justice,” Weighner said.
“I have parishioners who are Democrats and good friends, and I am hoping to talk to them about everything and how they reconcile voting Democrat with abortion. I will challenge them in a good way as we should be able to talk about everything with nothing off the table.”
He added, “We do need to face the issues, talk about them and challenge ourselves to be more thoughtful. Finally, it is important to always be nice.”
The Rev. Erik Carlson, pastor of Bradford Unitarian Universalist Church, discusses current events in some fashion at every service.
“In UU, we come from two very simple but distinct areas that there is one God, one life and all of us are inherently loved; and in a Christian standing that would mean everyone is safe. The way to think about this is that there is one light, and no one is left behind,” he said.
“We believe everyone is loved and worthy of respect and that translates into an obligation we have as human beings to love and respect everyone else, not just everyone who looks or thinks or votes like we do, but everyone,” he explained.
“The way that looks in practice is that you are in dialogue with your own folks but also those with whom you inherently disagree and that requires a certain amount of civility and dialogue. Without some kind of mutual respect and rules of discourse, it can quickly turn to violence. The kind of message of UU is that we are always tasked with choosing love over fear and whatever that is,” Carlson said.
He added that any service or sermon in general is meant to be a catalyst for conversation as well as an invitation for public dialogue.
“I think anytime people are talking about things, especially in the setting of the sacred space where civility and respect are reinforced, it is a good thing.”