Unrequited Hate Across Our Political Divide

This piece appeared as a newspaper op/ed on the last weekend of April, 2020.


My heart aches over the strife and division in America. And I know that, one of the effects my way of going about trying to “bridge” that division is has the effect – with some people — of increasing it.

Week after week, I write pieces here that challenge the majority of the people in this region. I understand that many of those people will be offended by what I say. I know that some will regard me as their “enemy.” And some will go so far as to hate me.

I do not reciprocate that feeling. And that’s certainly not the relationship I’m seeking when I write those challenging messages.

My own deep yearning is for all of us to meet in some kind of spirit of love – or at least kindness and good will. It is a tragedy, to me, that what I feel called to do to help get us to a healthier political relationship will be experienced by some as a hostile attack and will hate me for it.

I acknowledge, however, that their reaction makes sense because my underlying message has been, in effect, to tell them that “In your politics, you’re making a big mistake.” And because a lot of people I’m challenging hold their political positions with considerable passion – on guns, on Trump, etc. – the notion that they might be making some big mistake is understandably pretty unpalatable.

But I don’t feel hostility toward them. As I’ve observed about myself, I don’t do hate.

I believe in that venerable Christian idea of “Hate the sin but love the sinner” is exactly right. That moral truth fits well with that yearning of mine for us all to be able to come together in a way that enriches our lives and helps us move our world forward. That feeds our hearts the way the Hollywood endings of things – when love finally triumphs over conflict – when the people finally come together as they should.

“Love the sinner” is also bolstered by another important Christian statement: “There but for the Grace of God go I.”

(The way I think about how human beings come to be broken, for example, led me to agree in some fundamental way with President Reagan, back in the 1980s, when Reagan spoke of the Nazi SS — whose graves he planned to visit — as “victims” of Nazism. Many attacked Reagan, saying: How can those Nazi thugs be “victims” when they were the ones that drove the horror? In defense of Reagan, I’d say: Truly these men — who grew up, in a world that they did not choose, into people willing to commit atrocities — were the victims of the broken world that molded their development.)

Anyway, in this quite broken world, sometimes a destructive spirit will take possession of a mass of people and drive them to destroy. It has happened again and again throughout history.

  • In the ancient world, whole cities would be put to the sword by their conquerors.
  • Centuries ago in Europe, the hostilities between peoples over their religious differences led to a “Hundred Years War”;
  • Not so long ago, in America, a whole region of people participated in a culture in which the lynching of black men was a frequent and accepted occurrence.

Whole swaths of people can be swept up by misguided passions and beliefs that make their engagement with the “Other” quite opposite from that positive relationship of harmony, goodwill, kindness, and respect that I’ve spent my life yearning to see in the world.

Even (otherwise) good people can be caught up in such things.

So for me, there’s no hate.

Indeed, across the current divide, a bit of “love” remains in my heart—a genuine feeling that grew in me over years back in the 1990s in which I had hundreds of hours of talk radio conversations with conservatives about matters meaningful to us both. A number of those conservatives made their beauty visible to me. So I know “the better angels of their nature.”

It is to those “better angels” that I always reach out in those various challenging messages I send out in my op/eds.

I regret that such challenging is how I feel compelled to reach out. But there’s too much is getting damaged for us to attend to any other dimension of our relationship.

The current dynamic in our politics is tearing at the very foundations of American civilization, ripping apart so many of the important virtues of this nation of ours—virtues being assaulted with astonishing consistency by one side of our political divide. Addressing what’s gone awry in our political relationship is a necessity, if we’re ever to get to a place where a constructive spirit can again govern our collective affairs.

Americans have come together to make good things happen for centuries. The good of America requires that a large group of Americans perceive their mistake and work their way back to a better path forward, one that enables us as a people feeling good together in the way those feel-good Hollywood movies make us feel.

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