Saturday, November 12, 2016

can we heal?

As this particularly rancorous, gutter-level and extraordinary election season finally culminated with a bang and not a whimper, both contenders in their concession and acceptance speeches stressed the need for a “unified” country. Let’s be honest: the depth of the charges and name-calling lobbed at each other and even within their own respective parties make it difficult for these fresh wounds to simply be band-aided over. And let’s not even mention the tweets and posts from their supporters that leveled every dark and dirty crime against the other. A simmering Civil War has boiled over, but instead of muskets and powder, social media is the weapon of choice.

But heal we must.

The question is, of course, how? As a former pastor, I’ve sat many times with two people who would rather be in a galaxy far, far away from each other than in the same uncomfortable office with me, whether it be a fractured marriage, family or even staff. But as any counselor knows, the process gets ugly before it gets better, because real healing only happens as we dig into the wound to pull the bullets out. The way that works at a spiritual and emotional level is by the lost art of empathy, cultivated by an even more vanishing process: listening.

So as someone who follows the Jewish carpenter who proclaimed, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” please let me suggest a look at the primary entrance wounds on both sides of the divide. With the flip of a coin, I’ll begin with the red states.

Trump supporters must take a hard look at the racial pain their rhetoric has created. When conservatives make a point of “taking our country back” or “making America great again,” they must empathetically reflect how that must sound to a culture that drove the early economic engine of America’s prosperity via enslavement, ripping families apart, emasculating men of color, raping women and then creating Jim Crow laws that subjugated people of color with devilish precision. So what African-American would want to go back to that, particularly when they are still dealing with systemic and residual racism that decimated their families and culture for hundreds of years? Do we not think that has an effect far into the future? I’ve sat with middle-class suburbanites in their 40’s and 50’s abused as children and yet still dealing with deep dysfunctions, typically affecting their ability to build intimacy and trust in relationships. Try sowing that with an entire race for centuries; guess what the emotional, societal and familial harvest is? When fifty-one percent of Americans want to return to the nostalgic 1950’s, referenced by Trump himself, remember that’s an era when black Americans were banished from economic opportunities, sitting in the back of city buses, serving as suburban domestics, drinking from “colored only” water fountains, with no viable political or social voice and little hope of upward mobility.

I recently visited the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte that exhibited the racial past of North Carolina. It’s not pretty. But in the 70’s and early 80’s, Charlotte public schools walked out the challenging and resisted process of desegregation via busing, resulting in school scores and graduation rates that went through the roof for minorities: it was a complete win, one that the Charlotte Observer claimed was Charlotte’s “proudest achievement”.

But in 1984, President Reagan gave a speech in Charlotte calling school desegregation a failed “social experiment that nobody wants” to a stunned crowd. The next day, the Observer indignantly responded with the editorial headline: “You Were Wrong, Mr. President.” Minorities, of course, were affected dramatically, and now today children—and resources—suffer massive segregation. In 1989, only 1-in-50 black students attended a hyper-segregated school; two decades later, it’s an astonishing 1-in-3. Charlotte is now ranked 50th among the 50 largest cities in a child’s mobility to move up economically from poverty. Reagan’s war against desegregation and funding public education, for example, sliced the city of Buffalo’s yearly $7.4 million public school budget to a draconian cut of a mere $950,000.

And so, for instance, when conservatives hold up Reagan as a political hero, it depends on your cultural context and the things that affect you most directly. Or as the African proverb says, “Until the lion has his own storyteller, the hunter is always the hero.”

Okay, blue states, now it’s your turn.

If we are to seek healing by practicing empathy via listening (and not defaulting to defending), we have to confront the issue that divides Americans nearly fifty percent: abortion. Blue-staters must hear the pain that a segment of conservatives, particularly the religious, feel over it. I don’t think this country has the political will or should want to send a seventeen-year old to prison for having an abortion, but surely we have to admit that one million abortions a year in the U.S. alone reveal something about how we consider life or even the “potential of life” if biologists and doctors can’t agree on the moment it begins. In other words, shouldn’t we give as much latitude as we can because of the ambiguity and possibility?

Take religion out of it if that helps. Writing about abortion in Nation magazine decades ago, the late outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens opined, “anyone who has ever seen a sonogram or has spent even an hour with a textbook on embryology knows that emotions are not the deciding factor . . . . In order to terminate a pregnancy, you have to still a heartbeat, switch off a developing brain... break some bones and rupture some organs.”

During this recent election cycle, Hillary Clinton caught the ire of both sides of the abortion divide when she stumbled into the argument of when life begins. Questioned on Meet The Press about abortion restrictions and the rights of the unborn, she said matter-of-factly, “The unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights.” She backpedaled and added, “That doesn’t mean that we don’t do everything we possibly can, in the vast majority of instances to, you know, help a mother who is carrying a child and wants to make sure that child will be healthy, to have appropriate medical support.” The problem was: she inadvertently referred to a fetus as a “person.”

You would think we could at least wrestle with some compromise: what does it really mean to be “safe, legal and rare”? In spite of Roe v. Wade, how do we all really work together to make it truly rare? Though abortion rates have dropped dramatically over the last fifteen years in developed countries, mostly due to the increased use of modern contraception, it is still overall an incredibly mindbending number.

Enough said.

To have a “unified country” as both parties have stressed requires admitting we have not only turned a deaf ear, but we’ve not made any attempt to confess our sins. Instead, we retreated to our sanctimonious corners while leaving a trail of editorial IEDs. I didn’t say it would be easy; I’m just making an appeal in behalf of the one who challenged us to be peacemakers.


  1. Dave, we can't even be peacemakers within our own walls. The church can't even get along. Until we purify ourselves we can't be light to the world. At best we are a flickering bulb with a short and a layer of dust blocking the light.

    We need a revival within the church, and a purification of the saints ... and that will in turn pour out into the world. Until we stop perpetuating a zillion programs and get on our knees and start praying and fasting the way we are told to... God can't and won't heal our land...

    If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 niv

    Again we are trying to do it ourselves... we are overthinking it and not just praying and handing it over to the one who truly can heal our land. In a way only HE can!

  2. Thank you so much Dave. We all need to learn to listen with love and repentance.

  3. Thank you for your words. Good council may not always be welcome, but it should be. I just wonder who's going to cross the no mans land picking up the land mines and toxic shells? I admit it. I'll do it but it's a frightening thing to contemplate. People don't just mislike each other on this day. They hate each other. Its also disheartening to see our religion or faith being placed as bulletstops for some of the worst possible positions or interpretations. But I guess that's why Christianity is for fearful people being strengthened to be fearless. Love. Grace. Mercy. Wisdom. Knowledge. I'd like to hear more of these words instead of the ones being lobbed toward each other. Love you.

  4. great words! Thanks Dave. Now--pray for me and all the other pastors trying to encourage our red and blue congregations to love each other and be ONE as Jesus prayed in John 17. By this the world will know that He is the Christ if we really listen and love each other. Thanks again!

  5. From "With the flip of a coin, I’ll begin with the red states" down to Enough said. This would appear to be written from a socialist Democrat in an attempt to appear fair. But is not on point with real facts & history, flipping the actual side at fault while making lite of abortion, as the only topic for the left side....really? The influence of Saul Alinsky and the socialist agenda to destroy this Nation from within is ignored. But there was no hesitation to lump a very large group of good people under Trump, saying they are the cause of racial pain....really? The Media has been playing the rhetoric with false statements and playing the White House song & dance always in favor for the left. Never bias or reporting anything fairly, never showing uncut video to show the full context and message of what was really said. The race card & sex card are 2 cards of rhetoric that have been played far too much by the Left. Forgetting that Democrats wanted to keep slavery & many whites died in that war for their freedom, that the Muslim slave trade was involved in the beginning, that Blacks also owned slaves & sold each other out, later Dems not wanting Blacks to vote, abortion was introduce as a means to keep down their population, all by Democrats in history. These things were never supported by Republicans, but they get the blame... Each person must be accountable for what they done, & what they do from now on in this life time. What happen 200 years ago can no longer be an excuse. Nor should any white person alive today have to be blamed for things they did not partake of. Blacks & Whites both need to own up to their wrong doing and behavior, that they do by choice. The excuses & lie's are just that excuses & lie's. To pass those on in yet another topic is getting old. This divide is the direct end result of 8 years of a biracial president that has weaken this country at all points, who sides for Muslim over Christian. NEVER lifting a hand to aid those murdered & sold as sex slaves because they were Christian & would not convert. Oh yea, media didn't cover that.
    Exo 23:7 Avoid telling lies. Don't kill innocent or honest people, because I will never declare guilty people innocent.

    1. I think you missed the point...which was all about empathy. In these times, that might be one of the more Christ-like approaches we can take. And you mislabeled me.

  6. It's easy to identify you as a Liberal Democrat because of your description of the Blue States after your thorough lecture to the Red States. Every Vineyard Pastor I have encountered has been a Liberal Democrat.
    For the past 8 years, Barack Hussein Obama has bowed to Muslims all over the world; he will not even identify "Radical Islamic Terror" for what it is and he has vilified Christians and Christianity over and over again. Regarding Obama’s statement that he is a “Christian” ... Jesus said, "You will know them by their fruit."
    Millions are jobless, our GDP is the lowest it has been since World War II, we have lost credibility with world leaders; our insurance premiums are skyrocketing; companies are moving overseas and I could go on …
    Additionally, the DNC is becoming more and more "Godless" and put forth a candidate who has a 30 year reputation of scandal after scandal; is a known pathological liar and who is a known crook only out for the power of the Presidency and nothing else. Mrs. Clinton is eaten up with arrogance and pride. She should have been criminally indicted for her treatment of US documents as Secretary of State etc. Anyone with common sense knows this.
    Donald Trump has said absolutely nothing to indicate he wants to reinstate slavery. To the contrary, he has stated he wants to work to improve the inner cities and to provide educational choices to inner city youth. He simply wants a law abiding America that has secure borders.
    You mention Abortion. Yes, the Lord is against murdering innocent children. Mrs. Clinton defended "partial birth abortion" and stated that children in the womb have no constitutional rights and this line of questioning began to display her inner rage and anger as the nation witnessed within the third debate. I suggest you visit Proverbs 6: 16-19 for how the Lord feels about this.
    Obama and Clinton are both Globalist who follow the radical alt-left teachings of Saul Alinsky. The violent protest we are seeing now as well as Obama and Clinton's encouragement to demonize Law Enforcement is part of that alt-left philosophy being played out. Notice neither of them are condemning the property damage and violence now on full display by the "tolerant" left as they "protest."
    Because of Obama and Clinton, the election is seen as "racist" and a "white backlash." White people are now supposed to be ashamed of them self purely for being white.
    While I whole heartedly agree with the commands by Jesus to love God and to love others ... let me remind you that Jesus also told the absolute TRUTH and called out sin for what it was. He never excused sin and he didn't practice "political correctness."
    While I continue to live my life as a Christian, I will love others and minister to those in my inner circle of daily life; however, I refuse to apologize for being "white," or "slavery" (as I wasn't even alive at the time) and I will not be anyone's welcome mat to run over. Healthy boundaries are also taught by Jesus ... "don't cast your Pearls before the swine;" ... "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet."

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    2. I'm neither a socialist or a registered Democrat, but I do find it interesting, for instance, that God commanded Israel to practice the Jubilee, which seems to imply redistribution, or at the very least, restitution as it relates to property. To my knowledge, there's no historical evidence that they followed through with it, but the fact that God thought it critical seems interesting, to say the least, and has caused me to wonder about some of my apparent past stances on "absolute Truth" as you referred to. And honestly, most Vineyard pastors I know are not Democrats...and I've known a lot.

  7. If we are to truly live as Christians then we need to be able to separate the sin from the sinner. Hate the sin but love the sinner. As I read the replies I can clearly see what the problem is. Instead of taking personal responsibility for our part in this we choose to place blame. The Dems are the problem, the republicans are the problem, president Obama is the problem, Hilary is the problem, Trump is the problem, whites are the problem, no blacks are the problem. Change begins and ends with you because to look at the sty in your brother’s eye missing the log in your own is to miss the point. You are either a part of the problem or a part of the solution. I think Dave was saying there is enough blame to go around. I agree with his spirit that says until we start to take a walk in each other’s shoes, which is so hard to do we will never move forward. The very act of forgiveness requires that we surrender. For God so loved the world that He gave ... Love requires sacrifice, which we don't seem to be able to do, even though God says that we have to love. If we could all just be more Christian than white and more Christian then black, we all win. Sin before skin, not the other way around. Our allegiance as believers should be to God, not to race or party, then we will make the right choice.

  8. Hi Dave,

    I appreciate your thoughts on this subject. By some replies that have been left, it's sadly clear that some in your audience have not seen the forest through the trees. I don't understand how they cannot see that your examples of perceptions seen by the other sides are just one each of many, many problems that must be faced. Instead, hiding behind the anonymity of a keyboard (doubly so by those too fearful to even place their name on the thoughts they claim to own), they attack you as one of "those" people, the ones they see as the root cause of the troubles our nation faces. They are blinded by the lack of humility to see that the person they face in the mirror each day is indeed part owner to the division that is ripping us apart. Through social media, email, and instant messages, we are being separated from our humanity by removing the human factor. Anger and hatred become emboldened when you don't have to face, to be within physical reach, of those you hope to offend.

    Yes, the unity of our nation has been fractured, severely so, by people so fervently needing to be affirmed in what they believe that many were willing to say any hurtful thing, to believe every angry post, without bothering to take personal responsibility and check the facts of the posts they willingly reposted only because it gave them a sense of righteousness. This civil wrongdoing was perpetrated equally by Americans on both sides of the political divide.

    As a country, are we better off for it? No. I'd be willing to bet onlookers from other nations are left wondering if the American Democracy Experiment is coming to an end.

    Without the compassion to try to understand where a person with different viewpoints than my own is feeling hurt, I am not likely to be willing to admit my own faults. That admission is vital for this wounded nation to heal.

    I want to thank you and the church for all you have done to bring me and my family further down the road to salvation. The Vineyard has been a constant reminder for us as to what truly is important.

  9. Thanks for your kind words about the Vineyard. In my humble opinion, it's a great church! :)