In 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech which impacted all America. In this message he shared how he dreamed that one day people would not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character, and that people would not let their differences continue to divide them. This message resonated with people from all walks of life and helped this country begin to heal some of the racial divisions that had longed plagued this nation. Obviously, we still have a long way to go to see his dream completely fulfilled, but we have made progress.
We are today a nation divided by more than racial divisions. Our recent election process has demonstrated how divided a nation we are. In the past elections produced winners and losers, and everyone went about their business after the election. Some were pleased with the results, and others were not pleased, but the results were accepted and people went on with their lives. That has not been the case this time.
Riots broke out in many cities with much loss of property. People were pulled from their cars and beaten because of the candidate they supported. Some were shot. Numbers of people were arrested, and innocent people were terrorized by thugs all in the name of protesting the results of the election. Schools canceled classes so students could go to their "safe places" and grieve in safety over the election results. Suicide hot lines were reportedly overwhelmed with callers thinking of ending their lives because their candidate was not elected. Never in the history of this nation have we seen such actions at the end of an election.
We are a divided nation. We are a nation of African-Americans, Greek-Americans, Asian-Americans, Euro-Americans, Native-Americans, etc. As long as we are a hyphenated people we will be a divided nation. There is nothing wrong with appreciating our heritages, but we must first and foremost be Americans or we will continue to be divided. We are conservative, liberal, independent, libertarian, green, etc. As long as we are more focused on our political bents than on focusing on making American great for all Americans we will remain a divided nation. Until Democrats and Republicans commit to working together to ensure that all Americans can share in the American dream we will be a divided nation. Until political parties are more committed to America than they are to winning votes we will continue to be a divided nation.
For 35 years I have served in pastoral and judicatory ministry, and I have seen the church divided over both major and minor issues. I have seen some of the most childish behavior among church people, most of whom would insist they were mature believers, over matters that didn't deserve even minor discussion. I have witnessed believers scream and curse at one another over matters of minor church polity and then wonder why their children were not interested in the church or the Christian faith.
Because of social media this election has brought out some of the worst in many Christians. The election is past, but some are still whining about the results. They are judging the actions of a man who has not even taken office and expressing their fears about what he might or might not do. At the least one would think they would withhold their criticism and judgement until he has actually done something that alarms them, but they are already demonstrating a critical spirit.
The church is divided among liberals, moderates, and conservatives and a host of newer categories. Seldom are these various factions able to work together on matters of importance. Billy Graham was often criticized because he invited leaders from all factions of Christianity to work together to help his crusades touch the most people possible. It's like some Christians would prefer that people not hear the Gospel than to work alongside some they disagree with to help make that possible.
America and the churches within its borders are in a dangerous place right now. Until we address the divisions that exist in both we are going to continue to drift away from what we might have been. Until we recognize that what we have in common is far more important than what divides us we will never be able to work together for the common good. I'm not calling for us to ignore our differences or pretend they don't exist. I am calling for us to stop putting people in boxes based upon those differences and refuse to work with anyone who isn't in our box.
If we truly want all Americans to once again participate in the American dream then our leaders and those of us in the streets and fields of this nation have to put aside our differences and find ways to work together to make that happen. If we in the church want the church to once again influence and impact our culture we have to find ways to work together to make that happen. If we fail, our nation and churches will continue their downward spiral, and the dreams of Dr. King and countless others will never be realized.