I long to find some middle of the road — call it bipartisan, moderate, conciliatory. Sadly, that middle space invites disdain from partisans of both sides. Therefore, hopeful, naïve, idealistic, and deluded are another whole set of adjectives. Perhaps my musings are futile; so at various times I can lay claim to any or all of these feelings about my longings.

Change is scary and hard to manage for almost everyone. Rapid, often out of control, social and cultural change drive confused and frightened people to defensiveness, anger and the easy adoption of empty slogans and simplistic answers to complicated issues.

Progress that can be sustained comes in smaller “bites” than either extreme would choose, otherwise there is neverending push and shove. We certainly see that in the bitter seesawing of our divisive politics. How many writers over how many months do I join in once again asking for honest, respectful, and open-minded conversations about issues and possible solutions? Let’s try again anyway.

My opening plea is to stop the name calling. I am infinitely weary of “liberal” and “democrat” being used as dirty words. I have borne that weariness for years from religious fundamentalists and more recently from political hacks. The attack ads from the incumbents during the Georgia senate runoff offered virtually no issues other than repeating excitable warnings about “radical liberals.” What exactly were they talking about and what exactly were they are either for or against? What solutions to difficult problems were offered?

Give me some room to consider election security and voter fraud issues. The words themselves drag all kinds of baggage behind them. Covid concerns immensely complicated what is already a reality about our overly strained voting system. There are simply too many people and too complex a technological lifestyle to expect that all legitimate votes can be cast in one day and counted that night.

By all means let’s consider how best to encourage large voter participation while also being concerned that votes are not illegally manipulated. But unfounded claims of fraud, repeatedly rejected by courts of law, and threats to election workers are no solution — they are suspicion running wild on the way to anarchy. They also make it harder for future elections, both by the suspicions that linger and the fact noted in the Jan. 7 RN-T that veteran elections workers are quitting. Why should they put up with threats and intimidation?

Give me some room when we talk about political correctness. A pox on both extremes! (I think) I get the disgust with liberal snowflakes that seem to be offended way too easily. Indeed, there are too many “illiberals” who are as dogmatic and close minded as those they condemn. However, bigots and bullies love to make whiny claims about political correctness when they can’t intimidate opponents into silence. On the conservative side, what can possibly be a more blatant display of political correctness than the refusal to wear face masks in a pandemic because their fearless leader does not wear a face mask?

Please, please give me some room when we talk about rights. Can we somewhere talk about how to balance the interplay of rights? If the abortion issue has cheapened the life of the unborn, let’s also talk about how poverty, racism, gun violence, addiction and discrimination cheapen born life. How does strongly held concern for the unborn translate to life and death issues like war and capital punishment as well as concerns about how to protect ourselves from violent criminals or terrorists?

I believe that American Christianity has failed miserably in what it should be bringing into discussions about rights. It trips lightly from the tongues of most religious people that we should love our neighbor, but too much actual energy goes into protecting cultural rights and privileges. Were that not so, evangelicals would talk more about the Biblical prophets and about Jesus’s call for justice for the poor and outcasts than about justice being primarily to lock up looters. The Bible speaks far more about compassion and concern for others than it does about one’s rights. The politicized version of evangelical faith has frankly abandoned this Biblical perspective.

WAIT! I began this column on the morning of Jan. 7. By that afternoon, a mob incited by the defeated president attacked the Capitol. Now I find it far harder to seek moderation with followers of a lawless leader and to respond in love as Jesus demanded. What I am tempted to do is to vomit my disgust. What I and others must do is to try even harder to come together seeking the common ground of true community.

I write this admittedly still dealing with my own anger and my own prejudices. With it I challenge the reader to take a look at your own prejudices. There is no easy way to actually facilitate the kinds of conversations I propose. They would be risky. They would be intense. But they could also be respectful, enlightening and ultimately healing. Amen and Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Gary Batchelor is an ordained Baptist minister and active church member. He is retired after a nearly 40-year local ministry as a hospital chaplain. His particular interest lies in issues of faith and culture.

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