I mean this as a sincere question: what do you think is positive about today's rally (which will probably be finished by the time I write these thoughts)? If I compared people who disagree with me with Nazis, and if I compared policies which I disagree with to slavery, people would be concerned about me. (Nazism and slavery are very great evils, inappropriately evoked for personal purposes.) Yet Mr. Beck has expressed these kinds of things. Similarly, if I peppered my language with images of loading and firing weapons, at the very least people would think my language is irresponsible. Yet Gov. Palin says and writes these kinds of things. And if, for instance, I planted gossipy and negative remarks about my pastor as I talked to church people, I would destroy rather than build up the congregation: even if I thought I was right, my methods would make me wrong and harmful. But that kind of destructiveness characterizes a great deal of political discussion these days.
Peaceful assembly, political disagreement, and spirited public discussion are necessary and cherished American freedoms. But I keep hoping and praying for something that explicitly aims at a difficult and elusive goal---a national feeling that we're all in this together, even when we're angry and when we disagree.
One thing I think would help, but it is difficult: we need to be well-read and historically-aware citizens. We don't have to have comprehensive knowledge based on every available news source--no one has time for that. But we can read even a few articles and news sources that puts current events into the context of American history. We shouldn't believe, for instance, that a certain policy is "socialist" or "fiscally conservative" until we've even just a basic awareness of similar policies among previous presidential administrations and congressional sessions. We can read about and appreciate Islam; we can get a sense of the causes of poverty, and so on.
Another thing we can do, is also difficult: we need to see other people with a sense of empathy. I don't mean we shouldn't have discernment. But that discernment comes after we've listened to people--to walk a mile in their shoes, as the cliche says. (Thus my sincere question at the beginning of these thoughts.) Kindness and compassion are essential scriptural virtues and, in fact, are gifts of God's Spirit. If we're angry that we don't feel like our own views and convictions are listened to, then we say so (one motive, I think, for today's rally). But we also need to model compassionate concern and listening, to "be the change you want to see in the world," to use another cliche.
Yet another difficult thing: if we are religious and also politically interested, we need to take care that the words we use about politics are commensurate with our faith and witness. If we express God's love on one hand, and political contempt on the other, we don't always realize that the contempt rather than the love is what is being communicated to people. We need to figure out how to have peaceful, loving words and hearts, even when we're politically riled up. Not easy! but necessary if we don't want our language of faith and love to ring hollow.
I appreciate these verses: "For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another" (Gal. 5:14-15, quoting Lev. 19:18b). If we seem to be on the road to biting and devouring one another, what should we do, and how do we love our neighbor as we seek the well-being of our country?
Lincoln's second inaugural address, carved inside the memorial, gives answers which I think are alarmingly contemporary--and worth discussion about how to achieve today. "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."