It's easier to put opponents in boxes, attack, jeer, refuse to hear others out, and "unfriend," but Jesus calls us to do better than that.
The United States has just endured one of the most divisive election cycles in recent memory. The country is splintered, wounded, and deeply hurting.
In times of conflict, people instinctively gravitate to one of two behaviors: to unify, or to divide.
You might think it is easier to be a unifier than a divider, but the path of the divider requires much less effort. To put our opponents in boxes, attack, jeer, refuse to hear others out, and unfollow or unfriend is definitely much easier than to love.
Being a unifier requires strength and maturity. Unifiers inspire others with their courage, patience, and kindness. They lift up those who are feeling afraid and anxious. They love the unlovable. They struggle to understand the prickly, arrogant, and self-absorbed. They defend those who are vulnerable. They help others understand and love, rather than hate, their ideological enemies.
In times of high anxiety and division, people often don't respond well to cries for unity. Unifiers are attacked from both sides. They're called weak, naive, and compromising. Unifiers are ridiculed and told that they don't have the courage to fight for truth.
In reality, unifiers courageously open the way for truth because truth becomes clear and is mutually revealed through communication. Because we are limited human beings, we need other people to help us understand and to open our minds to see circumstances more objectively.
In an age when "tolerance" seems to be the last recognized virtue, there is very little real tolerance. To really tolerate a person is not to grit your teeth and bear them. Tolerance does not shout people down or assume to know their experiences or motivations. Tolerance does not paint with a broad brush or make easy generalizations. Tolerance does not scorn, mock, or deride — the emotions most on display in a divided society.
Authentic tolerance involves entering the experience of the other. Not just halfheartedly but with real effort. Unifiers tolerate in the true sense of the word. They reach out. They ask questions. They try to understand. They don't necessarily do this in order to find complete agreement, but in order to empathize, in order to love.
By escaping echo chamber friendships and social media groups, unifiers find truth and understanding by engaging with those who think differently. Unifiers debate respectfully, logically, and in good faith. They do not lecture. They do not carry on one-sided conversations. They do not talk about people as if they were not in the room. They do not shame, mock, or belittle. They leave behind anxiety, insults, contempt, black-and-white thinking, and a desire to control situations or other people.
Unifiers always ask themselves, "What am I missing? How can I learn more? How can I understand this person or this group of people?"
Unifiers are not filled with anxiety. Empathy quells fear. Because unifiers strive to understand, monsters and boogie men become flesh and blood. Unifiers humanize their enemies so that they can love them as the Gospel demands (Mt 5:44).
A common critique of unifiers is that they disregard the truth. After all, Jesus said, "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division" (Lk 12:51). But what few understand is that Jesus does not encourage us to cause division in any other way but in our adherence to the truth.
The devil loves to nurture division and hate. He tries to convince Christians that some things are so important that they should set aside virtue, especially charity, in the fight. He loves when people become "hammers" and "machetes" of truth because they only wound and drive others away from the Gospel. Then he helps them rationalize their bad behavior. He whispers excuses in their ears and reminds them that St. Jerome was irascible and Jesus overturned tables. Since he is the father of lies, the devil even manages to convince people that they are behaving in a Christian way precisely when they are not.
It is true that Christians cannot compromise the truth of the faith. When they come to a place in an exchange where they cannot move further, they tip their hats to their opponents. They do not concede, they do not relent, and they do not read into Scripture what the times demand. They resist attacks to the truth, even when derided and scorned.
But they resist with respect, gentleness, and maturity.
Scripture is very clear about how Christians should conduct themselves. There are no Gospel verses praising scorn, sarcasm, mercilessness, derision, taunting, discord, and insults.
Instead, Scripture tells us:
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear. (1 Peter 3: 15-16)
All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
Unifiers are those who follow the commands of Scripture. They are the salt of the earth. Their subtle points of view enrich and encourage charity in others. Unifiers are on the constant lookout for ways to "rouse one another to love and good works" (Heb 10:24).
In these times of distress, let us rouse one another to love.
Let us be unifiers.
Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP. "In times of distress: Be a unifier, not a divider." Aleteia (November 15, 2016).
Reprinted with permission of Aleteia.
Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP is a former atheist who, thanks to the grace of God, has returned to the faith she was raised in and now tries to help others bring their loved ones back to the faith. A few years after returning to the Church, she heard God calling her, so she left her job in Silicon Valley to join the Daughters of St. Paul. She is the author of The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church. She now lives in Miami where she prays, evangelizes, bakes bread, and blogs.Copyright © 2016 Aleteia
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