President Warren G. Harding, while still a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, tried to capture the tone of the nation in a speech he gave March 14th 1920, in Boston. He understood that America needed “healing and not surgery but serenity” and not “nostrum but norlmacy.” He called for “not revolution but restoration.”
Harding would win the election and preside over our nation immediately after World War One. He — and many institutions in America — were vested in maintaining the status quo and returning to the normal order of things after a horrific war.
In those years, religious institutions provided stability which Americans needed. Today, religion is typically resistant to the upheavals in the body politic of our democracy. Religions typically resist getting “dragged into social issues” and prefer to stand on sidelines, avoiding the politics surrounding the vexing social issues of the times.
It was understandable, particularly after World War I, why religious institutions yearned for the peace and quiet in our nation’s religious life.
Today, when that sense of isolation or religious tribalism makes us today turn our heads away from social justice concerns which challenge our core values, is it right to simply close our eyes and plug our ears to those issues that desperately call us to involvement to make our society better?
Granted, we all have different and at times conflicting notions about what “better” means. So where is the moral high ground for religious institutions? Can religion be meaningful to the young if it remains silent on society’s most critical problems? Does our silence and avoidance of moral issues fly in the face of what the Biblical prophets warned in their pursuit of God’s teachings to their kings and the people of ancient Israel?
There are plenty of non-controversial issues that allow us to unite — feeding the hungry, taking care of the homeless, protecting our animals, among them. But when we speak of opioid abuse, gun violence against our nation’s children, sexual abuse, security in our houses of worship, and immigration, can we really say these things are ‘not my problem?’ Are we just supposed to say “it’s politics and we don’t want to hear about it in our houses of worship?”
How can we speak with each other, despite our disagreements on the political side, to reach a greater understanding of different viewpoints? Is there not some way we can find compromise, even if that means we simply to listen respectfully to each other? If people of faith refuse to address those challenges with each other, then what moral authority do we have when we complain that Congress does nothing to make our society better?
How difficult is it to believe in something so strongly and to be absolutely convinced of the truth of our viewpoint and then face another who is equally dedicated to the opposite viewpoint? Even if both individuals can agree they ultimately want the same goals, then how do two people look into each others eyes and see the humanity. How do they respect the integrity and acknowledge the differences, separate the emotions and still respect the person?
That is what it takes to reach the moral high ground.
Admittedly, there comes a time when the gap is impossible to close and the issue becomes so heated that neither side will listen to the other. Yet maybe that is the time when the prophets can help us.
Isaiah said: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
I would like to believe that Isaiah intones God’s words to remind us even today that we need to do better ourselves. Somewhere inside those hallowed words is a call to listen to each other, to move beyond the passion of our convictions, to hear what our friend has to say. It does not mean we change our view or give in to their position. But it does mean we realize that if we can agree on the general goal or outcome, then there must be common ground to find solutions to our nation’s problems.
Remember what is written in the Book of Proverbs: “He who restrains his words has knowledge, And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”