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Rising above polarization

Polarization marks our society by protest.

How did polarization become so prevalent in society today? The Rev. John Boley shares analysis by Ezra Klein and asks Christians to revisit Christ’s teaching about the love of your enemy.

JOHN BOLEY
Clergy Assistant, Michigan Area 

Is there anyone within earshot who does not believe that we live in a polarized nation? Polarization pervades everything. Why is that so? And does it have to rear its ugly head when we have a global pandemic? Can Christians rise above for the betterment of the whole?

Thumbing through the recent edition of The Christian Century, I noticed a book review of Ezra Klein’s book entitled, “Why We’re Polarized.” Klein is a true intellectual powerhouse who lives and breathes politics and has been a favorite of mine for a long time. So I looked at the review.

The reviewer, Anthony Robinson, notes that in the past, the thing that broke down extended families was that a Catholic married a Protestant or a Jewish person, or vice versa with any combination thereof. But now, what breaks down families is the entry into a family of a Republican or a Democrat. Klein’s book is an attempt to dig deep into the political polarization that pervades everything we do.

Klein acknowledges that American politics is a toxic system. But how did we get there – this was not the case not so very long ago. And what can be done to overcome it? The answer resides in the power of groups in our lives. We are indeed social animals – a far greater truth than that we are independent individuals. Here is what Klein says about group identity:

The human mind is exquisitely tuned to group affiliation and group difference. It takes almost nothing for us to form a group identity, and once that happens, we naturally assume ourselves in competition with other groups. The deeper our commitment to our group becomes, the more determined we become to make sure our groups wins.

Klein goes on to draw some conclusions on our political polarization related to issues of race as part of this groupthink. 

But in any event, for most Americans of today, it is their political party which now provides for them the most consistent principles for their most deeply held world view and world experience. And for so many, our primary group think affiliations place political party above religious affiliation. I find this horribly sad – that a political party would provide a more pervasive world view than does our faith.

Now, I’m sure we don’t want to go back to the days where marrying Catholics or Protestants or Jews caused the family breakdown, however, when is it time to place our faith in Jesus Christ back on top of the group identity pyramid?

The two great commandments – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, body and spirit and your neighbor as yourself – are so far about the dynamics of political groupthink that you’d think that we Christians could minimize our political polarization by following Jesus Christ with our entire beings. Can Christians see their primary identity as a disciple of Christ, far above their identity as a Democrat or a Republican, or even an American or a Michigander?

The Christian Century review finishes by suggesting that the challenge for Christians is to discern what “love your enemy” means in America today. Can we face our conflicts without demanding the destruction of the other side? And is it ever right to actually advocate for the other side? “We are called to something different and harder than winning at all costs.”

Especially in this time of the pandemic, I would hope that we Christians can rise above our partisan fights and recognize that all lives are important and of sacred worth, that all human beings face fear and challenge, that all people have hopes and dreams, that every human being loves their families and friends, and all are part of the fabric of our American society, indeed, our world society. 

May God give us the strength to serve, persevere, and thrive during this time.

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