America Needs Unity, but it Needs Something Else First

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I keep hearing calls for unity in my country right now, though these aren’t spoken as the desperate prayers of hearts desiring peace between two hurting sides, they’re spoken as chastisements of one side by another. They are words of scolding and shaming delivered as a teacher to a petulant student. They are not spoken with benevolence but malice.

They are white voices speaking to the ears of the marginalized in the middle of their mourning.

Used this way, the admirable need for unity becomes a hurtful tool to police another’s grief, to coral their emotions, to critique their methods of mourning. It is a fool-proof conversation stopper, delivered by those who do not wish to have the conversation at hand or to deal with the depths of the despair another is carrying because they have never had to.

In the wake of the protests happening throughout the country in response to the election, unity has been white America’s go-to reply. Just so there is no grey here, know that I believe damaging property and acts of violence are never good or helpful or effective responses when protesting injustice. Our loudest statement is and always have been our shared presence of nonviolence in the face of violence. Vandalism and looting and destruction always undermine the cause. That to me is clear.

The problem, is that when the value of property exceeds the value of people, we’ve lost the plot. When broken windows and burned out cars are made to be the story, while the deepest pain of those who are crying out, is treated as inconsequential and manufactured. This week I’ve seen countless indignant white Americans lecturing “rioters” for perpetuating discord, and I’ve seen the President-Elect take to Twitter to publicly shame protestors—and I’ve watched both entities be absolutely silent on those victimized by hateful people emboldened by the election results. They have said nothing. No outrage, no grieving, no lecturing.

This is the seed of our national acrimony: selective white outrage that seeks to control what is grief and what is acceptable and what the rules of the conversation are going to be. This is what privilege looks like. And this is the singular greatest barrier to unity.

White friends, please, please, stop asking marginalized communities to show “unity” with you right now. They don’t owe that to you, because you have not done the work you need to do yet. If two people are to come together at the table of reconciliation, it is a far greater ask of the one who has been the victim of injustice. The one who has held the power or been the beneficiary of circumstances needs to extend themselves first. They need to do some internal work. They need to be renovated.

White people, we have to prepare the ground for unity. It is our responsibility:

Unity isn’t possible if the color of someone’s skin causes you to see them as less than human.
Unity isn’t possible if you believe another to be morally inferior and seek to deny them the right to marry someone they love.
Unity isn’t possible if you don’t grieve the shootings of one mother’s son as deeply as you would your own.
Unity isn’t possible if you make a person’s faith tradition synonymous with terrorism.
Unity isn’t possible if your Church advocates for the reduction of another’s basic civil liberties.
Unity isn’t possible if you justify or ignore violence toward another because of their orientation, pigmentation, gender, or religion.

Unity is only possible when two parties recognize the inherent value of the other and do not view them as less than. 

Unity cannot grow until equality is firmly planted.

White Americans, we need to make equality our priority right now. That involves listening. It involves learning. It involves resisting the temptation to control the narrative or to shut down discussion or to blame victims of injustice for not responding as we believe they should, we who have never known such injustice.

Treat people with the respect that you desire for yourself, and then unity is an attainable goal.

See people’s inherent worth and maybe they will be able to walk alongside you, to gather at the table with you, to stand with you.

Yes America, we need unity—but we need something else to get us there.

194 thoughts on “America Needs Unity, but it Needs Something Else First

  1. Are there others as tired as I of the acrimony found in these comments? Of those who read this blog for no other purpose except to argue?

    The comments I appreciate the most are those in which people write about how John’s words have a positive effect upon their lives.

    If there are those reading this blog who would like a refuge from arguments, acrimony, diatribes, and screeds, I invite you to join my Facebook group, Celebrate What Christians Have in Common.

    There you will find a variety of the flavors of Christianity, ancient to modern. Music, ancient and modern. Comic strips, memes, parables, reflections on the Sayings of the Desert Christians, some thoughts on the daily reading in the Rule of St. Benedict and so much more.

    The one and only rule of the group is that if a person sees something they don’t like, disagree with, etc, no one is allowed to express that. The discipline asked of every single member of the group is that we are to look for that with which we can can agree in any given post and comment only on that.

    Celebrate What Christians Have in Common

    Healing. Peace. Refuge.

    “Come apart to a quiet place and rest yourself.”

    • “You are angry because I asked you to call me by my correct name…”

      Incorrect. Wrong. And beyond the pale. I am not angry because you asked me to use your correct name. I am angry because you completely failed to recognize that it was an honest mistake; NOOOOOO. Instead you had to scold me as if you were my Mom and I was three years old.

      I don’t know who you THINK you are, Gloriamarie (See, all you had to do was explain the situation), but as far as I am concerned you are a touchy, arrogant woman who seizes every opportunity to go on the attack whether it is warranted or not.

      I got two words for you: PISS OFF.

      • No one has control of your buttons but you. If you have mommy issues, please don’t take them out on me.

        I did not scold you. I told you I was perplexed that someone who reads my name as “Gloriamarie” would then think it is ok to call me “Gloria.” I said I was perplexed, you flew off the handle, called me names, and as far as I am concerned that puts you in the abuser and bully category.

        • “Try being humble.”

          HA. I strongly suspect based on my experience with the woman that humility is not exactly within her skill set.

          Roflol (><)

          • It gives me great delight to be trolled as John P is trolled. It is an honor and a privilege. Thank you.

          • Wow. I never thought I’d see something that brings people on opposite sides of the spectrum together on this blog. This must be what it feels like to see a unicorn, or bigfoot.

            Some people hate Trump, and some people hate Clinton, but everyone hates grammar Nazis.

  2. We can disagree and still love each other unless our agreement requires me to censure my life and pretend to be someone I’m not in order for you to be comfortable. My differences as a human being should not need to be erased so that you can reassure yourself that you are enlightened and open-minded. Please understand, when you tell a person of color they are great because they’re “as white as you” or “don’t bring up race” or when you tell a Muslim woman she is right not to wear a hijab or applaud a Jewish person for wishing you a Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays or when you tell an LGBT person they’re good because they “don’t throw their sexuality in your face”– meaning holding hands with my wife or something like that–what you really mean is we allow you to pretend we don’t exist in our full humanity. You are comfortable as long as we don’t make you acknowledge who we are. You are comfortable when we bow to your privilege.

              • Who says these gizmos don’t have minds of their own? My spellchecker always wants to change “nun” to “gun” and “prayers” to “players.” Who programmed the danged thing?

            • Thank you, Lisa, that is kind of you to say and a delight to read, but I fear your use of “always” might be an exaggeration. I can get really irritated by some of what I read here.

              However, I think I recognize the names of those who are here to vilify John P. and have stopped reading them.

              I welcome a good intellectually stimulating discussion of ideas with give and take, agreements and disagreements, but I have zero patience, my flaw, I know, with those who write screeds or ad hominem attacks upon participants here.

  3. We all need to try and understand each other better. This is not the best forum for that because even words and punctuation and spelling of a name can cause offence.

    Yes Gloriamarie some people only want to lecture or harass or oppose someones view. There is an art to conversation which is lost in the trolling of everyone. You make a comment— I make a comment. We flood the comment wall with our information, some of it is interesting some of it is redundant, some of it insulting, but we are only beating our own drum and annoying the heck out of each other.

    I don’t know the answer but civility can be achieved if we soften our words or ask questions more and let pettiness go.

    I have observed that some people are so hardened, dogmatic or judgemental that there is no room for grace. The hallmark of our faith is grace.

    Grace is that resting place where we respect each other as human beings.

    I have several friends and family members who are atheist and yet we can sit down to dinner— we can encourage each other, share our lives and be blessed by each others company. If God comes up I am allowed to be a believer and they are allowed to not believe. It truly is a beautiful thing when I can say to my brother ” I know you are an atheist but you exemplify the life Christ and you don’t even know it!” and then I can tease him and say, “I can’t wait until you meet Jesus” And he chuckles and says in reply, ” I can’t wait either” It took 30 years to get there but he likes Jesus and wants to meet him.

    There is grace surrounding us all and it is Holy ground.

    Rather than finding ways to add insult to injury we can try to find ways to open up discussion or be frank in our observations of each other. Ask yourself: do I want to make someone look bad or do I want to understand them? Do I want to discourage someone or do I want to help them keep going? I sometimes think that is too difficult to achieve when we are angry, grieving, proud or unforgiving. We have so much work to do. And I think most of that work is within ourselves.

    • I think the best way we can achieve what you write about is to cease to make assumptions about what the other means.

      If someone writes something that hits me the wrong way, the functional response is to say “when you said (or wrote) such and such, I heard this. Was that what you were trying to say? If I misunderstood you, I apologize.”

      If someone writes something that hits me the wrong way, the dysfunctional response is to assume that person intended someone to feel whatever it is that someone is feeling. After all, the writer (or speaker) is not a mind reader and has no way of knowing how something said (or written) will affect another person.

      Unless it is a screed of insults, scatological language etc. That is pretty obviously abusive behavior.

      Again, a place of respite from all of that is on Facebook: Celebrate What Christians Have in Common. All are welcome to join who do so in good faith to abide by the spirit of the group.

  4. Kathy, I am wondering if the phrase “I know you mean well” has a different significance there in Canada than it does here in the USA? Generally speaking, when it is used here it has a condescending and patronizing connotation. Trusting that is not how you meant it.

  5. Thank you the clarification. I really hoped you didn’t mean it the way we use here in the USA.

  6. Wow, you say the words I have been thinking but then also put the thoughts I have in writing that were there but I couldn’t put into words. Thank you, thank you! You have my utmost respect.

  7. Yeah Trump did a good job of winding people up and teaching them rhetoric and aggression.

    The media is not supposed to engage in debates with those they interview.

    Good job CNN reporter.

  8. Trump ran a divisive campaign and instead of bringing people together he played people off each other. Divide and conquer. By setting himself up as a benefactor Trump makes people reliant on him, so they owe him loyalty now. The problem with authoritative leaders who make big promises is that they are one person, not God, and they cannot fulfill everyones needs.

  9. Once again, John has only one side of the story. How disconnected from reality can one be to write: “The problem, is that when the value of property exceeds the value of people, we’ve lost the plot. When broken windows and burned out cars are made to be the story, while the deepest pain of those who are crying out, is treated as inconsequential and manufactured.” AS IF these properties, cars, and buildings didn’t belong to real people but to a disembodied group of people we shouldn’t feel sorry for.

    The insistence in shaming “white people” is beyond the pale. Facebook prophets are losing their minds and hearts in trying to draw attention to injustice they promote another type of injustice, disconnected from justice. But he gains sympathy from those who right now just need to be given the right to be called victims at the exclusion of those whose voice (the whites) is decidedly being shamed and drowned as irrelevant. It’s a huge shame that’s planting the seeds to division even deeper, among people of faith even. Wake up John, you lost the plot.

  10. Nice try but I wonder how long you had to think to come up with that one.

    I’m done; dealing with the likes of you has become a crashing bore and besides you don’t merit my continued attention anyway.

  11. This article on “Stop Griefsplaining to me white people!!” is delicious. No doubt Mr. Pavlovitz and his ilk would have NOT reacted the same had they won.

    It’s all about what Trump voters need to do to make him happy. What makes him happy is everyone thinking like him.

    Sorry, you leftist weasel, you don’t get to dictate terms to us.

  12. Pingback: GayPatriot » Calls for Peace and Understanding After the Election Are “Racist” Now

  13. I am in complete and utter shock. My entire world has just shifted. I swear to you, I did not think that open minded Christians existed. I’m not being sarcastic or spiteful, facetious or anything but honest from my perspective. I didn’t think you existed. John Pavlovitz, you are a white male Christian with some semblance of power calling it like it is. I have so much respect for you, I cannot begin to describe what I’m feeling. Thank everything I can thank for you and all that you do and all that you write. You are the corner of hope I have right now. May this hope begin to blossom and grow in the hearts of all that are terrified and grieving now. I’m with you 100%. The people slandering you and trying to take away your power are only threatened by what you say: TRUTH. They’ve never known the kind of pain so many are facing now. Bless you! I am firmly agnostic leaning towards atheism, but you might make me change my mind. 😉

    • Julianna, I promise you, we are here. There are a lot of us in the Episcopal Church but I admit, depending on where you live, possibly not so much there. But according to our Canons and Constitutions, we welcome all and by “all” we mean people exactly as it delighted God to create them.

      Here in these comments, you will find many whose voices you may possibly dislike and there are several who are here for no other reason but to denigrate John P in defense of their failure to love their neighbors as themselves.

      All Christians long for God’s love to be incarnated within all other Christians, but sadly that is not the case. I assure you there are those of us who strive to love God with every fiber of our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

      If the conflict here is too much, you and all who are interested may seek refuge in a Facebook group called Celebrate What Christians Have in Common. It is a group where the number one rule is that people may not write about what they disagree with. They are asked to look at the posts and find something with which they may agree.

      • Thank you so much for this response, I’m quite emotional reading this. I’m so happy to hear this. I’ve always been fascinated with what I’ve heard called “Red Letter Christians”, following the words that Christ actually said. Because those words are so full of love from a truly enlightened human preaching love and acceptance. I could never reconcile what people would do in his name throughout the ages. Oddly enough, religion never felt close to Christ and I wanted to distance myself from it. I have often offered up my own little prayer, “I’m so sorry what people do in your name”. And I remember the feeling when I was a small child that God was my best friend. It was so pure. But as an adult I could never find that purity in the form of any religion people have offered me so I just decided to go at it on my own. But I really do believe that a spiritual quest is inherent to the human experience and that community is also essential. So, again, I’m just really happy to hear what you’re saying and how you’re acting. It just gives me a lot of hope.

        • You are welcome.

          If you sent a request to join my FB group, one of the cats ran across the keyboard and somehow your request was deleted. If you would request it again, I’ll approve it.

          I live in San Diego.

  14. Rob Bell and Peter Rollins hash it out for us. And I totally navigate the kind of waters they do here. So I’m not crazy, I’m not a Judas to the civil rights of LGBTQ, a denier of equality and harmony, I’m not a xenophobic by default because I’m not enraged – no, we are all different, but we cluster with those who help us articulate our existential realities. The explosive protests reveal a surprising equivalency and a strange unity between the level of anger that elected Trump, and the anger that refuses his election.

    http://robbell.podbean.com/e/episode-126-wisdom-part-9-standing-firm-with-pete-rollins/

  15. Juliana wrote: “I have often offered up my own little prayer, “I’m so sorry what people do in your name”. And I remember the feeling when I was a small child that God was my best friend. It was so pure.”

    Yes! 🙂 And millions are involved in deconstructing the systems that stole this purity from us (besides our own inner turmoils). It may look like we argue nastily, but in fact there is a new collective consensus being formed…

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