I used to believe that all people were essentially the same; that across the diving lines of politics and religion, and beneath the surface veneer of language and personality—that we were all really fighting for the same things.
I’ve spent two decades as a pastor, ministering under the assumption that we’re all in this together, that we’re all for one another, that at a heart level we’re each nearly identical.
I don’t know if I believe that any longer.
I’m meeting many people right now in America, who really don’t seem to want the things that I want—at least not for other people.
I think they want for their kids what I want for mine, and so in this respect we’re the same—but that’s about where our paths diverge.
When it comes to those people they don’t naturally feel affinity for or have obvious commonality with, it really seems like they couldn’t care less. Actually, it seems they’re openly hostile to those folks.
Last week after a speaking event, a woman talked about the people she views as her adversaries across the aisles of religion and politics:
“Deep down” she said, “all parents want the same thing; they want their kids to be healthy and happy and safe; to be able to live beautiful, productive lives.”
I knew what she was trying to say, and I suppose that’s likely true—but it also isn’t good enough in the days in which we find ourselves. We need to be people who love on a greater scale than that.
Most decent human beings love and want to care for their children. The desire to protect our own is a hard-wired brain feature built on millions of years of self-preservation and survival instincts. It’s certainly good, but it isn’t all that virtuous either.
This natural impulse explains the rising tribalism we find ourselves in; people hunkered down in heavily fortified bunkers alongside those they deem “their people”— whether based on race or religion or nation of origin or political affiliation.
This highly selective, self-serving compassion is the very heart of America First.
It’s the foundation of a border wall.
It’s the reason someone applauds ICE raids or travel bans, or opposes free lunch programs or universal health care: not wanting someone else to have something they have.
The terrified religion, fierce Nationalism, and rising hostility toward marginalized communities on display in America, is the fruit of a toxic selfishness that needs to horde resources, opportunity, and benefit—for fear it will be left without.
And so right now, the real battle in America isn’t between good people and bad people—it’s between open-handed people and close-fisted people. It is a war to cultivate compassion or contempt for those who have less.
Poised on either sides of the debate in matters of education and healthcare and faith and immigration, aren’t people who love their children and people who don’t—but people who love all children, and those who care only for their own.
In this very fundamental way—we’re not the same.
Yes, I agree that most people in America want similar things for themselves and for those they see as their family, their people, their tribe.
I just believe that isn’t enough.
I believe Humanity is the greater tribe.
My Christian faith tradition tells me that love for my neighbor is my great aspiration and calling, but it also tells me that everyone is my neighbor; not just those who speak my language or share my pigmentation or share my politics or believe in my God.
I can either see myself as a citizen of the diverse, expansive planet—or I can make my home in a gated community of people who look, think, talk, and believe like me. Too many folks right now have settles on the latter—and this is the emotional civil war we find ourselves in.
America has no shortage of people who care about their kids. We’re nearly at capacity.
It is, however, in desperate need of people who care about someone else’s children with a similar passion and urgency; who want every child to be free from threat and fed well and given hope and encouraged to dream and released to be whatever that dream invites them to be.
Loving your child is a fine and beautiful thing, America.
Humanity asks much more than that of us.
Whether or not we’re willing is another matter.