Can’t we all just disagree?
In May 1992, with widespread violence and looting breaking out across Los Angeles, Rodney King went on live television to utter his famous line: “Can’t we all just get along?” The acquittal of the police officers who had been video-taped in what appeared to be a clear case of police brutality touched off city-wide violence and rioting, much like we’ve seen recently in Ferguson, Missouri and Charlotte, North Carolina. As violent conflicts have continued, I’m noticing an ugly trend, as the fierce anger and hatred that used to be confined to battlefields and crime scenes has spread far and wide, even invading what used to be simple conversation.
Perhaps fueled by the instant global publication capacity of social media, black letters on white screens seem to scream and burn right into our ears. The raucous campaign that concluded just a few months ago brought us to an even more divisive 24 hours this past weekend, which contrasted the pageantry and hope of the inauguration of a new president with the enormous and vocal series of protests both during and after that inauguration, most notably in the millions who participated in the “Women’s Marches” which took place across the country and around the world.
Political disagreement has now become political divide: Facebook “friends” have told me that if I didn’t vote for the candidate of their choice I am no longer welcome in their home. Rodney King might have asked “Can’t we all just get along?” but I’m asking “Can’t we all just disagree?” Does disagreement have to lead to division?
I’m not the only one to notice a slipping away of civility in our “modern, enlightened” times. By its definition civility – the awareness of our civil, public, collective citizenship – is on the decline. It seems that we can no longer disagree; we are encouraged to accuse, malign and even hate those with whom we disagree. Switch back and forth from CNN to Fox News and you see not simple disagreement. You see mockery, demeaning attitudes and often demonization of opposing views. Our secular morality does preach love – defined as appreciation, acceptance, and affirmation – but only for those who agree with us. It stops short of any ability to deal constructively with those who don’t.
In stark contrast to this growing division and hatred is the too-often forgotten and radical teaching of Jesus: “Love your enemies.” He never said we all had to agree. In fact, He spent much time with those with whom He had great disagreement, and occasionally even called them out forcefully. But He also allowed them to beat Him, humiliate Him, and even nail Him to the Cross, while He prayed for them: “Father, forgive them, for they know now what they do.” He disagreed, but never stopped loving.
We who call ourselves Christians (and the name means “little Christs”) are called to imitate our Lord. In an environment where disagreement and division are becoming synonymous, we must stand for a different set of standards for discourse, even over difficult political issues. And our standards begin and end with love. Not conditional love, given only to those with whom we agree, but unconditional love. Unconditional love values the other so much so, that we make EVERY effort to understand the other’s perspective, and give respect and honor to their expressions of those perspective—no matter who that other may be, or their views. Of course, we are free to disagree, but we should do so with the same level of respect, honesty and yes, love, that Christ Himself showed His own opponents.
In a world that values religious belief and practice less with each passing day, it’s time for us as Christians to show the world the value of the way of life taught by Christ. When we live the way that Christ taught, we show the world its value. In its absence, our discourse will further decay into division, and division into hostility, and hostility into violence.
May we take every opportunity to show the world a different way, where WITH LOVE we can disagree, but disagreement does not prevent understanding. And WITH LOVE, disagreement can bring us from understanding to peace. Let us follow the Prince of Peace and while we may never agree on everything, do what we can to offer this world love, and WITH LOVE, its best chance at peace.