Jesus said in Mark 3:25, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
These were also the words of Abraham Lincoln as he spoke to the Republican State Convention on June 16th, 1858. These words were prophetic, as three years later, our country would sink into a horrible civil war - a war that cost 750,000 American lives.
Our country is deeply divided today. Our presidential inauguration was last Friday, January 20th. The next day, more than 3 million people - and an additional million internationally, on all seven continents - took to the streets to protest for their rights and declare that they were deeply opposed to this man taking office. Recently, actors and celebrities have gotten up at awards shows and other venues to denounce Donald Trump - only to garner an angry response from the President and those who disagree with them.
Whatever happened to civility? Though a person may feel impassioned and justified to give a speech to their faithful, it will not change the hearts of those who disagree with them. Tweets, emails, and articles demonizing the other side will not change one iota.
The only thing that will bring change to this nation is if we start practicing the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
Jesus says wise people - people of peace - do not judge. They don’t get up at awards shows in front of a national audience and point out the wrong that another person has done. They don’t write columns in newspapers mocking the behaviors of their opponent. They don't generalize and ostracize those who are more or less privileged than themselves. And they certainly don't malign those who disagree with them, because they know that others will follow their lead and turn the finger of judgement right back at them.
Jesus told the crowd that wanted to stone the woman for adultery, “He who is without sin, go ahead and cast the first stone." There is no human being who has not sinned. To our regret, we have all practiced selfish acts that have hurt others. But establishing peace and unity in this nation is going to start with ignoring the sawdust in the eye of those we disagree with and taking some time examine the plank in our own eye. To bring unity to this nation, we must truly humble ourselves and look at our own weaknesses, foibles, and misconceptions.
The reality in our country today is that people are talking past each other. They are hearing, but they’re not listening. And that is because we are too busy pointing out the sawdust in the eye of the person we disagree with. And worse than this, we demonize those on the other side, using words that we teach our school-age children to never use.
If we are going to see this nation avoid another civil war, we need start listening to each other. The mode of communication for peace is not behind a podium, but around the table. We must be willing to sit down with people who have different views than us and practice empathy.
Empathy is the willingness to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. It is a posture that says, "No matter how much I disagree with you, I am going to try to put on a new set of lenses that allows me to see things from a different perspective." At the end of this process, we may never come to a place of full agreement. Even the best of friends can disagree on matters of principle. But at least, after truly listening to each other, we will see each other as a fellow person who God created, deserving of respect and dignity.
And maybe, just maybe, we will learn to have some compassion.
Pastor Toby Gallego
Riviera Baptist Church