Op-Ed Contributor: Rev. Candace Whitman

By Rev. Candace Whitman
Submitted: June 30, 2017
For Foghorn July 2017

I love the Fourth of July on Fishers Island – but this year, as our national holiday approaches, I find myself reflecting on the state of our country. Like many of you I am discouraged by the polarization in Washington, and I am wondering how we will get both parties talking again. Healthy debate and practical solutions to issues like health care, immigration, and infrastructure are in short supply.

I know we do not mix church and state in our country. Yet at the same time, I wish we would not automatically discard the good things that religion, and the sensible beliefs of many Americans, would bring to the situation. I am speaking of beliefs that call for actions toward peace and reconciliation in times of conflict. In the Christian scriptures, the people of God are called to stay engaged with government. Since the beginning of our country Christians have added their voice to issues ranging from civil rights to abortion to welcoming immigrants. What I believe is necessary now is for church-goers and like-minded people to become proactively engaged in the work of bridging the divide.

Throughout his career, former Senator John Danforth of Missouri – who is also ordained Episcopal clergy – has recognized that religion can be a divisive force. But Danforth also raises the important point that “as we relate our religious faith to our politics, we can choose whether we are reconcilers or dividers.” * If today’s citizens would make the effort to educate ourselves beyond our favorite news channels, we could bring understanding and respect to viewpoints different than our own in our homes, communities, and other places that need a spirit of hope.

I am often reminded as I participate in such conversations of Jesus’s stern teaching about blame: “Take the log out of our own eye before trying to remove the splinter from someone else’s.”

The Declaration of Independence was written in 1776 to stand up to the tyranny of George III. Yet I wonder if this July 4 we need to stand up again, this time to a new form of tyranny not from across the ocean but across the aisle? Whether Democrat or Republican, representatives who hold their beliefs so strongly so as to rule out negotiation may seem to be strong. But actually they are attempting to control outcomes, and control is a mild form of tyranny. Tyrants don’t ask how their actions are affecting others.

Maybe we need a new Declaration of Dependence, a resolution from responsible citizens that we live in America together, and that our representatives must find ways to cooperate and collaborate so that our country can move forward free, unified and strong.

– Rev. Candace Whitman, Union Chapel (candy@fiunionchapel.org)

*John Danforth, Faith and Politics, Penguin Books, 2006.

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