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This is who we are

By Mike Ruffin In these days following the January 6 attempted insurrection against the United States of America, lots of people have made claims such as ‘This is not who we are’ and ‘We’re better than this.’ I’m afraid that we need to admit that the opposite of those statements is true. This is who we are. We aren’t better than this. I wish that wasn’t the case. But the evidence is too overwhelming to ignore. An event such as the assault on the Capitol doesn’t occur in a vacuum. This act of insurrection didn’t happen spontaneously. It wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction to the recent election. No, our nation has been building toward this moment for a long time. Divisions between us, whether they are cultural, social, religious, or economic, have been widening for decades’”maybe centuries’”and continue to do so. Many factors exacerbate our divisions and complicate our predicament. Perhaps the main factor is our tendency to restrict our conversations to people who agree with us. Social media platforms enable us to relate to a wide range of people. On the other hand, they make it possible for us to shut out people who try to get us to look at things from a different point of view. We also tend to restrict our real-life (as opposed to online) relationship circles to people who agree with us. We are divided. This is who we are. We are not better than this. Why is this the case? We can use a lot of words to name the sources of our conflicts and divisions, including self-centeredness, selfishness, and self-absorption, all of which cause us to devalue and denigrate other people. ‘Sin’ is still a good word to name why we are like we are. What is the solution to our division? I don’t know. I’d like to be able to say that we’d have greater unity if we’d all come to Jesus, but I can’t, for a couple of reasons. First, history demonstrates how division plagues Christianity (it plagues other religions too, but I know more about mine). Even Christians can’t agree on what it means to be Christian. Second, I suspect that most of the people who attacked the Capitol on January 6 profess to be Christians. That’s a kind of Christianity I can’t understand. I want nothing to do with it. Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that God can change people’s hearts. I certainly do believe that. But I also take seriously what people show me with their lives. And people consistently display an unwillingness to take the ways and words of Jesus seriously when it comes to politics. I fail to see how a person can cheer a politician’s words of hate, vitriol, and violence’”the kind of words spoken over the last five years that culminated in the despicable events of January 6’”while claiming ultimate allegiance to the Prince of Peace who taught us to love even our enemies. I love God more than I love the United States. I put faithfulness to Jesus ahead of faithfulness to my country. But I still love this nation. And I recognize that if we are to still have a democracy a few years down the road, we’re going to have to find a way to lessen our divisions. I say ‘lessen’ because I don’t think we can overcome or eliminate them. But we all need to find a renewed commitment to the democratic processes that have served as our foundation for 245 years. I believe’”I hope’”that if enough of us will commit ourselves to constructive engagement, to free and fair elections, and to seeking liberty and justice for all, we might just make it. Maybe we will at least move far enough beyond who we are and toward who we can be that we’ll arrive at a national consensus that attacking the houses of Congress is a ridiculously inappropriate reaction to not having an election go the way you wanted.

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