Tolerance gap far wider than we imagine

The Bay Area has been awash in protest recently, starting with dramatic civil disobedience stemming from the events in Ferguson, Mo. Trains have been stopped, mass transit delayed, even freeways entirely blocked. Daily traffic snarls fill the side streets, bridges and major freeways with the unbroken stream of red brake lights. People are sort of pissed to say the least.

But in this progressive bastion of San Francisco, few openly complain. They are sympatico to the issues of racism, over-incarceration, police and prosecutorial misconduct and corruption, all topics of serious interest to us on our activism site. So while the annoyance remains, the bitching about it was mostly tempered in “polite company,” i.e. fellow progressives.

Until Saturday.

That’s when the Pro Life marches descended by thousands into downtown San Francisco, clogging Market Street, cutting the city in half and backing up traffic for hours. Because it was a conservative rally — a throng of busloads of people from everywhere but here further clogged the streets — the marches unleashed the building vitriol over public displays clogging the normal pace of an already hectic urban life.

Folks weren’t sort of pissed… they were downright pissed! It was an angry day on a beautitful sunsplashed afternoon in San Francisco. Casual conversation that ensued among locals was anything but polite. Hate is a word I heard more than once. When the word “Christian” was used, it was with a sneer. One conservative article about the event picked up on a decidedly San Francisco tone that labeled the rally a form of “hate speech.”

In the liberal circles I run in, I am pretty careful about dropping the word Christian too strongly into the conversation. It’s about as loaded as they come in recent years. The brand has taken such a beating by the political, Republican, Red State, i.e. “Christian” brand. Those of us who are both liberal and Christian tend to lean heavily on the liberal and less so on the Christian. It’s just too loaded as I wrote recently.

When I was a kid my dad said the two things you don’t talk about in casual conversation were politics and religion. How strange that both have defined my adult life. Telling I guess, too, but that’s a thought for another day and/or the psychologist’s couch.

It seems obvious that both sides know how they are viewed by the other, but the more I cross back and forth between them, the more I realize they don’t. The disconnect is far more extreme than most recognize. It’s like that blurry black and red haze that comes across your mind when rational thought gives way to an angry outburst or crying jag. It’s a blotchy, red-faced, irrational lens whether viewed from either side.

This reaction is partly why I identify with liberals and less so with progressives. Progressives feels like a brand, which is loaded with the same problems as other brands like say, evangelicals. Liberal is a point of view, a philosophy that easily weaves into another ideology like Christian. Both liberal and Christian help define me. Brands like progressive and evangelical only shove me father from others and into camps I don’t want to pitch a tent within.

As someone who cares deeply about faith and its power to transform and heighten our humanity, this enormous divide is a constant irritation, like a paper cut on my soul that won’t stop stinging. Within my closest circles of family and friends are both liberals and conservatives, Christians and agnostics, spiritualists and evangelicals. Among them are people of deep character and sincere beliefs. While I suspect that the Christians worry a bit about whether I truly belong or not, they do love me regardless. Only rarely do they take offense at my own less than stellar view of the evangelical Christian brand. Only rarely do they scrunch their face at me hiding their deep concern for my spiritual well-being. The liberals tolerate my Jesus thing because I don’t bring it up around them often. They take comfort that I’m not winning any moral merit badges so they don’t stress it too much, I suspect.

But I do feel compelled toward consistency and integrity, both which requires something better than the angry red haze and division that rules the day. If liberals are “tolerant” why don’t they tolerate conservatives? If evangelicals love all, why do they so often vilify liberals and minimize their views with a whitewashed sweep of a narrow definition of “Biblical.”

I want to remind my liberal friends that tolerance extends to those who seem intolerance too. If we take the same time to listen and love conservative Christians we will find points of light from which to build.

I want to remind my Christian friends that they bear a measure of responsibility for this deep-seated hostility against them. When you tell people they are wrong (and worse, going to hell) all the time they aren’t going to look upon you favorably.

Both sides could take more seriously the simply Sermon on the Mount command: “Judge not or you will be judged.”

I can’t believe all the anger is getting us anywhere. The labels bog us down. So does the categorization, figuring out who’s in and who’s out based on our beliefs, rather than our personhood. Both sides too often act like Frat House vetting committees searching for code words that will get you kicked out.

We need to bridge the divide even knowing full well that such effort quickly run to idealism that rarely leads to action. I guess if I knew how, I’d really have something, right? Well I don’t and I don’t. But I do know the world has seen enough hate in the name of God to last for all time.

Sure its idealistic, but… what would happen if... what would happen if we respected others beliefs rather than doggedly promoted ours? What would happen if we focused on points of consistency from which to build rather than battle of those things we will never agree upon?

What would happen instead if love outweighed belief in the scale of human relationships?

It’s worth considering.

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