Empathy Week: How Can We Come Back Together in a Divided Nation?

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. Jesus in Matthew 10:34-39

There is no rejection more painful than family rejection. Brene Brown

The country I love is more divided than I’ve ever remembered.  Not only does it bring All The Feelings (shame, grief, sadness, resentment, and a crushed heart) it also reminds me of what Jesus said about how we will be rejected when we try to follow Jesus.  I’m not talking about the platitudes.  I’m not talking about the upbeat Bible verses.  I’m talking about disagreeing on who God is and who God calls us to be.

When we Christians deeply disagree to the point that we cannot talk with each other anymore, it makes me profoundly sad.  The upcoming election is bringing this up for me like no other time.

Is Jesus divisive?  Sadly, yes.

As a lifelong long Christian, I believe that the Bible teaches that:

  • Jesus died to show us the depths that God would go to show us how much we are loved.  Can we even get our minds around this – that God would die for us?  I can barely comprehend it.  This cosmically defeated sin and evil, and yet sin and evil are still real.
  • What happens on this earth matters.  It’s not about “getting into heaven.”  It’s not about telling the poor, the enslaved, the desperate that they will get their justice in heaven.  No. No. No. Jesus prayed “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  If we ignore the poor, the sick, the outcast, the people we assume are not like us while we are alive, we are in utter disobedience to the God who made us all.
  • There are at least two forms of justice in the world today just as there were at least two forms of justice when Jesus walked in Palestine: one for the dominant culture and one for the people who are not in the dominant culture.  And this is a sin. If you are a young white man who is caught high on weed in a public place, you will most likely be sent home.  If you are a young black man who is caught high on weed in a public place, you will be arrested and possibly shot.  Please connect with me in the comment section if you’d like me to share evidence of this from the public record.
  • Jesus has called us not to be sympathetic (“I feel so sorry for you.“) and not to be empathetic (more about that tomorrow) but to be compassionate.  Jesus was “filled with compassion” more than once in the Greek Bible and this involves walking alongside those in pain.  Not feeling for them.  Not imagining how they feel.  But being with them in their suffering.  Emmanuel = God with us.  And we are supposed to do what Jesus did.

So here’s where the division comes in – especially for Christians.  When the basic tenets of my faith (see above) are at odds with the basic tenets of your faith, our politics are informed accordingly and we are at odds.  We see the world differently, even though we both identify as followers of Jesus.

As a follower of Jesus:

  • I will vote for candidates who show a semblance of love towards the people God died for.
  • I will vote for candidates who understand that there is no peace in the world without justice, especially for the poor, the sick, and the outcast.
  • I will vote for candidates who show compassion.

And because of this, I find myself profoundly sad because this divides me from family and friends.  And yet, Jesus told us this would happen.

And this is the labor many of us carry today.

Image from a window in a Geneva, Switzerland church sanctuary  Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash.

4 responses to “Empathy Week: How Can We Come Back Together in a Divided Nation?

  1. Brian Tischendorf

    Jan, I continue to be convicted by your posts and how we must change. I would be interested in the supporting materials comparing what happens to white and black men whom are arrested. It will help me and I may be able to share it with my small group participating in the Be the Bridge series. Blessings to you and your family on this Labor Day.

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  2. You nailed it in ways that I wish you didn’t have to. This is EXACTLY where I sit with some friends, and it is difficult. However, I think it is vitally important to find ways to keep communication lines open and speak with one another, even if it means just talking about the mundane! Not to be too dramatic, but to not do so, is exactly the way wars get started. Thank you Jan, for articulating your thoughts and the painful challenges around this dilemma, so well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. To go with that NAACP fact sheet, let us not forget that African-Americans make up only 13.4% of the population in the USA, so for 1 in 3 to be sentenced to prison demonstrates how skewed proportionally that “justice” is. It is not enough to deplore this system or wish it were different. WE must help to change it, in acts both small and large. Start by pushing back on the hurtful “jokes” that denigrate minorities and women. Start by verbally challenging (civilly) that family member when they state categorically X people are Y. Start. These are chaotic and disturbing times, but often good comes from disruption. It won’t do so without all of us seeking to be compassionate to others.

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