As we proceed headlong into the holiday season, with its timeless themes of peace on earth and good will toward men and kisses under the mistletoe, I’d like to suggest we refocus as well on another, related idea.
This would be a great time to recall that we can disagree with other people without demonizing them.
As our recent election campaigns showed, our society has gradually devolved into a political, and often a religious, cage fight.
We’ve decided anyone who votes differently than we do or attends a different house of worship cannot be simply a fellow traveler who’s taking an alternate route, but must be an un-American, unpatriotic, illogical, lunatic-fringe idiot who ought to be forcibly ejected from polite company, and perhaps pummeled on his way out.
Go online to your news source of choice.
After you’ve read almost any story that concerns politics, religion, education, immigration or crime, scan the comments from readers.
You’ll encounter bile so caustic it’ll singe your hair. Republicans blindly hate Democrats. Democrats hate Republicans. Christians hate Muslims. Muslims hate Christians.
Seemingly it’s not enough to disagree with people anymore. It’s not even enough to discredit them. We want to destroy them.
It wasn’t always thus. It doesn’t have to be thus today.
Last weekend, my wife and I drove over to Bourbon County for her family’s Thanksgiving dinner.
About 25 of us gathered under one roof — Liz’s brothers and sisters and adult nieces and nephews, as well as various in-laws.
We ate turkey and watched the University of Kentucky upset the University of Louisville in football.
Later, as Liz and I drove away, she said to me, “What an entirely pleasant time.”
“That’s what I was thinking,” I said. “Very nice.”
And yet, gathered under that roof for several hours in close quarters had been two dozen rabid UK fans — and one diehard U of L fan. There were theologically conservative Christians and a couple of loosey-goosey anything-goes Pentecostals and one or two agnostics. There were rock-ribbed Republicans and yellow-dog Democrats and, I suspect, a budding socialist.
But there was nary an insult or threat or name-calling.
One reason we got along is because Liz and her siblings were brought up well.
Another reason, though, is that all of us know each other.
We might disagree about religion or politics or sports, but we also recognize the myriad things about which we agree, and those outweigh the disagreements.
And that’s the thing, or ought to be.
Nobody is one-dimensional. Nobody is just a Trump supporter or a Hillary supporter or a gun-rights proponent or a Baptist or a Jew.
They’re also parents and grandparents and daughters and coworkers and fellow UK fans and Wal-Mart shoppers and veterans and Trekkies and John Prine devotees.
We have more in common with most people than separates us.
Years ago, I bought an apartment building with my brother-in-law and a mutual friend.
The occupants of several of our apartments were Hispanic. Whether they were legal immigrants, I have no idea. It wasn’t a big deal back then.
It turned out, though, that our Hispanic tenant were by far our best — quiet, clean, pleasant, hardworking, faithful to pay.
I wouldn’t claim that all immigrants everywhere fit that description. But ours did. We loved them.
I remember, for instance, a young single mother who lived upstairs with her toddler son and two teenage brothers. She had eagerly Anglicized her first name to Joanna because she wanted so much to become an American.
She worked long hours at a grueling job and, when she wasn’t working, was usually at church with her son; they seemed to go to services several times a week.
So now, when I hear people bashing immigrants as lawbreakers and bums, I inevitably think of Joanna. (Who, for the record, was Honduran.)
The thing is, I knew her and our other renters. Once I got to know them, they weren’t labels or stereotypes, much less demons. They were three-dimensional individuals, with names and dreams and faith and children and struggles and virtues.
They were a lot like me, but they had faced harder circumstances, and with greater courage.
What I’m trying to say here isn’t a political statement about immigration.
What I’m trying to say is that my experiences with our renters — as with my in-laws, for that matter — are the experiences we regularly have when we get to know people who on the surface appear different from us.
What we find is that they, too, are created in God’s image. We find they’re more like us than not.
We find that most Trump voters aren’t intrinsically awful people. And neither are Hillary or Bernie voters. And neither are Catholics or Presbyterians or Sikhs or atheists.
We find we don’t have to surrender our own identity or beliefs in order to show others respect. Or at least to afford them basic civility.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.