In 1985, our family made a vacation swing through parts of the Deep South. With our mixed race family, we experienced an “us/them” moment in several restaurants when it came time to pay for the meal. We were looked upon with disapproving eyes and asked, “Separate Checks?” Three of our four children were obviously seen as different, or “theys” and in need of a separate bill.
In reality we were, and are, together in every sense of the word except color. This obvious “we/they” example is lived out everywhere in countless experiences that reflect life being lived.
Who is on our “they” list and our “we” list? When we frame life by categories of “us” and “them”, we deny ourselves the opportunity to grow and celebrate the God-given diversity that makes up the realities of humankind. When we place people in the “they” category, our discomfort with them prevails over the need for love, acceptance, compassion and the ability to receptively listen and learn.
When we live in the ways of “us/them” we can’t be vulnerable and accessible. I have, on occasion, been hurt by my own willingness to be vulnerable, but as I look back on my own life, that vulnerability has opened the door to caring, compassion and growth. “Us/them” closes us to the very opportunities we need the most.
Words of rejection, and even hatred, replace the need to respect the differences that are found within the world family of “we”. In fact the valid differences that exist become a threat. When love, grace and mercy are set aside, our ornery side comes to the forefront. Too often our local, national and world experiences are of the “us” and “them” variety.
It bothers me that segments of the Christian community often frame issues around “us/them.”
A community that exists to accept and love people as Christ did can be too quick to exclude. The umbrella of God’s love is one of acceptance, not exclusion.
Sameness is not sacred. There’s room for diversity.
The very people who are different from us can be the greatest gift to us. As I look back on the people who were such a blessing to me as a pastor, and to the congregations and communities I served, I see people who were very different from me in many ways, including issues of interpretation, faith and life.
The blessings of a faith community are not their sameness but their diversity lived out together. It is a place where God’s love and forgiveness is experienced. It is a place of honest differences within the family of “we.” People of faith are called to live the life of “we.”
We live in a diverse nation that has deep roots in “we.” Of course there are glaring exceptions where “us/them” has and does do great harm. Many of us are dreading the “us/them” realities that seem so prevalent in the current political climate and upcoming elections.
Rather than accepting the “us” reality of our diverse nation and respecting the differences that exist, it becomes a fight for like-mindedness. The war of words aims hurtful daggers that diminish peoples, policies, perspectives and politicians in deeply disturbing ways. In reality, as a people, we can and should have our differences. As people of the “we,” we need to replace words of hate and needless divisiveness with meaningful messages of honest differences that exist within our national family of “we.”
Rudyard Kipling once said, “All the people like us are we and everyone else is they.”
I invite us as a community, state, nation and world to break away from the “us/them” and embrace the “we.”
As it says in Ephesians 4:25 and 32, “So then putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another…and be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
• Pastor Larry Rorem is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor living in Juneau.