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Where is the common ground?

Last week, Erick Erickson wrote a column in The New York Times. It was a revealing and wrenching story of his past year of political, religious and personal turmoil. “A year from hell,” he called it. He says his faith made him turn his back on Trump and face a fierce backlash from former Republican friends in his Macon neighborhood. He needed armed guards around his house, and counseling sessions with his children who were harassed at school. At the height of this religious and political conflict, Erick received the news that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer.

This would have been enough for me, one of his fiercest critics, to pause. But it was his final paragraph that stopped me in my tracks. He writes, “We may also never find that common ground with people whose politics or faith conflicts with ours. But we owe it to one another to disagree agreeably, without anger or intimidation, whether on a front porch or a Facebook page. A little more grace among us all would go a long way toward healing the nation.

Do any of us have the grace to face our adversaries and agree to disagree? Do I have the grace to sit opposite Erick and talk happily about the marriage of my gay son and listen to him quote the six verses in the Bible condemning homosexuality? Can I read my Telegraph critics who bombard me every Sunday with comments and emails to say I’m an evil old man, and then have the grace and composure to answer them without rancor or anger ?

What if the Protestant reformers in 1517 had done this? They were all Roman Catholics and they were all Europeans. They had plenty of common ground. But they couldn’t talk to each other; they split apart in “anger and intimidation.”

The Waldensians simply wanted to return the church to its Christ-like roots of helping the poor and avoiding Vatican greed. A man like our current Pope Francis could have made the necessary changes and satisfied them. John Wycliff would have been more difficult; John wanted to read the Bible “literally” and forget Catholic tradition, but a good Bible scholar might have found a common ground with him. Father Jan Hus, a Czechoslovakian priest/scholar said the papacy was founded by Constantine, and a good historian could have sat with him and said, “OK, let’s find out.”

All Father Martin Luther wanted that morning in Wittenberg was discussion. Every professor at the university had the right to call for a debate, and Father Martin was just following protocol when he tacked his 95 theses to the front door of the parish church. He was calling for a debate on the horrible Vatican practice of indulgences. This was certainly worthy of much discussion. But where was the Vatican theologian to meet with him? There was no discussion; Martin was condemned as a heretic and excommunicated from his church.

Surely, there was blame on both sides. No doubt about it. But that’s not the point. Why didn’t both sides search out that common ground and agree to disagree? Why can’t we say to the NFL players who are kneeling during our national anthem, “OK, I get your point; I disagree with you, but have your say and let’s play ball.” Why can’t we agree to disagree on politics and religion and still be good Christian Americans? Why can’t we find that common ground Erick speaks about and walk on it in each other’s shoes?

This would mean a huge paradigm switch, wouldn’t it? It would change the way we see our enemies; the way we recite our beliefs; the way we listen to opposing views. Erick put it well: “it would go a long way toward healing our nation.”

Contact me: drc@billcummings.org.

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