Why are we so divided?
This past week, I met a man named David Leaverton. David and his family uprooted their life in Texas to embark on a unique journey and that journey all began with a question. During the 2016 Presidential election, David’s wife asked him, “If kids, mortgage and finances were not a factor, what would you wake up and want to do tomorrow?” Dave responded with an answer that surprised both of them: “I would want to help bring unity to America.” It was from that conversation that Undivided Nation was born.
From their website, “Undivided Nation’s purpose is to serve as a catalyst for reconciliation and unity in America. It was founded with the hope that America is ready to explore the offenses that have driven us apart, and find the points of connection that link our lives and stories together.”
Averaging one state per week, the Leavertons are pursuing three key endeavors: First, they are listening to people’s stories to gain a deeper understanding of others. Second, they are exploring the roots of America’s divisions as seen through the eyes of real people. Third, they are searching for what exists that has the power to connect us as Americans across our divides.
David reached out to me after reading my Herald article about the 2016 Presidential election. We had lunch, talked about the divisions in our country, the issues in our community, the way various tensions have unfolded in recent years, and what the Bible has to say about it.
A few days removed, as I thought about my conversation with David, I keep coming back to James 4:1-3, which reads: “What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and wage war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
I know that divisions - be they race, politics, economics, education or whatever - are complex and layered, but they are also simple, aren’t they? At the end of the day, what causes the divisions among us is that we want something (be it something physical, like food, or something more nebulous, like respect - neither of which are bad desires) and we don’t get it. We want it, but we lack it, therefore we look around, we crave it until it gnaws at us. When we see other people as obstacles to us having that thing, we are willing to argue, to fight, and even to kill to get what we want.
This is what we see in the world around us. Everyone is clamoring and fighting to be heard, but since nobody is listening the voices keep getting louder and louder. Even when people do quiet down enough to listen, you get the vibe that they aren’t actually listening, they are just waiting for their turn to talk, and while they listen they are simply making notes about how they can tear the other person or their argument apart.
James explains that we don’t have these things for one of two reasons. The first reason is because we don’t ask. Who don’t we ask? Specifically, God. Let me explain. If I struggle with acceptance, feeling like I deserve to be well-liked by people, I should ask God. What should I ask God? That other people like me? No, that I would find my acceptance rooted deep in him. God, show me that I am accepted and reveal this truth to me in the gospel of Jesus Christ! That’s a prayer that God will answer and my acceptance will be truer, richer, and life changing. But, as James says, we don’t ask!
The second reason we don’t have the things that we ask for is because we are selfish. We want to be heard, but it isn’t because we actually want to bring about productive change or unification. We want to be heard because we want to have the perfect statement that will burn the other person and make us look and feel better about ourselves. In other words, we want to root our acceptance in ourselves rather than in God.
Our quarrels are rooted in our self-centeredness. We are self-centered instead of God-centered. Practically speaking, this means that we don’t want God telling us what to do or how to think. That means what he has to say about diversity, about the world, about loving the poor or rich neighbor and so on and so forth. We are also self-centered instead of others-centered. We primarily look out for ourselves and only tend to think of others when we have “overflow” in our lives.
This is the problem, what are some of the solutions? How can we hope to find unity? I hope to explore this topic in the coming weeks.