[Episcopal News Service] Washington National Cathedral hosted a virtual event focused on healing the divisions in American society on Nov. 20, featuring a discussion between Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Russell Moore, executive director of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The conversation was the latest in a series of events hosted by the cathedral centered around the themes of national unity and reconciliation, including a Nov. 1 pre-election interfaith prayer service, “as an opportunity for Americans to explore understanding across our differences and engaging each other with dignity and respect.”
It was moderated by Krista Tippett, creator and host of the public radio show “On Being,” which focuses on spirituality in everyday life. For about an hour, the three talked about the present state of the country, the role of faith in bridging divides and their own personal experiences with reconciliation and healing.
Highlighting a theme of his remarks, Curry shared a quote from Booker T. Washington that was often repeated in his home when he was growing up: “Never let any man drag you so low as to hate him.”
Curry and Moore demonstrated mutual respect transcending the differences in their racial backgrounds, faith traditions and beliefs. Both have dealt with the hot-button issue of sexuality and inclusion of LGBTQ people in their denominations, reaching different conclusions and encountering resistance but always affirming the dignity of those they disagreed with.
Although many political and religious leaders – including Curry – have called for civility in public discourse, both men expressed a desire to take that a step further. Moore noted that, especially in Southern culture, politeness can be deployed as a way to trivialize others’ concerns and dismiss them. Christians, he said, are called to see the image of God in every person.
“I hate the word civility, largely, although I will take it,” Moore said. “I understand what people mean by it, but I think it’s too low of a bar. I think what the Scripture calls us to is to both conviction – not an evaporating of our differences – but also to kindness and active love for even those people who disagree with us.”
Curry agreed that the objective is not to paper over our differences, but to recognize them as part of God’s diverse creation. That recognition represents “spiritual maturity,” he said.
“I just believe that Jesus of Nazareth came among us to show us the way to be reconciled with God and to be reconciled with each other,” Curry said. “God’s vision of the entire human family [is] learning to live together in love and charity with all of our differences, holding on to our integrities.”
“We can find those places,” Moore added, “and then move forward as human beings who disagree, including about some really important and significant things, and are willing to have those conversations without suggesting that every point of disagreement is necessarily weaponized.”
The program was co-hosted by the National Institute for Civil Discourse, which was created by the University of Arizona after the 2011 shooting in Tucson that killed six people and wounded 13, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The institute’s Golden Rule 2020 initiative, which Curry has endorsed, encourages Americans to apply the Golden Rule to political interactions. Fostering civil discourse has been a focus of The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations this year, with resources designed to promote civil engagement across differences, and truth over disinformation.
Tippett addressed the crisis of truth and decency in American political discourse, asking how it is possible to reconcile with and understand people who do not accept facts, or who are openly hostile.
“There’s people who have said, ‘You know, we can’t even agree on facts. How can we converse?’” Tippett said. “How can I be in relationship with people who have been demeaning to me or threatening to me?”
Curry and Moore advised focusing on areas of common ground – even if you have to start at the smallest or most basic level. Moore shared a story of connecting with a pastor he disagreed with over their shared love of the poet Wendell Berry. The point, he and Curry said, is not to try and convince other people to see things your way, but to understand more about what life experiences have led them to their conclusions. Curry told of a priest in Utah who, after the 2016 election, brought people in his town together, not to debate political issues, but to tell stories about how they formed their beliefs.
“Whenever someone reveals the story of their life, that ground on which they’re standing is holy ground. That’s common ground. We’re human, and we’ve got a story. If I listen to yours and you to mine, we won’t agree on a whole lot, but we’ll understand each other, and that’s common ground,” Curry said.
– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.