I want to tell you about my America, the land that I have dreamed of all my life – the United States that ought to be.
My America has freedom and justice for all, it embodies everything that imbues citizens with inalienable rights – it encourages kindness and compassion, understanding and empathy. My America is a land of opportunity, a place where if you are black or white, gay or straight, atheist or theist, every opportunity is available to you. My America is a place where when a poor person is sick, they receive healthcare, where when a child needs education, they receive schooling. It is a place where the bountiful harvest of opportunity lays in wait for the next hands to simply reach out and gather the crop. It is the land of the immigrant, the resting place for the weary, the stepping stone for the driven.
This is not my America.
This America is a land stricken with the illness of division. It is a land where transgender people are murdered for their appearance, where minorities face police brutality, where police face the risk of murder. It is a land where poverty is rampant, where mental illness is dismissed as a disease of motivation, homelessness is laziness, and veterans come home to a system unprepared to meet their needs. Why is this land so sick?
Why do I see that yesterday first-graders were mowed down by a man with a gun, the next day a movie theater was filled with death and despair, and today Chicago is dying? Why is Baltimore on fire? Why is Ferguson in pain?
How is it that both a Christian Church and a Jewish Synagogue became the killing grounds of neo-Nazis and our journalists are murdered on live television?
A week ago I saw two people ask for a marriage license, and they were denied because of a mandate from heaven. My America is my heaven, why can’t I have that?
I see a woman celebrated because of the hatred in her heart, yet I see a government that can’t accommodate religious belief. This is division, division of hate and division of misunderstanding.
Let me ask you, is your America a place where 40% of homeless youth are LGBT? Is your America a place where the orientation and identity of a child determines whether or not they have a home? Is your America a place where more than half of transgender people seriously consider suicide? Is you America a place where we cannot have a serious conversation about gun control?
Our country is divided because we have mistaken political ideology and moral goodness. We do not empathize with the people we disagree with, we demonize. We do not discuss facts, we dismiss and deflect. There is no common ground when every decision is a moral one, when all grays are black and white, and for some black is white and white is black.
We cannot separate our money from government, our religion from government, our private lives from government, and most of all we can’t separate ourselves from the hatred that is implicit in this country.
I see something else. For years, being Christian has conferred privilege. Solidarity benefits, monetary benefits, lobbying benefits…the ability to generally set societal norms. Now we are seeing a transition where the Christian faith does not determine law – the rule of reason does that. Reasonably, equal protection means that gay couples should be able to marry – reason is the interpreter of law. Reasonably, separation of church and state means that churches do not unduly influence law. Reasonably, taxes are used to fund government – and so on. Is it reasonable, then, that we have a serious debate about what is an unnecessary burden on religious people? Is it an unnecessary burden to ask a county clerk to sign a marriage certificate? Or is it an unnecessary burden to modify the certificate to exclude her name? I know that Kim Davis and I agree on one thing, neither of us want her name on my marriage certificate. Can we let this precedent stand in small town Kentucky or Idaho where even the grocery store would consider denying me service if given license?
We must also remember, an exception to the expansion of civil rights is permission to discriminate. Where rights seemingly collide, the discussion becomes complex and convoluted – and ultimately we all choose our sides based on a gut reaction rather than serious introspection. Fundamentalist Christians cannot see that all Kim Davis is asked to do is ensure that couples have met the requirements set forth by law for civil and not religious marriage – while non-fundamentalists can’t understand why this distinction isn’t being recognized. This is simply the latest reminder of division.
This United States of America is our America. It is our creation, the one that we have made from our disagreements about things that we may not even understand – because we accept that sometimes we should allow others to tell us how to feel.
How do we cure the malaise of this era? Perhaps we refer to the rule of reason rather than religion in determining our laws, and with the rule of reason we consider how to treat religion, even when it is unyielding and inconvenient.
Perhaps we recognize that our religion cannot determine laws, no matter how fervently we believe that it should. God has not chosen the people that represent us, we have. So there is no reason to believe that in the context of civil law, god’s law holds more sway.
Perhaps we recognize that government must reasonably accommodate people who disagree with us, even people who hate us.
The real cure, however, lies within you. You must be empathetic, you must be kind, you must not be dismissive.
How will you change this country for the better?