It seems like there’s no end to current political discourse that’s designed to instill fear within people in the hopes of garnering votes. The fear can be focused in any number of directions, but the goal is always the same: To define some “other” — or maybe even better, several “others” — groups within our society who are different in some way from one’s own self or group. These “others” are then blamed as bringing instability and danger to one’s own comfortable status quo, and are therefore an enemy to be defeated.
History offers plenty of examples where this has happened in the past, around the world and within our own country. The pitting of various groups within a society against one another for political gain is clearly against the highest ideals of this country and always ends in societal disaster. Whether the “other” is defined by a person’s race, ethnicity, religion, refugee status, sexual orientation, political party or any other social marker, this isn’t just divisive. It’s dangerous.
This is a social sickness, but I believe it’s more than that. As someone who professes faith in Jesus Christ, and who believes that his teachings reflect God’s will for humanity, I see this playing to the worst instincts and anxieties in people to be a moral sickness as well.
Despite the divisive nature of this national discourse, three specific things right here in Auburn give me cause for great hope. This past month, the 41st annual community-wide worship service celebrating the life Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. drew a full house at the Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church. It was a fantastic, inspiring evening that I won’t soon forget.
Dr. King left a legacy that identified equality and social justice as not only a social, political issue, but one that was at its core a spiritual and moral issue. His profound words, melded together with his courageous and often unpopular actions, remind us that we can never let up in the ongoing struggle to live ever more fully into both the promises of this nation and the will of God. Dr. King’s example reminds me that my Christian faith requires me to live together without regard to meaningless distinctions, and to work together for mutual human dignity and respect. As he wrote so eloquently in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” we can no longer live within the framework of insiders and outsiders in our society. We cannot give in to the temptation to identify and demonize certain people or groups as “others.” It was reassuring to see how many people had gathered together for that service, and to proclaim that great, eternal truth yet again.
The day after that church service, Auburn Public Theater hosted a second event organized by the Harriet Tubman Center for Justice and Peace honoring Dr. King’s legacy. This event included poetry readings, personal recollections and more of Dr. King’s words, juxtaposed with reflections of where we find our society today. It was a wonderful counterpoint to the church service, and I hope that it continues to grow in the coming years.
Both of these hope-filled events spoke out so positively for equality, just peace and unity, and against attempts to divide us. If you missed participating in them, I hope you’ll be part of them in the future. But you can still be part of the third thing that gives me hope for the future. Auburn Public Theater and the Harriet Tubman Center for Justice and Peace have also partnered to host Diverse Auburn, an ongoing, frank conversation and sharing of personal experiences dealing with matters of race within our local community, and how, together, we can work to improve things. Even though it only started in December, participation in Diverse Auburn has already grown dramatically. I predict it will accomplish great things in our community in the future.
The next meeting of Diverse Auburn is 5:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12, at Auburn Public Theater. I hope that all of you, as individuals, would consider participating in these discussions. I also hope that the local faith community, representing all traditions and denominations, would become a supportive part of them, too. I hope that we can work together, just as in the days of Dr. King, to advance justice and equality in Auburn, and to offer a witness against the moral bankruptcy of divisive political exploitation intent on pitting us against ourselves as insiders and outsiders — us and other, wherever it’s attempted.