“We must not be enemies” – from President Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address
Following last week’s horrific violence it seems that we are like a ship without a rudder. There is no national consensus about what to think or to do about guns, the police and race relations.
- Some want to believe that the sniper in Dallas, the lone-wolf killer in Orlando and a few rogue cops shooting unarmed black citizens are anecdotal and thus ignore or deny the fault lines that divide and threaten all of us.
- Others would use the tragedies of the past week to support their own convictions as well as prejudices and ideologies: for and against the police, blacks vs. whites, nativism vs. immigrants, straight vs. LGBT, gun rights vs. gun control, for and against Black Lives Matter.
- In this political season some candidates and their supporters would exploit suffering and grief to advance their own partisan advantage.
Here are some of the things life has taught me about – Guns, Police and Race Relations
I learned something last week about guns in America: that most households do not have guns – less than half, perhaps fewer than a third. The trend is downward. As in the headline in a Washington Post article: “America has more guns in fewer hands than ever before.” Gun sales are increasing because the few who have guns are buying more.
The growing majority of us who choose not to own guns are not necessarily trying to prevent others from the right to bear arms. However, most Americans with or without guns want a discussion and direction on who should and should not have guns and what kind of guns should and should not be legal. Gun rights and gun control issues do not need to be in conflict.
About the Police
Like most law-abiding citizens I have never felt threatened by the police. The few times I’ve been stopped for traffic violations I have always been treated with respect, even protected by the police officers. I thought that was normal, unrelated to my white skin until I began serving in an impoverished black neighborhood in Washington, D.C. The police there were viewed by some as an occupation force in a war zone.
One of my first activities was to convene meetings between police officers and community leaders to achieve what is now called ‘community policing.’ We learned together that the neighborhood needed and wanted the police to keep the peace and the police needed and wanted community support to do their work. It worked!
About Race Relations
In the mid-‘90’s I organized the Institute for Racial Reconciliation to convene discussions between blacks and whites. I learned that in spite of our differences, and there were and are many, we are more alike than different. When we took the time to listen deeply to one another most of the time we could find mutually agreeable solutions to long-standing divisions. The problem is that there are too few times and places where black and white people meet to have candid conversations.
I learned that racial reconciliation will not happen without racial justice. Displays of racial harmony and claims of interracial friendships are superficial without working together for justice and fairness.
Where do we go from here?
In spite of our national divisions I hold to the truth from President Lincoln’s First Inaugural address to a divided nation on the eve of the Civil War:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”
Though we will not always agree with one another, the vast majority of us want to live together free from fear – as friends, not enemies. We are urged in Scripture to pray for those in authority that we might “lead a quiet and peaceable life.” We want leaders who will help us find our way there.
As Lincoln expressed it in that address, we live in hope that eventually we will be touched by the ‘better angels of our nature.’