Across the Divide

Our minister, Shannon Kershner, read Matthew 5: 13-16 to us Sunday morning, told us we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world and challenged us to start acting like it. Shannon said that a clergy friend of hers was invited to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington last week so Shannon tuned in on C-Span and watched the entire event, something she said she had never done before. She said she was deeply disappointed by what transpired at the Breakfast. The congregation applauded at the end of her sermon, something that doesn’t happen much in Presbyterian Churches.

The National Prayer Breakfast has been an annual Washington tradition for nearly 70 years and ordinarily a strictly nonpartisan event. The Keynote speaker at the recent Prayer Breakfast was Arthur Brooks, Harvard University and Kennedy School Professor and former president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. The parts of the speech I heard were excellent, inspiring even. Brooks said that he was a follower of Jesus, “the Jesus who taught each of us to love God, and who taught us to love each other.” With President Donald Trump seated on one side and Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, on the other side, Professor Brooks pointedly observed that “the biggest crisis facing our nation is the crisis of contempt and polarization that’s tearing our societies apart.”

One day after the Senate voted to acquit the President of the charges of abusing the power of his office and obstructing congress, Professor Brooks urged his audience of 3,000 to love enemies and forgive persecutors. And as predictable as the sun coming up in the morning, the President of the United States stood up next and did exactly what Professor Brooks pled with his listeners not to do. You knew what was coming. The man had no grace about him nor does he share an iota of common humanity, attacking – at the Prayer Breakfast – Republican Senator Mitt Romney who dared to invoke his faith in God and vote to convict the President, and Speaker Pelosi, who invoked her life-long Roman Catholic Christian Faith by saying that she prayed for the President.

It was classic contempt, a shameful, embarrassing performance, exceeded a few hours later at a White House celebration of the President’s acquittal in which the President heaped scorn and insult on a list of critics: Representative Adam Schiff, Speaker Pelosi, former Director of the FBI, James Comey, who Trump, employing his most eloquent adolescent vocabulary, called  a “sleaze bag.” It was a perfect opportunity to change the temper of the political conversation, a wonderful opportunity to actually lead the nation to be more civil, more gracious, more kind. Instead, it was yet another tragic disappointment.

Our nation, the American people, are more deeply divided and alienated from one another than at any time in our history other than the Civil War. It’s almost as if we find ourselves living in two different universes. Recent polls reveal that the one thing Republicans and Democrats agree on, perhaps the only thing, is that having a family member who is part of the other political party would be a major problem.

Political differences have always been strong. It’s a product of our system of government, our liberty, our freedom to express our conscience. In the past the American people could look to their President to be a critical unifier: FDR during WWII, Lyndon Johnson after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, George W. Bush after 9/11, Barack Obama after the mass shooting at Mother Emmanuel in Charleston. Somehow, we must deal with this in spite of our President because this time the President exacerbates our divisions. This time the President has discovered how to exploit differences for his own benefit.

Shannon Kershner told us Sunday morning that it’s up to us. We – mainline, moderate Christians – have to step up and say “no” to contempt. We are the ones who now must show how to love our enemies, how to listen to those with whom we disagree. We are the ones who now have to leave the comfort of our own like-minded circles and reach out and cross the divide.

Jesus told us to.

John M. Buchanan


  1. Amen!

  2. Barbara Fountain says:

    Well said but my heart is aching.

  3. Susan Taylor Rankert says:

    Keeping the despair out of our hearts is no longer enough.
    It is time to stand up, speak out, take to the streets.
    And GO VOTE, while we still have the right too do so.

  4. Coleen Myers says:

    Thank you so much! I lead a women’s Bible study group at our Presbyterian Church and I plan to give each member a copy of what you’ve written. We never talk politics, though they do know where I stand, and I hope your challenge will speak to them.

  5. Diane Buchanan says:

    Thank you for the encouragement to stand tall and hold to the good! Good, loving thoughts for today!

  6. I’m reading this blog from Egypt…where Christians have learned to live, work and play with their Muslim neighbors as a minority faith. We are becoming just such a minority in our American context and it is up to us to learn to handle being the bearers of Christ with grace and humility.

  7. May your words be heard and heeded throughout our great country.

  8. Reblogged this on Back Story Essays and commented:
    “…Comey, who Trump, employing his most eloquent adolescent vocabulary, called a “sleaze bag.”

  9. Stanley Smith says:

    “ scripture ( truth)) is not of one’s
    own interpretation but by men and women
    guided by the Holy Spirit .”
    2 Peter 20-21
    I suppose many people applauded when
    Pilot finally relented and condemned Jesus.

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