The radical center…
Have you ever heard of that? You are probably familiar with the radical left and the radical right but “radical” center?
What is so radical about a centrist position?
In the past decades, the centrist position has been most often described as “wishy-washy,” not radical. To be a centrist is to be weird. The fashionable thing to do is take an EXTEME position.
What has it gotten us? [a partial list]
A Kansas church that lines the funeral processions of American soldiers carrying signs like “God hates gay people.”
Occupy Wall Street movements went across the country as more and more people demanded financial accountability in large financial firms.
Islamophobia groups like Counterjihad have taken root as more and more Americans fear the rise of Islam in the American world.
Black Lives Matter is a grass roots movement designed to address injustice against African-Americans in American society today.
The Ku Klux Klan has been on the radar more than ever lately as they have openly endorsed political candidates.
Depending on your view, each of the examples of extreme positions above may be more or less palatable but you have to ask yourself, why do we need to go extreme in the first place? What does an extreme position get us? The short answer is, it gets us an extreme response. When people go extreme, it is so much harder to get anything accomplished. We all get mired in the production of red hot rhetoric that accomplishes nothing.
I know that the American Congress is not on par with Black Lives Matter or Counterjihad, but why do you think precious little has been accomplished in recent years with our elected congressional representatives? They are too busy standing behind the walls of their party affiliations hurling fire bombs at the other party.
As a young junior high student, I belonged to a young person’s book club and I remember getting an edited copy of John F. Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage in the mail. This 1957 Pulitzer Prize winning book detailed the acts of courage in the political lives of eight U.S. Senators. Senator after senator found a way to work with other legislators to accomplish the work of the country. They put their own political ambitions aside to do what was right for people who needed their leadership. In some instances, they committed political suicide in order to help do what was right for America.
After reading the book and being so impressed by John Kennedy, I applied to be one of his pages. I figured I admired him so much, why not be the Kentucky page to serve him in the senate, along with 49 others pages from the other states. I did not make the cut.
Maybe that job would have launched me into politics but would I want to be in the extreme political climate we have today?
You see, I believe in trying to understand people. People don’t think alike. That is ok. But just because there is variety of thought, it is not necessary to disparage people who don’t think like us. It is important to stand strong with your own views, listen to others, try to figure out why others hold their position and discuss your position in a civil manner. The goal is not to change another person. The goal is to understand the other person. Instead of feeling the need to crush another person with your verbal assault, just talk with the idea that you may build a bridge instead of a wall.
John Wesley said “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding all these smaller differences.”*
Of course Wesley is speaking of the Christian world and most of this post has been dedicated to the secular world but for many Christians, there is no gap between the Christian life and the secular world. For the authentic Christian, how we worship is how we live. We don’t just say our Christian words on Sunday; we use them throughout the week.
People of the radical center are searching for ways to make things work. People of the radical center are willing to take the best ideas of the right and the left and construct something that moves us forward. People of the radical center take the words of Paul to heart “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen [Ephesians 4:29].
As we get ever closer to the great presidential election of 2016, my prayer for the country is that we can find our way back to the “radical” center. That we emphasize what unites us more than what divides us. That we can give up the need to force our views on others just to feed our own egos.
It begins with me.
It begins with you.
Let us talk together.
*from “Catholic Spirit” Sermon by John Wesley
I plan to post on thoughts inspired by Adam Hamilton’s book Seeing Gray in a world of Black and White until election day November 8, 2016. On November 9, we begin a new study based on W. Bingham Hunter’s book The God Who Hears.