John Wesley famously coined the phrase “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?” He said it in a time of political and religious upheaval not so unlike our own. Perhaps it is time for these words to ring fresh and true in our own ears; for our time, for the issues we face.
It seems Americans are called on to think and let think, except when two people disagree they often seek to demonize the other. Is it not possible to love one we disagree and give evidence of our authenticity through the content and tone of our responses to them as well as our willingness to socialize and dialogue together? The alternative is fragmentation and alienation eventually leading to the anarchy of perpetual conflict. Already, conflict between groups culminating in physical conflict even death is becoming commonplace. Boston is only the latest in a string of religious, ideological, and racial eruptions.
“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?”
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s remarks during the recent Women in the world Summit in New York may provide an example. A former Arkansan and member of the United Methodist Church as I am, she spoke to her conviction that faith is offering strength and hope to many while “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases” continue to oppress others. I could not agree with her more. Few things would occasion a deeper disagreement between us, however, than when she stressed how politicians in the future will need to force religious leaders to change these ancient teachings to fit modern laws.
The United States Declaration of Independence states “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” If those governed are religious people, their will properly may be to enact laws reflecting their beliefs. The constitution of the United States was written and ratified by people of faith whom, however, chose to live in a country where those governed respected the religious differences of others. Everyone cannot be right, but a country can attempt to build as big a tent as possible to protect its citizens.
The Declaration of Independence paints on the tapestry of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” In other words, the Laws of God trump the laws of men and women. Living beneath this big tent called the United States of America and within the tensions its founding principles enliven has not and is not easy or always clear in the moment.
Progress, unity, and charity can co-exist. The first step is to realize as correct as I think I am I could be wrong. The result is humility and a willingness to listen in order to understand before trying to help the other understand just how wrong they are.
While the quote of John Wesley typically is used to argue that principled agreement is unimportant compared to loving one another that is much too simplistic to fit what Wesley meant. Actually, as author and professor at Candler School of Theology Kevin Watson says of the sermon in which this phrase was born, “Wesley is arguing for certainty in the specifics of one’s faith that comes from careful thought and examination of the options and not a devaluing of the role of doctrine in order to have a bigger tent.”
I respect and value Hillary’s drive to champion improving the lot and lives of women. I do not always agree with her conclusions or the way she seeks to attain her goals. It is possible that honest prolonged dialogue would yield agreement, new understanding, or areas where cooperation was possible. It is just as possible that the foundation beliefs that drive our actions are disparate enough to limit opportunities for cooperative work.
Even if we don’t think alike, we could love alike. Would our country be better if we all made this our goal?