I’m a bridge builder, someone who works to bring people together across political, social and faith divides. Usually my work centers around the LGBTQ and faith divide, or how religious liberty can bring us all together. Recently, however, people have been reaching out in deep distress asking for help, asking, “Is there a place for me in America? I just can’t stand (those people) and I feel like they have no respect for me, that they hate me for who I am.”
Which “side” does that come from, do you think? The left or the right? People of faith or secular? Mask wearers, anti-maskers? Whatever you guessed, you are exactly correct. People from all walks of life, all positions on every issue, are saying the same thing — they feel unwelcome, unheard and too often, afraid and even depressed.
There is good news, however. Even with the deep divides we see around us, those divides are matched by a longing: to be seen as human and worthy of respect, and a longing for connection. It is that longing, coupled with abilities each of us has, that will change our communities and nation back to places where disagreement is healthy and necessary, and all people are respected and valued.
Whether you care about healing divisions in your family, community or country, you are the one who holds the key: practicing and sharing love and exercising your natural curiosity. These are natural gifts that you possess, and here is how to use them:
Start with curiosity. I hear every day from someone who can’t “even begin to understand” how (someone) could think the way they do. That is your cue! If you are incredulous or outraged or “can’t imagine” how someone could think that way, ask them. Ask someone you care about and ask with two intentions: look to understand, ask for a story if you are having trouble understanding. And while you seek to understand, also look for where you might find something that resonates with you, even a little.
Along with curiosity, practice love. When I see a photo in the news or hear an outrageous story, I find that I react in negative ways — I recoil or even feel revulsion. That is our next cue: to respond with love. Find the well of love within you and share it with those who are difficult for you to relate to. I am a Christian pastor, and one of my faith practices is to notice those people in the world who I disagree with, and to pray for them. That act of prayer blesses me deeply.
Lastly, to heal our nation’s divides, please make a friend or rekindle a friendship with someone who is very different from you. These seemingly small acts are actually the powerful forces of love. All that is required is for you to be the person you were born to be, a person worthy of respect, deeply connected to our world, and sharing your gifts of curiosity and love.
The Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen is the executive director of Parity, a New York City-based national nonprofit that works at the intersection of faith and LGBTQ+ concerns, and the director of Blessed by Difference, a project that seeks to promote curious and collaborative bridging across the LGBTQ+ and faith divide.