When the president of the United States gave a speech, really as a sermon, in front of the casket of the late Rev. Clementa Pickney — who was murdered by man in a South Carolina church in 2015 — it was almost as if the most complicated and tragic parts of our common collective national story, and in some ways the most beautiful, came together in that moment. And the most radical thing I think President Barack Obama could have said in that moment is what he did say: that we all need to give and receive grace.

When I think about the state of America today, and the anger over politics, I think of people who are hurting and who are broken and who are seeking meaning in their lives. Perhaps that’s a radical thing to say about the people who descended upon the Capitol building on January 6. They were angry. And yes, they did things that require consequences. But they were also trying to fill a hole in their souls with some level of meaning. The same meaning that people on the left sought when they canceled people in the public square and maybe railed on Twitter or elsewhere. They’re all trying to scoop meaning into this hole, this abyss, and they’re doing so by demonizing someone else, by othering other people. Sometimes it becomes more acute and even becomes violent and literally kills people.

So what can faith leaders do? They can preach, share and teach the fact that the places where too many of us are building meaning are sinking sand. And they can talk about where true meaning is found. And that doesn’t have to be some bland message, some generic message. They can call out and name the idols that people are replacing true meaning with, and then call people into something that’s more lasting and eternal.

This is going to be a deeply uncivil year, and that does not require people to be quiet. We’ve got to find that sweet spot where you can still speak lovingly, but prophetically, when you see something that you just know in your gut is wrong.

This is what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. did. He wasn’t quiet. In fact, one of his biggest criticisms was reserved not for the most virulent racists. But, as he said in his letter from the Birmingham Jail, it was reserved for the white moderates who were so concerned with decorum and civility that they refused to speak out when they knew something was wrong.

And so I think what all of us have to do, especially this year, on both sides of the aisle, is when you know that something is just wrong, you have to say it. You’ve got to put it out there. And in my tradition you express yourself, seasoned with salt and full of the Holy Spirit, with as much love as possible, but still speaking to it. We need an active, lived civility that is not quiet, that doesn’t take a backseat, but leans into the healing of this country.

Joshua DuBois, an ordained Pentecostal minister, led the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships under President Barack Obama.

This essay was adapted from Dubois’ comments at a recent forum in the Washington National Cathedral sponsored by Deseret Magazine, the Wheatley Institute at Brigham Young University and the Wesley Theological Seminary.

This story appears in the May 2024 issue of Deseret Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.