Why Do We…?

By Mel Harkrader Pine

A couple years of serious blogging have given me:

  • an outlet for my grief as well as my ministry,
  • a mirror on my imperfections,
  • an intellectual and emotional bond with newfound blogosphere friends, sisters and brothers in our ideas and ideals,
  • an opportunity to record my own ever-changing thoughts after a career of writing for others’ ends, and, finally…
  • a few (not sure how many) folks who think I’m a bad person.

It’s that last bullet I’d like to talk about, and to pose a question about.

FullSizeRenderIn our society at large, many seem to believe, for example, that every member of Donald Trump’s family is not only wrong in their opinions, but evil as well. Others find Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton denizens of a lower realm. And we fall into camps that hold our views so tightly and so emotionally that we fear to express them to members of the other camp. Of course we’re afraid if we fail to distinguish disagreement from personal attack.

And I’ve found the same happening in my denomination and my church. As is evident from some of the comments on Rev. Kate Braestrup’s recent post here, political differences are whispered about in Unitarian Universalism and, I suspect, other churches. If we don’t feel free to proclaim our opinions within a faith that values the inherent worth and dignity of all, where is a safe place?

We’re all imperfect, and we’ll all disagree on some things, but I and others have been personally labeled within UUism, sometimes with venom, for our thoughts. Does every member in a church community need to attain godlike perfection in the eye of every other member? If that’s the standard, only cults and religions of one will survive.

I’m mystified about how we got this way, as a nation and within our churches. So I’d like to see your thoughts below. What has led us to confuse disagreement over ideas with disapproval of each other? Why is disagreement so uncomfortable and so personal?

As you reply, just remember our Code of Conduct. If you find yourself blaming it all on them, give it some more thought.

Copyright 2017 © Mel Harkrader Pine


  1. Allowing someone to say what they think gives one an opportunity to show them where they’re wrong. This frequently happens to me—I’m wrong a lot. Since I don’t want to be wrong, I have learned to be grateful when someone shows me my error… well, okay. Let’s be real: I’m still learning to be grateful and there are occasions when I actually pull it off!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t speak to the church issues, as I haven’t experienced what you have in church. But I have been thinking that there may be more prosaic structural issues that are feeding this political divisiveness, and which might be easier to change than human nature is. One is the two-party system, and another is the Electoral College. I’ve been affiliated with one political party for most of my life, but like many people, I don’t find that party represents all of my interests or opinions. Yet I don’t leave, because in our system if you’re not in one of the two major parties, you disenfranchise yourself. One of the things I saw in this past election were people who really didn’t feel at home in either party wanting a voice. I have friends in Europe, particularly Germany, who have much better things to say about their multi-party system. Sometimes I wonder, what if the Perot, Nader, Dean, and Sanders supporters had all stuck together, had been in it for the long game, and really done the hard work of building a third party, all the way down to training and running candidates at the state and very local levels. Maybe we would have gotten somewhere. Not right away, but we’ve had >25 years of failed third party Presidential candidates. We also should have gotten serious about EC reform after the 2000 election. IMO that one was a greater tragedy than 2016.

    To the more personal issue–when disagreement becomes indistinguishable from personal attack–I don’t think that has political roots. I think that behavior is a hallmark of entitlement and bullying, which have been around forever, and we may just be seeing and naming it more now because people who have been bullied feel more empowered to speak out. I mean, Harvey Weinstein is certainly not the first or the worst sexual predator out there. But we finally have the language and the will to shine a brighter light on this problem at this moment in time, and to talk about it. I hope this is a good thing, and that something good comes of it.

    You ask a very good question: “If we don’t feel free to proclaim our opinions within a faith that values the inherent worth and dignity of all, where is a safe place?” I’m not convinced there is such a safe space anywhere, at least not one that applies to everyone. I would say maybe family could be such a space, but tragically that’s not always the case either. If you do find such a space, it’s rare and precious. It’s one of the things love is made of.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree that the roots of the problem are not political, but I also see the multi-party parliamentary system as a better model than our two-party system. The parliamentary system often requires coalition building among various interests to form a government — a better example for the rest of us than two parties that change at a glacial pace.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Allowing someone to say what they think gives one an opportunity to show them where they’re wrong.” Really? Maybe it’s not about that at all. For one, there’s that whole blind men/elephant thing. But for two, if we are really looking to create a “safe space,” then shouldn’t those types of issues of who’s right and who’s wrong be secondary? I think people need to find and express the truth of their own lived experiences. And no one is going to feel safe in an environment where someone else is looking to show them that they’re wrong.

    There have been a number of articles saying that if you want to change someone’s mind, you give them an out and a way to save face. “People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others”


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