Jim Denison has insight for Americans about why the nation is so divided.
Denison, Ph.D., is familiar to many Christians across denominations. As CEO of Denison Forum and author of a daily column, his focus is a biblical perspective on today’s news. He is read by hundreds of thousands around the world.
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The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 1910, 28 percent of Americans lived in metropolitan areas. Denison says contrast that with 90 years later in 2000, with 80 percent of Americans living in cities. In 1900, the most common American household contained seven or more people. By 2000, the average household was two people.
There are inevitable effects – good and bad – from such a transformation.
Brown University’s Marc Dunkelman notes communities and townships have been replaced with networks in which people keep in touch with their closest friends and families. “There was a time when we interacted with our neighbors, whether we agreed with them or not. Now we choose community based on commonality.”
That leads to divisions.
Denison cites Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse’s assessment in his book “Them: Why We Hate Each Other – And How To Heal.”
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Sasse says cultural fragmentation, technological developments and economic upheaval have undermined togetherness. Once “people walked away from political conversations without thinking ill of each other, because that kind of talk happened in the context of actual relationships centered around local things that were a lot more important.’
Sasse believes the partisan rancor of our day has escalated “because the local, human relationships that anchored political talk have shrivelled up. Alienated from each other, and uprooted from places we can call home, we’re reduced to shrieking.”
Thus the rise of “anti-tribes,” born of the collapse of “the natural, local, embodied, healthy tribes people have traditionally known.” Anti-tribes are not united by commitment to common good but their common enemy, Sasse states.
The senator calls us to reject anti-tribes, elevate civil values above political divisions, and invest in local, diverse community. “It’s not legislation we’re lacking; it’s the tight bonds that give our lives meaning, happiness and hope. It’s the habits of heart and mind that make us neighbors and friends.”
The Rev. Marie Elizabeth Ray of North United Methodist Church recently addressed the national divide, writing that Christianity offers something unique and vital in this day.
“The church is consistently pictured in Scripture as a community – a vine with many branches, a body with many members. But our community is based on unity, not uniformity.”
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Change must start with people choosing community over commonality.
Ray states: “The more we disagree with someone, the more we need to love them. The alternative is a cycle of hatred and retribution that never ends but escalates.”
Dangerously, America is in that cycle.