How do we find unity in a culture of division?

Logan, I don’t find your talk on this topic on YouTube, nor as a pdf. Can you please give a summary of what you covered on this topic? (I live in South Africa so this sort of thing is important to me/us.)
Thank you

Hi Bill,

I imagine being from South Africa, you’ve probably thought more about this topic than I have! I’m keen to hear what your thoughts are on it. But, for a start, I’m glad to give a bit of a summary of what I cover with that topic, “Finding unity in a culture of division.”

I start just by reflecting on the Oxford England Dictionary’s choice to have “post truth” be the 2016 “word of the year” – the word that was seen to best capture the spirit of our times, at least in the West. It’s been said that, where the worldview of modernism held that objective truth exists (especially from science), and postmodernism held that truth was relative, “post-truthism” holds that truth exists, but that it has been subordinated and lost to an agenda. The phrase “fake news” reflects this idea. When someone is accused of disseminating “fake news,” they’re said to be obscuring truth intentionally, to get a particular agenda across.

A key difference, however, between “post-truthism” and the other worldviews of the last century in the West, is that in the heyday of modernism, people were proud to take the label of “modernists.” To be a “modernist” meant to stand for progress and confidence in the advances of science. Likewise, in the heyday of postmodernism, people were happy to be called “post-modern” – that was to be seen as tolerant, progressive and up with the times. In today’s post-truth culture, however, no one wants the label “post truth” for themselves. “Post truth” always describes the “other.” It’s what Fox News accuses CNN of, and vice versa – it’s what liberals and conservatives throw at each other, but would never want for themselves, to be seen as “post truth” or the source of “fake news.”

I think there’s something significant in this for us. If “post truth” is our cultural moment, it means we’re living with a worldview that inherently divides us, because at its core is the idea that “post truth” is always describing someone else. While I don’t think we can say we’ve never been as divided as we are now, I do think we’re in a unique time of actually having a metanarrative or worldview undergird the division we see in our culture.

I think if a worldview is a contributing factor to the problem of division, I think it’s fair to ask what worldview puts us on the path of a solution. Here in my talk I spend some time reflecting on our scepticism (particularly in a multicultural place like Canada) that an exclusive belief system, like Christianity, could be something that unites rather than divides. I’ve found Tim Keller helpful in explaining how, in reality, all of us have exclusive beliefs when it comes to spirituality. Even the belief that all religions are equally valid is a view of spirituality that still excludes any religion that claims to be the only way! Keller points out the real question is not whether we have exclusive beliefs (we all do!) but whether our exclusive beliefs make us into inclusive people.

It’s at this point that I turn to what Christianity says about the source of division in our world. James writes in James 4:1, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” Instead of locating the source of social division in the “other,” the Christian faith points to a division in ourselves. But it tells also the story of a God who meets our divided hearts with grace. Keller points out that if the story at the heart of your life is that God met you with relentless love “while we were still sinners,” when we were believing the wrong things and behaving the wrong way, how can we fail to extend that kind of love to those we see in that same light – believing and behaving “wrongly.”

I think we see few better examples of this than Martin Luther King in the States. The US certainly still has much to grow in, by way of race relations. But they’re not in the place they were 50 years ago. I think this is much thanks to King – but moreso than his teaching, I think this came in response to images – photographs – disseminated across the country that captured non-violent resistance to racial oppression: protesters sitting in at white-only restaurants, having drinks poured on their heads, while they simply endured it silently. Pictures like these reached the heart of a generation – a response of love to those who deserved it least. At the heart of those images is the kind of nonviolence that King embodied – and that King, as a pastor, took from the message of the cross, and the way God met the division between Himself and us, with grace and suffering on our behalf, when we deserved it not.

Where we see Christians failing to act in that way – it’s not a matter of them being “too Christian” and exclusive, but rather not Christian enough. The Gospel alone has the power to make us into truly inclusive people, and to meet our worldview of division with one that inclines us to love and grace.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and how you find the Christian faith speaks into the division in your context!