As our nation celebrates the life and impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I have completed an annual tradition of reading “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” For me it has taken on a renewed significance in light of some recent events across the nation but more specifically in our community.
I personally attended the Jan. 7 meeting where the Beltrami County Commissioners made the decision to refuse refugees to resettle in our county. I attended the meeting not as a proponent of either side of the issue as I was ignorant about the details, but rather to get a pulse of the climate in our community and the faith community regarding such issues.
As I arrived, the room was packed with people, both for and against the issue at hand. The room had already filled and there was overflow into the hallway. There was already a heightened sense of emotion and different displays of opinions. One person started getting agitated and was informing those in attendance that these refugees were going to "make us close our churches" and "cut our heads off in our streets." Then two individuals who were on opposite sides of the issue confronted each other face to face, which drew the attention of the deputy in the hallway.
Once the vote was taken there were cheers of excitement and jeers of disappointment. The confrontations increased, insults were traded and someone walked up to me and said, "That's a win for Christians." I walked away from that meeting grieved. For me it wasn't only about the vote. That's not why I was there. I was grieved to see how people were treating each other. I was grieved as I watched as insults flew, conversations turned into confrontations, and people of faith celebrated as some "win" to protect our fragile beliefs. I am grieved by the lack of hope-filled responses by fellow clergy as tensions in our community begin to rise. It was apparent that day and in the days since that fear had ruled the day.
So here are my questions. Where has civility gone? Why has our value for each other become determined on our agreement? Have we become content with the belief that degrading people and debating issues will lead to the changes that we want to see in our community? Why have we allowed our faith and our lives to be motivated by fear? I'll tell you this: The person on the other side of the aisle, the other side of the issue, or the other side of the street is not your enemy.
Dr. King said that "we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools." In a culture where unity and love doesn't sell like division and fear, we must take up the call of civility and peace as we confront the issues at hand. While commissioners vote whether refugees can come into our community, there are the homeless, addicted and broken in our cities who need our help. While so much effort is put into debating this issue and diminishing each other there are great opportunities to make our community shine. While fear is running rampant in our conversations and responses, love is just waiting to be embraced and demonstrated.
Our divisions must be destroyed. We cannot afford to embrace the tribalism that has infected so much of our beliefs. I am so hopeful for the future of our communities and I believe that this is a great opportunity for love and compassion to be the true victors of the hour.
I will leave you with one final quote from Dr. King, and my hope is that you will allow it to transform your perspective on the issues that we as a people face. "We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now."
Adam Molina, Bemidji, is senior pastor at River City Church, formerly known as Becida Community Church.