The heat in the aftermath of passage of health care reform reveals the depth of feeling among those for and against the landmark bill that affects all Americans. Such heat, however, cannot justify the verbal and physical violence that has ensued.
If we needed health care because of the crisis affecting the sick, especially the weakest among us, we need even more a move toward civility, if not for our own betterment then at least for the betterment of our children.
Politics has become a kind of blood sport. News junkies over the weekend heard reports of crowds shouting racist remarks and individuals spitting at African American lawmakers, including John Lewis, who suffered violence years ago when he marched for Civil Rights. Surely he – and all of us – has a right to expect that that chapter of despicable, racist violence long over.
We’ve seen reports of homes and offices of lawmakers vandalized and heard of death threats. Anonymous messages are being left on voicemails – I even got one from a nun, for goodness sake. If that isn’t proof that we’ve gone astray I don’t know what is.
The wonderfully unedited Web may share some blame as it gives free reign to those who say whatever suits their strategic purpose, truthful or not. Their presentations – usually anonymous – underscore a significant failing of the Web, lack of editors and accountability.
We’ve seen columnists write with vitriol as they demonize those with whom they disagree. There’s a viciousness which goes beyond what can be called acerbic writing.
We need to address this climate.
The intolerance and incivility did not begin with legislation passed Sunday night. It is not unrelated to the divisions that exist in our country and, sadly, even in our church.
It starts with how we view others – as enemies rather than as fellow travelers on the journey of life. It includes whether or not we’re willing to give another the benefit of the doubt, accepting that their intentions are good, even if their goals differ from ours.
It involves accepting the fact that each of us is a child of God and precious to Him and our brother or sister.
It involves how we speak and terms for one another.
Last Tuesday, March 23, Cardinal Francis George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, noted the bishops’ disappointment that the health reform legislation did not include all they sought, especially adequate protection of rights of conscience and guarantees that federal funds would not go for abortion services. But he also noted that politicians on both sides of the aisle had worked nobly for the protection of life and decried those who would vilify them. Even in disappointment, the bishops were civil and generous. Their position is worth emulating.
In 1959, Pope John XXIII, in his first encyclical, "On Truth, Unity and Peace," in a Spirit of Charity, quoted a maxim attributed to St. Augustine, “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity."
In all things charity surely is the message we all need today. It’s not a bad start to Holy Week.