Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Hunting for Goodwill, across the Great Divide

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Hunting for Goodwill, across the Great Divide

Article excerpt

"Peace on earth, goodwill to men."

We know the words from Christmas carols and have childhood memories of Linus reciting it to the Peanuts gang straight from Luke 2: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men."

With the nation's reserves of peace and goodwill running low, just as millions of us prepare to celebrate the occasion on which those words first were sung, we might stop to wonder what exactly we're getting wrong.

I'd been stuck on this problem for some time before attending a church symposium on race relations 10 days ago, and it seemed even more urgent afterward.

Why no peace? Why so little goodwill?

It used to be that public failures of goodwill surfaced mostly in partisan political terms - people on one side smearing those on the other, ad hominem attacks to evade tough issues.

In the past six years, though, since the election of President Barack Obama, many of the philosophical issues that divide us have taken on a racial toxicity that I believe we're seeing erupt in the protests and the pushback all around us.

Civil unrest over the deaths of young black men at the hands of police prompted the church symposium I attended, but it actually seemed designed to address two divides - between police and civilians, and between blacks and whites. Fascinatingly, the retired police officers who spoke to our mixed-race crowd were black, and the civilians who spoke were all white.

While much of the discussion focused on policing and seemed visibly to be building understanding and trust, considerable time was also spent - mostly by the whites - discussing "white privilege."

On this topic everyone was preaching to the choir: Many of the people there that night belong to intentionally integrated churches, and safe to say, all were there because they care.

The pithiest definition came from officer-turned-pastor Sheldon Williams: "Whites gotta prove that they're a bad white. Black people gotta prove that they're a good black."

It's true, but not all the time or for everyone.

It's true, but it's not the whole truth. Our society has undergone astonishing transformation in the past 50 years. …

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