An Obligation of Religious Leaders to Unite, Heal

An author holds religious leaders responsible for some of the partisan nastiness of recent years. He says they now have a special obligation not just to cease their participation, but to heal the damage they've caused. Robert Franklin is the author of Crisis in the Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

According to commentator and theologian Robert Franklin, one of the reasons our country is so polarized is that many religious leaders have encouraged their followers to go to extremes, and now he says it's time for them to stop.

ROBERT FRANKLIN: America's spiritual leaders could assist in healing our divided nation, but instead too many of them are part of the problem. From old fashioned pulpits to modern high technology, religious leaders either insinuate or openly endorse what they understand to be God's appointed party, policy or candidate.

Congregations mobilize their armies of volunteers to work on behalf of the referendum they believe will spare the nation from doom. It's a take no prisoners environment where the ethics of Machiavelli are more evident than the teachings of Moses and Jesus.

Even worse, after working overtime to elect their candidates by making blue states bluer and red states redder, they walk away from the mess they've created. Rarely do they return to engage in healing what they've helped to rend.

All have sinned here from Jesse Jackson to Jerry Falwell. Now that Democrats have gone to Sunday school and learned to talk theology, they should go deeper to master the language of forgiveness and reconciliation. Now that the religious right has been humbled, they should rediscover the call to heal a divided nation.

But what does healing a nation mean? Healing begins with honesty about what ails us. Religious leaders should take the lead in declaring that racism, prejudice and fear are alive and well. Religious leaders have an obligation to remind us that in a prosperous nation, extreme poverty is a moral evil that must be eradicated. And they should help us to transcend the partisan political labels that divide neighbor from neighbor.

America's religious leaders must make a decision. Will they continue to yield to the pressures of partisan politics? Or will they guide us toward a healthier and more hopeful future even if it involves sacrifice?

We urgently need them to step forward and pledge allegiance to the reality behind the rhetoric one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

NORRIS: Robert Franklin teaches theology at Emory University. He's the author of the book, "Crisis in the Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities."

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