There’s been so much ill will and even hostility expressed in public discourse lately. What’s the source of the problem and how can it be remedied?
It’s certainly not according to the values of Jesus. I believe “unfiltered thoughts slice hearts.” The norm today is to say whatever you want, no matter how demeaning, ugly or insulting. That’s become acceptable. I think it’s based on two things: There’s a great deal of anger in our nation and frustration in the hearts of people, so that makes it easier to spout off without a filter. Secondly, most often when these razor-sharp words are used, they are often transmitted by texts, emails or tweets, so you don’t have to actually look in the eyes of the other person and say them. Some say, “I have the right to say what I think.” We do not have the right to offend and belittle others. Because of that, we’ve become a very divided community and a divided nation. We see all around us not only ugly words and protests but also violence in the streets, the hurling of racial slurs and people being killed. Frequently, even our government leaders vote not on the merits of an issue that is important to the life of the community but rather vote along party lines so as to put the other party in a more difficult position. We’re a divided nation, and judging by the events we’ve seen over the last couple of years, we’re also a violent nation. Some of the violence is caused by fury; other times it’s caused by mental illness, which is an indication that we’re not very good in our country in caring about people who have mental illness.
What concerns you most about this?
One of my main concerns is that our lives are supposed to be rooted in Christ. We are to try to see Christ in others, even in the person who brings out the very worst in us or the person with whom we disagree the most. We’re supposed to be respectful and caring. Another concern is what we are teaching our children. I think we’re teaching children that in daily life there is nothing wrong with using words to hurt others or to put them in their place. If children grow up with that skewed understanding, that is dangerous for our nation and the church, in the present and in the future. It seems like almost every week there is some kind of protest. Some of the protests are respectful and nonviolent, while others are very violent and disruptive. Sometimes, I wonder if people really know what they’re protesting or if it is just a way to express anger.
Any thoughts about how this might be turned around?
I hope and pray that we could we drop our guns, our knives, our homemade bombs and our words that kill and move toward Christian dialogue instead of protest. We don’t have to win every argument. One of my daily prayers comes from Psalm 141, verse 3: “Set a guard, LORD, before my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips.” Some days, I’m faithful to accomplishing what that prayer asks of me; sometimes, I’m not, and I repent. But I think we, as Christians, should see that as a goal – asking God to guard what we say, because those words do have an effect on others – and unfiltered thoughts slice hearts.
You grew up in the 1960s and there were a lot of protests going on. Do you think this is any different?
That was a long time ago. I think there certainly were protests and demonstrations, but I don’t remember them, as a child, being this offensive and this violent. I think I would remember that.
There even has been division within the church lately.
Yes. This division and the open attacks on others – and especially people in pastoral authority – have at times infiltrated the church. It causes me great pain to hear people question the legitimacy of the pope. I’ve heard people question whether or not the cardinals who elected him were guided by the Holy Spirit. Not to believe that the pope was legitimately elected causes schism. It’s painful to hear people question Pope Francis’ teaching. He has been faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church and our long tradition. He teaches in a pastoral way, and at times he raises questions that do not have easy answers to help us think and turn to Christ. The Holy Father has been given to us by God, and his desire to care for us as a flock is quite evident.
Do you have any advice for parents?
Good parenting has always included teaching children how to speak, how to be thoughtful and how to disagree. The difficulty of raising children in today’s world comes from the example they see in daily life. Today it is even more important that parents have honest conversations with their children. It’s important for parents, teachers and religious leaders to be able to say, in some cases, you must respect this person because of his or her position or authority, but please do not follow his or her example. Unless those conversations take place at home, in our schools and in our religious education programs, the atmosphere of hostility, hatred and racism will continue. Parents are the first and best teachers of their children. May God grant them the wisdom to fulfill that awesome responsibility.
Questions for Archbishop Gregory Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.