“Do what is right.”
I have been thinking a lot about this admonition for the past couple of months. I was spurred to consider its implications by comments submitted to the Whispering Pines Village Council by Bob Wade.
The council was considering raising the tax rate and devoting the revenue over a number of years to pay for dam repairs. Mr. Wade wrote, “I support the increase because I believe it to be unfair to expect those who follow to pay for what I enjoy today.”
His concern for generational fairness seems so out of fashion these days, as fiscal prudence has been so thoroughly abandoned.
Being fair, doing what is right. Isn’t that what we were taught by our parents, the generation before us? Simple things like share your toys, say thank you, take turns at the playground, be kind to animals, and, if you grew up in the South, address adults as “Sir” or “Ma’am.”
And did not much of this moral direction come from their basic beliefs about how this world should function, beliefs that often derived from their spiritual tradition? My family has been strongly rooted in mainline Protestant Christianity. So I went to Sunday School and Confirmation classes where my parents’ beliefs were passed on formally to their children. While at home, every day my parents elaborated on those teachings through their exhortations to “do the right thing.”
They set good examples for us in both small instances and in the larger societal context. In our home, we never heard a derogatory word directed at any other ethnic or racial group. The dichotomy with the society surrounding us became very clear when we moved from the Midwest to Virginia in the mid-1960s. Our school was segregated and crosses were burned down the road from our neighborhood.
And yet at home, my father spoke of his co-workers with respect and without reference to their racial backgrounds. While many of our neighbors attended Christian churches, they were either ignoring Christ’s teaching to love others as they love themselves, or they were willfully disobeying this most fundamental tenet of their professed faith.
And now, six decades later, we seem to be no closer as a majority Christian society to hearing and heeding Christ’s command to love one another. For if we were trying to love one another, wouldn’t we willingly and joyfully be doing everything we could to prevent the coronavirus from infecting our fellow souls, instead of claiming our freedom is more important than others’ health or even lives? It dismays me to see so many people not wearing masks or maintaining social distancing, particularly and bizarrely ministers and congregants at some churches.
Is it too much to ask to put a simple piece of cloth on our faces? Is it too much to ask to stand 6 feet apart when we must be around other people?
Unfortunately I have seen the full gamut. One day I headed up N.C. 22 to do some shopping for essentials. I stopped first at the hardware store, where not a single employee was wearing a mask nor trying to social distance. Yet there were a few customers concerned for the health of those employees as they chose to wear a mask and tried to maintain social distancing.
In contrast, when I ordered takeout to support a local pizza restaurant across the street, I found all of the employees wearing masks to protect their customers, but no other customers wearing any masks at all. Then on a run up the highway to Highlanders Farm, I patronized a family run business that clearly valued the lives of their customers by setting up drive-through service only, masking and gloving every employee, and even maintaining social distancing when exchanging money.
And if like them, we truly value every life, why are we not seeing all Christians standing in support of Black lives that are ended much too soon whether at the hands of law enforcement or through the multiple comorbidities inherent in lives lived under discrimination?
How much could be achieved if pro life evangelists joined forces with Black Lives Matter protesters to proclaim the value of the life of George Floyd and the other unfortunate souls departed this life before their time?
We must come to recognize our shared humanity and our shared responsibility to that humanity. As the Rev. Will Davenport on “Grantchester” recently preached: “In the end there is only one family and that is the family of God.”
Kyle Sonnenberg, who served as Southern Pines town manager from 1988 to 2004, has returned in retirement after a three-decade career in city management in three states.