Healing Our Fragmented Society

This is the fourth in a series of articles about the importance of place to our Navigator Calling. Let’s think together about the current state of our culture and how a recommitment to place might begin the healing work that is desperately needed.
“All across the world there is a lot of political fragmentation . . . and, unfortunately, Christians might be tempted to be fragmented right along,” Tim Keller said at the 2016 Movement Day conference in New York City. “We might start getting divided politically instead of remembering that we're Christian first and we're white, black, Asian, Hispanic, second. You're a Christian first and you're American, or you're British, or you're African second.”
It's not just politics or ethnicity that divides and separates us; these days it’s everything. Age, location, socioeconomic status, faith tradition, and even personal preference have divided us into tribes. Andrew Sullivan, writing in the Daily Intelligencer paints a dark picture of this tribalism:
[We are] two tribes whose mutual incomprehension and loathing can drown out their love of country, each of whom scans current events almost entirely to see if they advance not so much their country’s interests but their own. I mean two tribes where one contains most racial minorities and the other is disproportionately white; where one tribe lives on the coasts and in the cities and the other is scattered across a rural and exurban expanse; where one tribe holds on to traditional faith and the other is increasingly contemptuous of religion altogether; where one is viscerally nationalist and the other’s outlook is increasingly global; where each dominates a major political party; and, most dangerously, where both are growing in intensity as they move further apart.
In 2008, I decided to figure out Twitter. I was intrigued by the concept of people sharing thoughts with one another in 140 characters. So I read some books and online articles and signed up for the service. Today, I’m looking at Twitter and social media less frequently because they have become a mirror of our ugly divisions. Sadly, many of the believers I follow seem just as divided and often just as contemptuous and unloving as people of the world. In 2008 I was checking out the new media; in 2018 I’m cutting back on media. For example, this year Iris and I decided to drop all cable news—and we have not regretted this decision for one second!
The gospel, of course, defeats division and fragmentation. It is the good news that Jesus has broken down the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14). It sets in motion the reconciling and reconnecting of all things (Colossians 1:20). So, given the current state of our fragmented society, how do we fulfill our calling as ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18)?
I believe that we need to connect to our places. We need to get to know people of diverse beliefs, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status and learn to work together with them for the betterment of those places.
My neighbor (I will call him “Joe”) lives across the street. Joe is a socialist and a protester. He has disrupted city council meetings and his yard is dominated by campaign signs for fringe political candidates. We’ve seen Joe on TV and on the front page of our newspaper. We’ve become friends with Joe. His love for people on the margins has challenged me multiple times. I’ve grown in my Christlikeness through my friendship with Joe. We disagree on many things. He’s a pacifist; I’m a military veteran. My faith shapes my worldview; Joe doesn’t believe in God. But here’s one passion we both share: We want our neighborhood to be a place of flourishing for all people. Joe has Italian plum trees in his backyard and shares the bounty with the neighbors. They taste really good.
Our good friend Paul Sparks of Parish Collective recently tweeted: “The neighborhood is the place where we can begin to discover our common humanity, without collapsing the uniqueness of ‘the other’ into our ego-centered projects.”
And this: “Each place requires a unique response to the question: ‘What does love look like here?’ or ‘How will I relate to this context in a way that is faithful and life-giving?’ This requires a level of presence, receptivity, and risk that many moderns and post-moderns cannot admit.”
Paul’s tweets motivate me to raise up disciples who love their place. Maybe I’ll keep my Twitter account a bit longer.

Al Engler is the director of Navigators Neighbors and Navigators Workplace. To contact him or to learn more about his ministry, click here.