American Reconciliation Program

America needs a substantial change in the relationship between its citizens. We need especially to see a vast improvement in understanding between rural and urban Americans, between those who are immersed in a world of multiple cultures, races and religions, and those who are in worlds that are primarily Christian, rural, Protestant and white. The lack of connection and compassionate and reasonable communication between these two American worlds has been utilized by political forces in search of wedge issues to divide, to drive people to polls out of anger and fear. The era of identity politics of all kinds, including white nationalist identity, has reached a fever pitch that needs to be reversed if we are to preserve and improve upon the foundational principles and ethical values of American democracy.

We need this change in relationship for the sake of the future of our country, for the sake of the improvement of and discovery of our common values. We need a new way of dealing with our serious disagreements, an approach that is sincere and that honestly cherishes all citizens of the country. That is what the founding fathers intended when they built the foundational documents of the country, “in order to form a more perfect union.” That dream of a more perfect union has worked out better or worse at various moments of our history and places of our engagement. There exists a series of moral and political failings at this point. There is far too much judgmental behavior, unkindness, and lack of respect, standing in the way of that more perfect union.

At least part of the reason for that is that we have not understood the true source of good relations between those who are different. We have tended to emphasize methods of conflict resolution that are overly intellectual, and debate-oriented.

CRDC has been engaged for many years now in reconciliation programs in war zones and post-war zones with victims on all sides of tragic and violent conflicts. We have tended to work with peacebuilders on all sides, and in the course of that work of solidarity, we have evolved some new and novel methods of peacebuilding. We have discovered through this work something that is being corroborated by contemporary science on that which produces less violence and destructive conflict among human beings.

The core of the discovery is that rather than dialogue and debate, it is care and compassion that break the barriers of distrust and hatred, and build the bonds of reconciliation. This is turning out to be good science, good education from experience, good ethics, and a sound basis for building a more perfect union in every country. We have seen in the field, and recent science has corroborated, that acts of service and care, open the mind to completely new relationships. And it is then that conversations about ethics and citizenship can proceed based on shared needs and values, rather than on polarizing identity politics or racial lines. Furthermore, our research and experience has demonstrated that the social networks of those who engage in service and across lines that are rarely crossed, such as university students engaged in solidarity with farmers, creates a “buzz,” it creates fast moving information in many directions precisely because it is so surprising. The human mind and community like surprises, including pleasant surprises that upset predisposition. Thus, successful work in conflict zones across sectarian lines has worked precisely because we brought together people of different faiths and classes who never relate to each other, and we brought them together in common care of children or the environment, or women’s needs, or problem solving through conflict resolution training. All of these offerings of care and solidarity create new bonds and connections, often that spread geographically because families and friends are related across many regions.

The work of the project will be 3 weekends per semester to bring the classroom to the field, to study in the rural areas with the class, based in a host community center or church, and then do forms of service and engagement in collaboration with local communities, perhaps near holidays or near intensive farming seasons. The relationships created will yield a shift in understanding and appreciation for the needs of fellow citizens. Students will be carefully selected and prepared for the theory and practice of service and reconciliation, and will be especially trained to resist polarizing discussions and instead engage in the kind of ethical best practices that have worked so well in overseas conflict zones. Generally speaking, host communities are deeply surprised by and appreciative of the gesture from strangers and in turn reciprocate with hospitality and warmth. This prepares the ground over time for more substantive visioning of what is best for the county as a whole, or the state in question. Visioning together, imagination of “more perfect union” has salutary effects on the mind and heart, and will yield profound benefits that rise beyond sectarian and polarizing politics and toward a more ethical and politically responsible citizenship with diverse views and perspectives. Finally, CRDC in particular has a 15 year reputation of doing this kind of work successfully in the most religious divided places in the world, and the rural/urban divide in America can certainly use a deep dose of trust building and surprising gestures of care between communities of faith and practice.