How do we change minds and hearts? As someone who studied political science and has been involved in the political process for many years I know that legislation goes a long way to making the communities and world we live in more just. We simply can’t provide quality health care for all without laws that guarantee any citizen with free access to a doctor or hospital care. We cannot simply provide protection to minorities in this country without guaranteeing such protection in our constitution. We cannot guarantee access to free public education without the government providing the necessary funding for schools, teachers and resources. It takes changes to public policy to make our communities and our world more just.
But there are some things governments can’t do, or at least that governments don’t do very effectively. The record of governments legislating people to care about each other is mixed at best. While it is true that recent government initiatives to legalize same-gender marriage and other public policy changes that make the lives of gay, lesbian and transgendered peoples better, freer, more safe it is also true that changes in policy with respect to affirmative action have not necessarily changed hearts on matters of race and gender.
South of us in the United States there is a very public conversation going on about illegal and legal immigration, about the way new Muslim Americans are experienced by other Americans, about the changing face of America, where soon Caucasian Americans will no longer make up 50% of the American population. You hear all sorts of talk about the differences between Muslim Americans and other Americans, you hear about illegal immigrants who have committed crimes and you hear the fear that ISIS will use the recent flood of Syrian refugees to bring terrorism to our shores (radicalizing some of these refugees). Fear of the other always comes with crisis. And while obviously no one would be foolish enough to ignore criminal behaviour from new arrivals the fact remains that the vast majority of crime and terror in North America is home grown.
Fear is real and it cannot be ignored. The government cannot change that with laws. Only those like faith communities and other non-government institutions have the moral standing to start a conversation about changing the habits of our heart. I applaud any community group, from the local Sparks to a gathering of Masons, from environmental advocates to the Chamber of Commerce, who encourage open and honest conversations about how we don’t allow our fear of terror and violence to become an excuse to scapegoat and blame the other.
I am convinced the most potent force in changing hearts is sacrifice. When we see or hear people who put a cause greater than self before their self-interest something very powerful is released within our souls. Two recent examples come to mind. When the African American Dallas police chief went before the cameras after the killing of 5 local officers he asked that people do something tangible to reflect their support for the women and men who protect their citizens. David Brown asked that citizens consider joining the police force, recruitment was dangerously low. And so they did.
Finally, as the 2016 Presidential election unfolds before us we are hearing lots of talk of changing laws and rhetoric of inclusion and exclusion. There is not much breaking through the fear. But one speech did. Anyone who saw this short speech has been deeply affected by it. Why? It is not coming from a privileged place or self-righteousness, it is not coming from fear. Rather it comes from sacrifice. When you hear this speech you hear about someone who put the value of compassion and respect into the act of sacrifice. This speech will changes hearts.
John 15:13 says, No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. True words. New hearts.