Surveying American Sins at Solstice

Reflection is needed for repair and reform.

The Christmas greeting, "Peace on earth, goodwill toward men," is rooted in the Gospel yet has a universal pull. As an aspiration it seems as distant as ever.

This is a season of counting our blessings and sharing them. From toy drives for families living with HIV/AIDS to appeals by animal welfare organizations, we show our beliefs by practicing them, not using them as weapons. After the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Muslims promoted goodwill by raising $200,000 for the victims and their families.

When belligerent voices surround us, the way to advance peace is not to watch them roll past us unchallenged but to raise rational and humane voices in response. America's greatest enemy is often its own unthinking, arrogant self. We improve not by flattery, but by critical examination. A few troubling reflections of our country this winter solstice:

1. Accused California mosque arsonist Carl Dial, whose father reportedly calls him a loner "caught up in social media." This is the latest example of the difference in coverage of white suspects compared to black suspects. At least Dial's family holds him responsible for his actions.

2. Rev. Peter Miqueli, accused of stealing $1 million from church funds to pay for his $1000-an-hour S&M master boyfriend. New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan, scourge of loving gay couples, is accused of covering up the matter. Men like Dolan are convinced that they must always be above the law. The belief that you can never be wrong is corrupting, whether you are a cleric or a political ideologue.

3. Security guards at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, who initially denied entry to Sikh Broncos fans on Dec. 6 because of their turbans, which apparently were deemed a threat to the homeland. Setting aside the fact that Sikhism is an entirely different religion from Islam, and the fact that most domestic terrorism is the work of white Christians, what if the men stopped were Arabs wearing keffiyehs? How do selective headwear bans make anyone safer? And if you want Muslims to do the right thing, shouldn't you acknowledge the 70,000 Indian Muslim clerics who signed a fatwa against terror groups? Sadly in this age of security as theater, pandering to fear is preferred over educating people and instilling tolerance.

4. Climate-change denier Sen. James Inhofe, who has no fresh snowball to display on the Senate floor. Washington has been having a warm spell. Those of you who don't know the difference between weather and climate, but who are less stubbornly ignorant than Inhofe, can look up Neil deGrasse Tyson for an explanation. Inhofe exemplifies people who not only feel entitled to their own reality, but to impose it on others.

There has been much talk recently about our "window of discourse" having been pulled to the right, effectively restricting our political options. Here are thoughts for changing the narrative:

Resist wars that are likely to worsen the situations that prompted them. The fact that something makes us feel good does not make it smart.

Avoid group blame. If you never thought to blame all straight white men for the crimes of Ted Bundy, then don't blame all Arabic or Muslim men for the crimes of a guy named Farook.

Diversity is no mere slogan but demographic reality. Demands for privileged status for white Christians undermine social cohesion. Treating everyone equally is not a war on you.

Efforts to redress past discrimination are not special treatment. As Ira Katznelson wrote in his 2005 book, When Affirmative Action Was White, key New Deal and Fair Deal programs were designed by Southern Democrats to exclude heavily black professions. Even today, lynchings continue under the color of law enforcement. Denying problems does not solve them.

Security and cooperation are not fostered by an airbrushed history that vilifies any attempt to confront America's past mistakes. President Obama's diplomacy, from the nuclear accord with Iran to the climate agreement by 196 nations last week, reflects lessons learned. It makes no sense to answer challenges by making matters worse, or to refuse concerted action until our ideal choice prevails.

Pausing from our battles and using these long nights for reflection can light a path forward.

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Blade and Bay Windows.