I spent some time at the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library today on the University of Texas campus in Austin. It was my third visit to this facility. I have enjoyed each one.
LBJ does not make my list of favorite presidents, and I believe many of his policies did not accomplish what he set out to do and even had adverse affects (namely, his "war on poverty"). But, as I consider more about him as a person and politician I realize that while his initiatives were not perfect, they were, for the most part, grounded in genuine concern.
As I walked through the LBJ library today, I was struck by the words of the former president preserved in writings and audio recordings. I especially was moved by the concern he often voiced for the poor and disenfranchised in society, especially those who were victims of racial prejudice. The cynic would dismiss LBJ's speeches on these subjects as political expediency and pandering, but the sentiment that comes across in his words is anything but insincere and selfishly motivated. LBJ, I believe, was speaking from the heart when he expressed his desire to confront poverty and prejudice and make the American dream accessible to the disenfranchised.
One segment of the museum's display on LBJ's life deals with his time as a teacher in Mexico. This segment of LBJ's life was news to me, but it apparently had a lasting impact on the former president's life. In those months, he worked with kids from communities steeped in third world poverty, and he witnessed how those in power took advantage of them. Later, in his service in Congress and the Senate (and especially as President), he pledged himself to doing what he could to address this misery. Another segment of the display explained LBJ's feelings on race, discussing how a U.S. serviceman (an army corporal who was killed in action in Korea) was refused burial in his Texas hometown cemetery because he was of Mexican ancestry. A furious LBJ fought to have the man buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Now, many of LBJ's initiatives as President, under the auspices of his war on poverty, strike against my conservative political leanings, and I firmly believe that many of his policies lay at the foundation of the tremendous national debt that cripples us today, BUT I believe that LBJ was acting out of a genuine desire to make America and its citizens better. I do not question his love for country.
I write these things to make an observation and offer an impassioned plea. The observation is this: too often, in today's political climate (and also, more sadly, in the realm of religion) those who stand on opposite sides of the aisle are quick to condemn the other as an adversary and dismiss their sanity and loyalty to country. We relish our partisan divides and seek to discredit and even destroy the one who thinks differently than us. We are quick to forget that they, too, love their country and seek its best. We are quick to forget that we, too, are human, and our understanding may not always be complete or the wisest.
Shifting from politics to religion, I see this same dynamic at play. In Churches of Christ, today, there are competing camps. And, persons on both sides of the divide are lobbing attacks at each other and seeking to denigrate the other with as much fervor as the Democrats versus Republicans. How sad. How sinful.
Let us seek to understand instead of to condemn.