We Need Wisdom to Quench the False Choices Consuming Our Nation | Opinion

As fire consumed Minneapolis' third police precinct, men and women raising arms in sorrow, rage, and triumph before the watching cameras of a revolution they hope is televised, my heart turned to the ancient words of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP).

A distillation of thousands of years of spiritual wisdom collected by the Anglican Church, my favorite prayer in the BCP has long been that "the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices."

No prayer is more important now. Our bipolar narratives try to force us to embrace false choices, engulfing our country in an unnecessary inferno.

They say you are on the side of the police or the protesters, that you ignore racial killings or affirm racial justice. That you either support the lawlessness of looters or the absolute prerogative of the badge. False choices.

That you support stay-at-home orders and mask requirements, or you want vulnerable people to die. That you must reopen the economy now, or you welcome limitless government power to erode our civil and economic liberties. False choices.

That you want big technology companies to hold the right to censor politically incorrect statements by anyone, from peons to presidents, or you want the government to seize control of these technological platforms to enforce political parity. False choices.

That you either vote for a candidate with a full-throttle endorsement of every part of their platform, character and verbal blunders, or you vote for the other candidate with a similar endorsement and lack of mental reservations. False choices.

We need the Spirit of wisdom, clarity and most importantly, truth. Most Americans possess a conscience more than capable of humble, reasoned reflection and prayers that quench false choices. We are a people of creative third ways, and in faith, we can approach our fellow citizens in the full technicolor of reality.

You can believe that any police misconduct is a grievous wound to our social fabric—and that such wrongdoing requires all of us, in the words of the Prophet Amos, to let justice roll down like a flood. You can and must be cut to the heart by videos that show a callous killing of an American man against a sacred oath to protect and serve. You can support the free speech rights of protesters to elevate deep injustices and prick national consciences, and you can fully condemn violent riots that kill, burn and steal as contrary to basic law and order. We have eyes to see right and wrong.

Prayer books in Britain
Prayer books in Britain Jim Dyson/Getty Images

You can believe the deadly virus that originated in foreign lands and swept the globe is a real danger and that it requires a combination of individual personal responsibility and prudent government emergency action, and you can also grieve the loss of millions of jobs, the shuttering of lifelong dreams with the shuttering of thousands of small businesses. You can yearn to return to normalcy while recognizing the need for caution. You can accept that expert opinions matter, but that the scientific consensus evolves through iterative debate informed by new data. And you can trust most of your fellow citizens to do the right thing, while distrusting any lasting accumulation of extraordinary power over our lives and livelihoods.

You can believe the aggregation of market power in the hands of a few big global technology companies can challenge the freedom of speech and thought that is imperative for self-government, and also reject calls for big government solutions that simply transfer power from one group of elites to another.

And although we live in a binary political system that requires a real choice every two or four years, you can believe that one candidate is better, on net, without yielding all moral reservations. You can vote, in part, based on the character of the pool of people who will carry out your candidates' work. You can believe that policies that lift the economic prospects of all people of all colors and creeds advance the truth of our common human dignity more than any hollowed rhetoric ever will. And your vote can affirm the realities of human nature by recognizing the limitations of politics to redeem us.

This approach is nothing new to us. We are a people who have long sought third ways and rejected false choices in pursuit of a more perfect union. We must rededicate ourselves to that Spirit of wisdom now—before it's too late.

T. Elliot Gaiser, of Ohio, is a lawyer in Washington, D.C.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.