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A North Carolina Forest fire

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Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is expected to run for governor in 2020, has created a stir with remarks in a speech that we find both surprising and troubling.

If he hopes to be governor for all North Carolinians, Forest needs to consider what he said and why so many people are offended by it.

“God doesn’t want us to divide our state,” he said while speaking at Salisbury’s Cornerstone Church on June 23.

“He doesn’t want us to divide our nation. He wants us to bring people together and live together like the Acts 2 church did, and yet no other nation, my friends, has ever survived the diversity and multiculturalism that America faces today because of a lack of assimilation, because of this division and because of this identity politics. No other nation has survived this.”

No doubt some people will find Forest’s statements harmless and even inspiring. But he disparages diversity and multiculturalism — which are cornerstones of the American experience — and he frames them in his speech as threats to the nation.

Far from it. Long described as a melting pot, America draws people from around the world to create a great nation, based not on race or tribe but on common values of equality and freedom.

That includes the freedom to practice (or not) religion as their consciences dictate and the freedom to live, within the law, with the cultural accouterments — food, clothing, language, music, art — they prefer. A rejection of our diversity is a rejection of what many Americans see as one of our nation’s core principles.

It also can’t be ignored that rhetoric opposing diversity and multiculturalism thrives among fringe white nationalist hate groups that view minorities as inferior and spout conspiracy theories about being “replaced in our own country.” From there, it has found its way onto cable TV and even into the halls of Congress. U.S. Rep. Steve King was recently reprimanded and relieved of leadership roles by his Republican colleagues for voicing such rhetoric.

Many nations throughout history have survived and, in fact, thrived with diverse populations and cultures. One of them is the United States of America.

In response to criticism, Forest’s communications director, Jamey Falkenbury, released a statement that reads, in part, “The lieutenant governor believes that when ‘diversity’ and ‘multiculturalism’ are used as weapons to divide our nation and create factions based on identity politics, then that is bad for our country.”

But accepting and honoring our differences isn’t a weapon; it’s a peace offering. On the other hand, racial gerrymandering — that’s a weapon that divides our nation.

We can’t judge Forest’s heart, but his phrasing was awkward at best. At worst, it was offensive and tinged with racism. If he runs for governor and wins the office, we hope he understands that he would be governor of the entire state — which includes people who differ from him in race and in religion. He would be responsible for treating all of them fairly and with respect.

We like the idea of a North Carolinians in which all can thrive. But an essential part of that is accepting and learning from our differences.

Ours is a diverse and multicultural state — that’s the reality.

Forest should see it for what it is — an enduring strength — and embrace it as such.

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