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To a red state, from your blue city 

You hear it all the time: the tale of two Georgias. The first, a huge, diverse, international city. The second, a state deeply entrenched in the politics and culture of the rural South. And the distinctions and divisions are growing.

While social conservatism expands statewide, Atlanta becomes gayer and wears its LGBT-friendly reputation with more pride. As the city's immigrant population grows and the influence of those immigrants becomes more apparent, anti-immigrant sentiment and legislation looms.

From here in our blue oasis, it would be easy to look out at the red sea around us and react with contempt. But let's pause a minute, and try to grasp where the South's rural and suburban conservatives are coming from, where their own fears and confusions lie, and what we can do to bridge the gap.

The changes of the past 50 years in America have been mammoth. To many, particularly to our white, Christian, Southern brethren, these changes have been frightening. There might be some folks out there who hate gays and immigrants and African-Americans because they are genuinely small-hearted people, but for many others it comes down to fear. This is not the America it once was. Change is scary.

What options do these folks have, the ones who are tussling with the very human reaction of fear in the face of change? They have the Left, telling them that their fear is bad and makes them bad people by extension. And they have the Right, soothing them into believing their fear is justified.

But no one is saying, "Yes, of course change is scary." Just as, 100 years ago, Americans were frightened of Italian and Irish immigrants, now Latinos bear the brunt of that fear.

No one is saying, "We get it, gay culture isn't something you thought you'd ever see as part of the mainstream." But it is the mainstream now, whether you like it or not. And it's OK if you're scared. That doesn't make you bad. It makes you human. Rather than vilify each other, us red-state and blue-city dwellers, we should instead try to have some compassion. Perhaps if we get to know each other a little, some of the fear will dissipate.

Naive? Possibly. But it's worth a try. After all, progressivism and Christianity have a lot in common, beginning with empathy. Both the Left and the Right seem to have forgotten that basic premise. And as the politics and culture of our state become more stratified, looking for middle ground may be the only real way to move forward, together.

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