It’s been a polarizing and discouraging season for people of faith - no matter how you voted! However the next weeks play out, its critical that we who claim to follow Christ find a healthier way forward. ‘A healthy way forward’ won’t be, simply cannot be, more of the same, because our cocktail of partisan politics with faith has been, to say the least, disappointing. The fruit of it is a church deeply divided, with people of faith unable to join hands in fellowship because of politics. Name calling, anger, and divisions have ensued. As a result, our credibility as people of charity and peace is tarnished. Here’s part one of a two part series where I offer what I hope will offer clear next steps to move toward a healthier faith expression in America. Here I offer three exhortations in part 1 - with part 2 coming soon.
November 2020 has offered us the dawning realization that no matter who you voted for, the divisions of our country run deep these days. They’re political, economic, racial, theological, educational, political, and yet again, political (repeated for emphasis), as if fellowship and unity depended on these things. In the wake of an election that remains fraught with accusations, conspiracy theories, fears, and incredulous dis-belief from both sides regarding the ‘gullibility’ of the other side, here are some thoughts, addressed especially to Christ-followers, regarding what I think we need to do next:
Recognize our call to unity. Jesus’ last prayer before heading outside and facing arrest was that Christ’s followers “would be one” as Jesus was one with his Father. He went on to declare that our credibility would come, not from imposing our will on the larger culture through political power plays, but through the visible testimony of unity among wildly diverse Christ-followers: Jews, Gentiles, slaves, free, men, women, rich, poor, immigrants, natives, citizens, aliens — their life together and their capacity for collective worship and work was miraculous and caught the attention of Roman powers. Conversely in times like ours, when Christians are arguing in public on social media about politics, or labeling people who voted a certain way, our credibility evaporates. Right now, it’s evaporating in a big way - as our credibility is being dragged into the mud that we’ve been slinging at each other.
A quick study of those called “the people of God” throughout history reveals that this single prayer of Jesus is essentially still awaiting fulfillment. We’re good at demonizing each other for all kinds of reasons: doctrinal minutia, lifestyle choices, race and views on systemic racism, views on the environment, views on the election, views on the candidates, views on health care, views on women, marriage, sexual ethics, guns. There’ve been too many millions of loud shouting matches, name calling, and yes, even “slander” (which means talking about someone behind their back as in, “can you believe that ___ voted for ___? I thought he/she was a Christian.” You can be frustrated with the views of another, but when you break fellowship, when you demonize, when you slander - you’re not contributing to the unity of Christ’s body.
Recognize that our unity won’t be political. Jesus’ team consisted of people with wildly diverse ideas regarding what to do with “the problem of Rome.” Zealots advocated violent overthrow of the Empire. Herodians advocated ‘kissing up’ to Rome, so as to gain seats of power and influence from within. Pharisees advocated maintaining absolute moral purity among the people of God, so that God would look on the people with favor and bless them. Essenes advocated dropping out, moving to the desert, and essentially creating their own ‘utopian communities.’ In addition to these views, Jesus eventually brought in tax collectors, Roman soldiers, racial outsiders, and women whose vocational resumés included prostitution. If you’re looking for homogeneity of demographic, don’t look to Christ’s early followers - they’re multi-ethnic, of varied economic and philosophical background, and span a wide range of political views.
For all that, Jesus scarcely mentions politics, and explicitly tells Pilot, when he asks Jesus if he’s a king, that his “kingdom is not of this world.” It’s not a Republican kingdom or a Democratic kingdom. It’s not even an American kingdom. It’s God’s kingdom, and there will be socialist Germans, free market Americans, Rwandans reconciled in the wake of a genocide, and countless more people groups - with every dividing wall broken down, and all people joining hands in worship because there’s something far more important than your candidate or political view that overwhelms our smaller agendas: God’s Good Reign brings people together. We see it. We want it. We seek it. We make it visible. It’s beautiful!
Recognize that unity requires humility. This reign won’t be made visible as a result of arrogance, name calling, conspiracy theories, slander, gossip, violence, or distrust. And it certainly won’t be made visible because your side won, or even suddenly hidden because your side lost. The reality is that your political party, and mine, isn’t the key to making God’s reign visible. You have your thoughts about which party and ideology is best for a nation. So do I. Fine. We can chat. But when we think that God’s favor on a nation rises and falls with a party, we’ve idolized that party, and unwittingly created an ‘us/them’ division that’s born from “we’re right - you’re wrong” arrogance. But if neither party fully embodies the ethics of Christ’s reign (and they don’t) then to say “I’m right” is arrogant. Humility would say, “I voted, but hold no delusion that my party’s the answer - the answer’s God’s beautiful reign made visible - which in itself invites people to Christ as life as people see the power of the gospel to break dividing walls and heal divisions and bring unity.
Wow. We need that kind of faith expression today, and you won’t find it spoken of in the media - not conservative, not liberal, and dare I say, rarely even in Christian media. This kind of kingdom obsession and expression is too much work. It requires crossing social divides, laying down weapons, and the practice of radical hospitality and generosity. But this is, in fact, what it means to “seek first the kingdom of God.” It means making Christ’s reign visible in my daily life the single highest priority. Yes, the humble, generous, healing, wall breaking, uniting, religion-confounding Jesus must be seen, and it won’t happen accidentally. It’ll require repentance. God knows it’s required my repentance these past days. So are you with me? Ready to move into the hard work of unity?
O God who longs for your people to unite;
Forgive us our failure to work toward and express the unity that is your heart. We’re so fractured. Our testimony has been distorted and diluted through this political season, as we’ve allowed partisan politics to rise above your prayer for unity. Forgive us. Unite us. Show us the way to heal, and reconcile, and forgive, and get on with the work of seeking your reconciling kingdom to find visible expression in the world. And as you taught us to pray, “May your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Amen
STILL TO COME in part 2 -
Seek to embody God’s good reign, made visible in our lives, and in our life together as Christ-followers.
Be quick to forgive
Above all else, put on love
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