As this election season moves toward its merciful completion on November 8th, it’s important that the church respond in ways uniquely defined by the gospel.
As has been said, politics “ain’t beanbag.” It’s often ugly and divisive, this year perhaps more than in recent memory. Increasingly we’ve been subjected to the “politics of personal destruction” which seeks not persuasion through discourse but the attempt to denigrate those with whom one disagrees.
One of my soapbox concerns, as you know, is how the church tends to import secular values into our way of doing things. This is natural, I suppose, since the “world” is, as the Bible defines the secular life, where we spend most of our time. It is thus natural to bring not only the world’s ideas but its method of communication into the church.
During this highly charged political season, this often means, as I say, demonizing those who disagree with us. The typical setup on TV, for instance, is two “talking heads” who hold divergent views shouting and yelling at each other. It makes for “good television,” or so I’ve been told, but generates without question more heat than light.
Gone are the days of respectful dialogue and rational thought. Lost, perhaps most significantly, is the ability, or willingness, to listen to a different point of view.
Years ago, I had a friend who started attending an African-American church in Connecticut. He enjoyed it so much he joined the Tuesday evening Men’s Bible Study.
He marveled at the way the participants greeted each other with friendly and engaging banter. But once the class started, things got heated. They went at each other over all manner of things theological, political, and social.
What astounded him most, however, was how after these “spirited” discussions, they’d go back to patting each other on the back, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company unabashedly.
The moral of the story? They understood each other as brothers-in-Christ, first and foremost. It was their relationship “in Christ” that united them, that mattered most to them. What they believed about biblical interpretation, social issues, or political ideology were secondary if not tertiary. They could disagree and still be caring friends!
This fundamental unity “in Christ” is what makes the church different. Here, at least ideally, our differences should strengthen us and expand our understanding of the world, rather than dividing us and splitting us apart. With the patience born of Christ’s love we listen when we might otherwise turn away. Our minds might not be changed, but our understandings are necessarily deepened and broadened, and our relational bonds strengthened.
Let us, therefore, avoid the pitfalls of this highly partisan and often ugly season. May God help us instead to listen and engage with both godly respect and humility.
Grace and peace,
Thomas C. Leinbach, Pastor