I have been listening to the podcast, Truth Over Tribe, beginning with the episode, How Tribalism Is Ruining Your Life, on Podbean. Check it out.
Whether you label it polarization or tribalism, I have seen people entrenching and doubling down in their political positions more than at any other time in my life. Thus, the podcast resonated loudly with me.
In writing this piece, I am not focusing on people, generally, or the state of governmental affairs. My focus here is the body of Christ and it’s witness in the world. People have always been divided. We have always had wars and fighting to prove it. The Church, however, should be different. The Church should stand a part, like a city of a hill.
It’s easy to think that “our people”, the people with whom we have settled in with are the real church. If “our people” are the real church, then “those people” are not part of the church. It’s ok, then, to be at odds with “those people”, because they are not us.
We need to be careful here for at least a couple of reasons. How we define “those people” is critical. If we define them by anything other than our relationship to Christ, we have wandered off the narrow path.
If we operate in the mindset of “my people” and “those people”, we risk sabotaging the Gospel and the Great Commission. Remember, Jesus came to seek and save the lost; the angels in heaven rejoice over each sinner that is saved. The lost sheep and sinners are “those people” to us – the people Jesus came for, the people God wants us to reach with the Gospel.
The Gospel and peoples’ relationship to God is lightyears more important than modern politics. Regardless of our political leanings and sincerely held political views, we should not want to do anything that would cause anyone to reject the Gospel over politics. If we prioritize current political positions over the Gospel, we may be at odds with the purposes of God.
If we are at odds with people over politics, whether they are neighbors or enemies, we risk failing to love them. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is the summation of the Law and the Prophets. We cannot allow political camps to pit us like enemies against the people God has called us to love.
Jesus was clear, also, that we cannot be content with simply loving our neighbors. We are called to love our enemies too.
Think about it: love, taken to the extreme example, means laying down your life. (“No greater love has anyone than one who lays his life down for others.”) Jesus demonstrated that kind of love with his own life. While we were still sinners (enemies), Jesus laid his life down for us.
Jesus calls us to do the same thing. He calls us to pick up our crosses and follow him. What does it mean to pick up our crosses and follow him? What does it mean for our politics and the way we do politics?
It’s hard enough to lay our lives down for people we like. How much harder is it for us to lay our lives down for people we don’t like because we are at odds with them?
I am not suggesting that we should give ourselves over to the will of the people and not take positions. We don’t have that luxury. Jesus said the world would hate us as it hated him simply because of the Gospel. We can’t avoid the conflict of differing views, but we need to be careful how we differ with people and over what we differ with them.
How we differ, and how we conduct ourselves is of utmost importance. We cannot fail to love people in the process. We must never forget that each person we meet has been made in the image of God. Do we believe that?
As CS Lewis says, we have never met an ordinary person. Every person we encounter has eternal significance. Governments, countries, and civilizations come and go (they are temporal), but people are eternal. We should conduct ourselves accordingly.
It’s not just how we conduct ourselves, though, but what divides us that concerns me. This is the last thing I want to address before ending this article.
Division is nothing new, even in the Church. Division existed in the church during Paul’s day. Some people in Corinth followed Apollos, and some people followed Paul. The Church still has issues over what I call the “cult of personality”. The biggest issues in the first century, though, involved the differences between Jews and Gentiles.
Those issues were ethnic, cultural, political, and religious. We have similar issues in the Church today involving immigration, racial disparities, politics, and theology.
The lines between those issues are often blurred. All of them can be cast into political terminology, cultural terminology, and/or theological terminology. Modern Americans tend to lump everything broadly into the categories of “progressive” and “conservative”. These categories tend to become our public battle lines.
Those two categories (progressive and conservative) tend to define how we view “our people” and “those people”.
People lean one direction or the other within cultures, within political alliances and within their denominations – even within the same churches.
How do we sort through this? Should we care? I think we should care deeply, but not, perhaps, in the way we tend to care about them.
From the perspective of the Body of Christ, we should be led by the words of Jesus, who said the world would know us by our love for each other. Paul’s repeated concern was for unity among believers – unity over the controversies of the day that threatened to divide the body of Christ.
Christians, after all, are Christ followers. Christians are people who have fellowship together “in Christ”. Thus, Paul says,
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)
“[There is] no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free, but Christ is all and is in all.” (Col. 3:11)
When Paul confronted the people of Corinth over the divisions among them over who they followed, Paul said,
“I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2)
In other words, we should not be divided over who we follow; we should not be divided over ethnicity, or theology, or station in life; we should not be divided over race, gender, political platforms, or cultural differences if we are in Christ.
We are unified in Christ!
We know this, of course, but we tend to separate ourselves over political, cultural and theological views – the ubiquitous progressive & conservative divide. I am not saying that these things do not matter. I AM saying, though, that they may not matter as much as we think or in the ways we usually think they matter.
Paul kept it simple: Christ and him crucified. That means my churchgoing, African American sister who professes Jesus (crucified and risen from the grave to offer salvation to the world by faith), is closer to me (a conservative leaning white guy) than a nonbelieving Republican who preaches family values, pro-life, and the Second Amendment. Our unity is in Christ.
Even if she thinks that racial disparities and injustices are greater concerns than abortion, while I tend to think that government overreach and taxation are more problematic than military spending, I have more in common with her (in Christ) than political conservatives who do not follow Jesus.
If that is not the case, I have to ask myself: am I really following Jesus?
Many are the people who use Jesus as a kind of prop or mascot for their conservatize political causes. Many are the people, also, who use the church and Jesus for their liberal political causes. The dividing line for the Body of Christ must never be the political causes, but Christ (and him crucified, as Paul says).
We have to be more discerning than we have been. We can’t let our fellowship be ruined by politics, and we can’t let politics ruin our witness and effectiveness for the eternal purposes of God.
What unites us is supremely important. If it is anything other than Christ, we have strayed from following Jesus. What separates us is equally important. If we are separated in fellowship by anything that is not Christ, we are separated from Jesus on how do church and politics.