We live in a politically divided point in our nation’s history. It is surprising how quickly every bit of news can divide us over partisan lines. From the science and protocols surrounding the pandemic, to views on race in America, everything seems to be politicized by both the Left and the Right. With the rapid spread of information in our internet age, these divisions happen as quickly as news becomes available. As much as these tensions exist on social media and in the public square, they are felt most deeply in our homes.
Even more striking is how these divides seem to split generationally regardless of location or race, with Boomer and Builder generations falling on the Right, and Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Z falling on the Left. The same can be said of immigrant households, with immigrant parents and grandparents casting a Republican vote, and second generation American children and grandchildren casting votes for the Democrats. This is true both outside and inside the Church. Given such sharp divides, conversations related to current events threaten peace in the home like a field of landmines. Make one wrong verbal step or walk too far to the left or right and relational casualties ensue.
Navigating these conversations can further strain families who are already on edge given the last year of political turmoil and pandemic fatigue. They can also overwhelm the youth worker or pastor seeking to lead with sensitivity and courage. Is there any way to move beyond sharp criticism and demonizing rhetoric to attain unity without conformity?
Throughout Scripture, followers of Jesus are referred to as “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18) and “agents of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). These labels are true of all Christians, but they are felt even more so by the youth pastor or parent seeking to lead his or her ministry or home peaceably. Learning how to bring about peace and reconciliation across politically charged dividing lines is becoming an essential skill in our leadership and discipleship. So how can youth pastors, parents, and teens themselves engage in healthy dialogue for the growth of all parties?
Acknowledging Our Biases
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:3-5)
The first step in seeking peace and reconciliation is having the humility to acknowledge our own biases. Many are willing to point out the biases of the other side, but few are willing to acknowledge their own. As much as we may think we are above being swayed, no one is entirely objective. Laying down our pride to acknowledge our own biases begins the conversation by disarming and deescalating the tension in our divisions.
We all have news sources, media outlets, or figure heads we listen to more than others. These information avenues all come with their own set of biases which are then imparted to us. To say we are listening fairly to both sides yet to still swing hard to the Left or Right is to reveal otherwise. The sooner we can own that we are all biased to some degree, the sooner we can begin to shed those biases and reach across the political (and generational) aisle.
Rather than becoming more entrenched in my own views, I’ve come to find that the more I learn, the more I learn how much I don’t know, and therefore need to listen to those who are not like me. Some may say this is weak-willed, wishy-washy Christianity. Wisdom and humility lead us to acknowledge we do not know everything, so we need more people who are not like us in our lives to teach and sanctify us. Doing so while also holding firmly to biblical absolutes is a tricky art, but one which is pertinent if we hope to pursue peace in our times.
Understanding How We Got Here
“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matt. 5:22-24)
Acknowledging our biases is only the first step. Then we must articulate why we continue to hold to these biases with such rigidity. For many, these biases are dictated by deep life experiences, or influenced by those with whom we share greater moral and relational proximity. For the Christian and the Church, however, these biases are dictated not simply by political convictions, but biblical ones (or at least should be).
Why is it that someone on the Right can present a string of biblical evidence in support of his candidate, while someone on the Left can do the very same to condemn him? How is it that one side can argue for their party’s Christian values, while the other can do the very same, yet both remain entrenched in their political persuasions? The answer lies in what we ultimately believe to be the purpose of the Church.
Those who believe the Church exists as a sanctifying force in the world to reclaim society and reshape it in God’s image tend to fall on the Right. For these Christians, biblical family norms, sexual ethics, and sanctity of life become the weightiest moral issues in society. Those who believe the Church exists as a vehicle of love and charity tend to fall on the Left. These believers place greater weight on social issues, diversity in representation, and dignity of life. This is why two family members can be reading the same Bible but come to very different conclusions on how Christians are to act politically in our society.
Moving The Conversation Forward
Behind the question of why the Church exists lies the question of how the Church accomplishes its mission:
Should she be a transforming force, seeking to obtain seats of influence and power in culture in order to advocate for Christian values for the common good of societal flourishing?
Or should she be a counter-cultural entity, separated from the culture so as to remain distinct and untainted?
Should she seek to engage with the present culture in ways that are accessible and understandable to the non-believer, showing where we have common overlap and shared values?
Or should she concern herself all together more with “Church-y”, spiritual matters, and less with “worldly” material matters?
Answering these questions often reveals where we land politically, and also how we believe the Christian ought to engage in politics and the public square.
These are questions I hope to engage with and seek answers to in my upcoming workshop at the 2021 Rooted Conference 2021, “Politics and the Kingdom of God: Mediating in a Divided World and a Divided Home.” Beginning with Tim Keller’s discussion on Cultural Engagement from his book, Center Church, I hope to provide a framework for us to engage in healthy dialogue as we continue to face increasing division in American Christianity.
While the world may seek to divide us, we must remember that we fight for no side except that of Christ and him crucified. This means that regardless of our political leanings or persuasions, we share more in common with the Christian across the aisle than the non-believer next to us. This also means that we need one another to more fully live out and display the Kingdom of God and the Gospel in its entirety.
As we engage with our kids, students, or parents in these politically charged conversations, I hope that grace will abound, the Church will be sanctified, and the Gospel which binds us to Christ and unites us to one another will be upheld more than ever.
Purchase the audio from this Rooted 2021 workshop by Clark Fobes here.