Christian Unity Trumps Political Differences

What a grand opportunity before God’s Church in the United States from now through the year’s end. This presidential campaign is more raucous and polarizing than we’ve seen in some time (understatement). Christian disciples with very different political views find themselves part of the same congregation, making this quite a testing time when it comes to Christian unity. Being church in this milieu clarifies what unifies us as congregations. These conditions shine the spotlight on the strength of our Christian unity. The following three observations describe what we are observing in Christian congregations this year.

Some congregations are discovering their political perspectives are more unifying than their Christian identity. It pains me to admit this first observation; wishing it were not so. During the 2008 presidential campaign, our family visited a church, attending a Bible Study class followed by worship on a Sunday morning. In the adult class where we found ourselves, the first 30 minutes was animated discussion about the wonders of one political party and the ills of the other. Finally someone said, “Well I guess we should get to the lesson for today. Who’s teaching this morning?” The enthusiasm in the room dropped several notches, followed by a grudging willingness to leave their exciting political discussion to begin thinking about Jesus. Attending this class made it extremely clear to us that one must be a member of their political party to be welcomed into this class. Secondly, they were far more excited about politics than Jesus. We walked away disappointed, certain not to return. Political unity trumps Christian unity in some congregations.

Some congregations are intentionally delaying political discussions while intentionally strengthening their Christian unity. A Lead Pastor shared in a Cohort about a new men’s Bible Study which gathered very early in the morning at the church. This group quickly gained momentum, enjoying the opportunity to consider scripture and faith in relation to one’s everyday life with other spiritual pilgrims. Another pastor listening asked how this group is relating to the presidential campaign. The response:
“This is a very politically diverse group, with Tea Partyers on one side and liberal Democrats on the other, so we don’t allow them to move into political discussions. They first have to unify around Christ before they will be strong enough as a group to talk politics.” The wisdom of this Lead Pastor was helpful. Some congregational leaders are intentionally gathering the faith community around Jesus Christ, strengthening Christian unity, before engaging the more divisive issues of the day.

Some congregations are discovering their Christian unity is far stronger than their political differences. This presidential campaign season I was with this congregation for a weekend, leading a lay leadership team retreat and worship on Sunday. Through the retreat, I discovered these lay leaders were very diverse in their political perspectives. I also learned this was not much of a problem for this faith community. One very politically conservative disciple expressed their collective view well, “I don’t love Joe (different name) because he’s a liberal Democrat. I love him because we are brothers in Christ.” And, I learned this was actually true. These people socialized with each other outside of “church” events, sharing life in caring ways. Their unity in Christ allowed them to be different without these significant differences tearing them apart. Some congregations are so connected to each other in Christian unity that other differences pale in comparison.

When Christian unity happens the other typical divisions among our kind (humankind) recede on the priority list. When Christian unity happens, we grow far more accepting. When Christian unity happens, faith communities enjoy bonds overshadowing all kinds of differences. This is one way we know the Holy Spirit is present in our faith communities…when Christian unity happens.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA