Book Club Channel
Book Excerpt: Bridging the Partisan Divide in Church
In my thirty-two years of ministry at Ginghamsburg I had never asked anyone about their political affiliations, but I was ready to take the bold leap of faith and do so right in the middle of one of my sermons. I have found that some of the good and influential people at Ginghamsburg assume that others in the church hold the same political ideologies based on sharing common theological views. But in fact this is not always the case.
So I posed the question: "How many of you would identify yourself as voting primarily for issues and candidates on the Democrat ticket?" About 25-30% of the people in the Saturday evening worship celebration raised their hand. I had reserved about ten seats in the front row and asked one of the people who raised their hands to come and sit in the first seat. "Now, who votes consistently Republican?" About 35-40% of those gathered responded by raising their hands. I asked one of them to come forward and sit next to the Democrat. There were some underlying chuckles and comments heard in the congregation but people were beginning to get the point as I went on to ask Tea Party folk, Libertarians, and Independents the same question and then chose one from each group to come forward and sit next to the others. Point made: Christian unity is not the same as political uniformity! There were more than a few couples in the room where the spouses didn't share the same political ideologies. When we become members of a local church no one asks about our political affiliations. Allegiance to Christ is the only allegiance that is required to be a member of Christ's body.
An analysis of lawmakers' voting patterns done in 2011, found that the most recent Congress was one of the most polarized in decades. This cancerous spirit of polarization and division has found its' way into the church. Our nation is suffering from deep wounds of cultural-political division in which Christians have participated. Members of Christ's body have been guilty of demeaning and demonizing those with whom they disagree. We have allowed worldly political ideologies to become determining factors for our theology rather than grounding ourselves in a sound biblical theology for determining our politic. Some well-meaning believers have become more passionate about engaging in the heat of partisan political debate than they have been in sharing the good news about Jesus.
The kingdom of Jesus is neither red or blue, left or right, tea nor coffee. As followers of Jesus, we represent an alternative party, the party of the Kingdom of God. As Jesus' disciples we must be moving forward in the Spirit of Pentecost, tearing down the demeaning barriers that divide and destroy. The way of the cross is eternal and tears down the dividing walls that stand between us. "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave or free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). We must not allow this polarization of extremes to pollute the message and mission of Jesus. How can we find our way forward in demonstrating unity without the expectation of uniformity?
Love One Another
Jesus told his disciples that the litmus test of true faith is the demonstration of selfless love. Love transcends political and doctrinal ideologies. So we must put that love into practice in the church, demonstrating to the world that differences do not have to bring contention or division. If we can't love our brothers and sisters in Christ, how can we show love to the rest of God's hurting world? God's redemptive mission through Jesus is restoring all relationships that have been broken due to the barriers that our nationalistic, tribal, political and religious systems have created that divide us. The gospel of grace breaks down the dividing walls. No matter what controversies rage, the church can display unity by focusing on their common identity in Jesus Christ. A loving community is attractive to others. By our unity, everyone will know we are his disciples.
Mike Slaughter is Lead Pastor of Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio and co-author of the new book Hijacked: Responding to the Partisan Church Divide.