Understanding Christian Unity

There is a hymn I learned in church that begins, “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord . . . And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.”  The lyrics invoked for those of us in the pews the image of the body of Christ and reminded us that while we were a single congregation, we were connected to a global body of believers that with many voices, in many tongues professed a common faith.  But just as the song affirmed our connectedness, it also spoke to the divisions among us.  “And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.”  The hymn is a plea to the body divided against itself to “walk with each other” and “work side by side.”  It is this song that immediately came to my mind as I read the latest stories about the Bible studies and prayer circles Hillary Clinton has participated in during her time in Washington, D.C.

One would think people would be encouraged that a major candidate for the presidency would take time out of her hectic schedule for prayer and Bible study.  The purpose of these spiritual disciplines is to maintain a strong foundation in the faith we confess and to try to grow into the people we are called to be.  For many Christians, it is these practices that shape our moral convictions and remind us of the responsibility we have not only for our actions, but for our inward motives.  Our elected representatives are given the job of dealing with crucial issues– the economy, healthcare, education, war.  I know it is my sincerest hope that they approach these matters, which often are of life and death, bearing the full weight of their decisions.  I want to believe that our nation’s policies are not made with caprice, or an eye solely toward profit and gain, but with some reflection on the morality of our actions.

Of course Bible study and prayer is not the only place this reflection can occur.  And the reverse is also true, that people who engage in these practices do not always do so with pure motives.  But to those with an earnest heart, God promises “When you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.  When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me” (Jer. 29:12-14).

Instead of being praised for her daily faith practices, however, Sen. Clinton has come under attack because the Christian fellowship she keeps is bi-partisan.  To listen to her accusers, one would think that she were part of the mafia, not a prayer circle, that the words “family” and “fellowship” have their proper context in the Godfather, and not the Bible.   The tenor of these articles would have us believe that Sen. Clinton has been brainwashed into a subversive ideology rather than made a faith commitment that millions of people across the world, and in our own country, have made.  At a root level, I believe these attacks are yet another example of the vitriol that exists within pockets of our own party against anyone of faith.  I know I am not the only one who, at times, has been made to feel alienated because, in addition to being a Democrat, I am a person of faith.  The reality, of course, is not nearly so isolating because there are many of us and more and more we are finding our voice.  Nevertheless, it is still troubling to me when any expression of faith within the Democratic Party is met with scorn.  As many have stressed, not only is this prejudice counter to Democratic principles of inclusion, but it also severely undermines the interests of the party. 

In addition to this blanket condemnation of the presence of faith in our political discourse, however, I believe there is another issue at work.  The accusation against Sen. Clinton is that praying and reading the Bible with conservatives either reveals her own secret lifelong conservatism or perilously endangers her Democratic values that will not withstand an onslaught of conservative theology.  I believe her record directly refutes each of these charges.  Furthermore, this accusation reveals an ignorance of the spirit of Christian bonds.  In our present culture, where broad characterizations have become preferable to nuanced discourse, we seem
to lack the conceptual ability to grasp a fundamental reality of the Christian life.  As Christians we live in the tension of being inextricably united to the entire body of believers who share our faith, even if they are the very people with whom we have our strongest disagreements.  We know that, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as [we] were called to the one hope of [our] calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God”  (Ephesians 4:4-5).  That does not mean that there are not strong, even vehement, disagreements within the body, but nevertheless we are united.  And we must be committed to helping one another grow in truth and love (Heb. 10:24-25).  We grow together, even when that growth leads us in different directions, because, as Former President Clinton said in a recent speech, we know that this side of the kingdom we only know in part and none of us are fully conformed to the will of God.  We pray with one another for the unity among us that is possible, for the areas where we can come together to do good works.  But we also pray together in the full knowledge that this side of the kingdom all unity has not yet been restored.


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