[This post is part of a discussion at the Patheos Book Club on the new book Hijacked: Responding to the Partisan Church Divide.]
Could we Christians be honest about one thing? It is not the case that “real Christians” are those who just happen to vote the way our group does. In the voting so far, there have been “real, honest to goodness” Christians who have voted for the libertarian candidate, Ron Paul. There have been some, just as committed followers of Jesus as the Paul voters, who voted for Rick Santorum. Similarly, I am sure that both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich received votes from individuals who name Jesus as Lord. In fact, if we go back a few months, I am positive that there were Christians who either did or would have voted for Michelle Bachmann, John Huntsman, Rick Perry and the others who have participated in the Republican primary so far in election year 2012.
Come this fall, unless something very unusual happens, either Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, or Paul will be running against the Democratic candidate, who, barring some even more remarkably bizarre events, will be President Obama. And, let me say with complete confidence that, whomever the Republican and Democratic candidates happen to be, there will be honest to goodness, genuine followers of Jesus who will vote for Democratic candidate and there will be honest to goodness, genuine followers of Jesus who will vote for the Republican candidate. Even though there will be Christian leaders on both sides of the partisan divide who will tell you that “real Christians” vote for the candidate they favor, to paraphrase from Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, “if they try to tell you that, don’t believe it because it just ain’t true.”
In many ways, the issue really boils down to this: we Christians prioritize issues differently and, in many cases, we come to different conclusions about what the Bible and church teaching (generalizing for space) implies. Some of us are sure that governments should not be involved in care for the poor, for example, while others of us are sure that they should. We could go down the whole list of social, economic, foreign policy, etc. issues, and we will find Christians on both sides (if the issue can even be reduced to two sides!). Now, let me say that the fact that we find a substantial number of Christians on each side of the issue does not mean that there is not a right and wrong position. But, if we look at how evenly we are divided on many issues, look at how the favored position has varied over time, and consider that these political issues have not been considered core Christian beliefs, what we can say is that we do each other a grave injustice when we insist that whether or not we are “really” followers of Jesus hinges on our position on a handful of political issues. God is not a Democrat or a Republican, an obvious truth that we seem so often to miss.
Would it be possible to agree on one rule for this next political season? Let us agree that we will not treat members of the other party as if they are not really Christians. Instead, let us agree that we will openly acknowledge each other as Christians, and then we will have our policy debates. We will argue the policies on their merits, bringing to bear our faith when appropriate. We will acknowledge our disagreements on policy issues, and as Christians, on the underlying theology that guides our policy decisions. Then, when the debates are over, we will commit to join hands and go out for coffee together. And, in those discussions, we will put our partisan debates behind us and instead we will turn attention to the bonds we share as followers of Jesus. In other words, let us live into the injunction Jesus left us—that we will be one as the Triune God is one. Who knows, if we try it, we might even like it…..
Dr. Charles (Chuck) Gutenson is Chief Operating Officer of Sojourners. He previously served 10 years at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky, most recently as the professor of Theology and Philosophy. He received a M.Div. from Asbury in 1995 and a PhD in Philosophical Theology from Southern Methodist University in 2000. Chuck is the author of three books, including Hijacked: Responding to the Partisan Church Divide (now featured at the Patheos Book Club), and numerous articles on a variety of theological and philosophical articles.