As the dust settles on a divisive US election, and tensions remain...
Squabbling over who is 'really' a Christian is hurting the Church's witness. We must do better
Polarisation in politics - both with Trump and with Brexit - has been well documented. But are Christians just as bad as everyone else? As some take to social media to argue 'no true Christian could ever vote for X candidate', Sean Finnegan says we need to look at our own hearts
A woman driving on a bridge spots a man standing on the edge, preparing to jump. Pulling over, she jumps out of the car and shouts, “Stop!”
The man turns and says, “Why should I?”
The lady asks, “Are you religious?”
“Yes,” the man replies.
“Me too. Are you a Christian?”
Walking towards him, she says, “Me too. Are you Protestant or Catholic?”
“Protestant,” says the man as he begins backing away from the edge, ever so slightly.
“Me too. Are you an Evangelical?"
"Yes" he says.
“Hallelujah,” she sings out, “What denomination?”
“Baptist,” he responds.
“Me too!” she shouts as a huge smile spreads across her face. “Are you Reformed or Arminian?”
“Arminian,” the man answers with a grin breaking out. Suddenly the woman’s face falls and with an uncontrollable flash of rage she pushes him backwards and over the ledge. As the man falls to his death, she shakes her fist, yelling, “Die, you heretic!”
What I find so troubling about this little sketch is not how absurd it is, but the opposite - how it strikes so close to home. Of course, pushing a man to his death is hyperbole, but who among us upon meeting our theological, political, or social foe has not experienced a flash of anger?
On the one hand, the more we have in common with someone, the closer we feel to that person. On the other, the differences between us get so amplified that discussing them can lead to sharp schisms. We see this play out even in the time of Christ. The people who dogged Jesus the most were not Romans, Samaritans or Sadducees. Instead, the people who most opposed him throughout his ministry were those who were most like him - the Pharisees. Even though they agreed with him on the great majority of issues, the Pharisees saw Jesus as a serious threat that they needed to resist, expose, and undermine at every opportunity.
I fear we fall into the same way of thinking in our time. You probably don’t care too much if an atheist on the other side of the country who you've never met voted for the opposite party to you. However, if you find out that your best Christian friend who goes to the same church as you, and has similar political opinions to you, voted for the “wrong” candidate, that might really bother you. It is the same phenomenon of amplifying the small differences among communities where agreement is high.
The truth is well-meaning, honest-hearted, serious Christians find themselves on opposite sides of many social, political, and cultural issues. These include how best to deal with racism, poverty and sin in our world. It includes who is the best person to lead the USA, and it includes whether Boris Johnson and his government have responded well to the pandemic.
If we're not careful, we can find ourselves being dragged into a worldly way of thinking about these things. Every issue becomes infinitely important. We cannot even imagine our opponents are well-meaning. Surely, their Christianity is a farce, as is their whole lifestyle, since they disagree with me on something I’m so sure about. 'Surely, no true Christian could believe that!'
When unbelievers encounter Christians who are talking trash about other Christians because of ideological differences, what does that say?
If outsiders see us fighting with each other over the same issues and in the same way as the world, doesn’t that compromise our testimony?
If saved people act like unsaved people, what’s the point of getting saved?
Jesus said they will know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). How can you learn to love a sister or brother who thinks differently politically, environmentally, economically, etc? How can you prioritise your faith bond over your other differences?
One way to do this, is to ask yourself, 'What is primary in my heart?' Now, I’m sure most of us would immediately say, 'God is first and then everything else', but our reactions and sensitivities may tell a different story. Do you feel a stronger bond to an atheist who campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU over a Christ follower who is an ardent Brexiteer? (Feel free to reverse the analogy in order to suit your politics). The point is: Does salvation in Christ really trump all other issues...or not?
As Christians, we are going to disagree with each other about many important issues. This is good - difficult and annoying, but good. If we all adopted a cult mentality and agreed on everything all the time, how could we show the world God’s amazing grace and astonishing love? As Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:46). No, if we will live out the true love of God, then it will find its most powerful expression when it reaches over enemy lines and binds together people who have nothing else in common. And if the world sees that, you better believe it will get their attention!
Sean Finnegan serves as the lead pastor of Living Hope Community Church near Albany, NY. He’s also the host of Restitutio, a weekly podcast focused on restoring biblical Christianity and living it out authentically today. He lives in New York with his beautiful and talented wife, Ruth, and their four sons. He holds an MTS in Early Christian History from Boston University, a BA in Theology from Atlanta Bible College, and a BS in Computer Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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