In an election cycle that ended with thousands gathering in cities across America in protest of President-elect Trump while others reveled in his triumph, the church has not been immune to the display of such opposing reactions. Some Christians have lined up on the right while others have lined up on the left. Others still advocated for a third party approach. To disagree on the nature and the means of Christian witness in politics is one thing. To align more vehemently with political parties than to relentlessly pursue unity in the gospel is quite another all together. When this happens, the gospel of Jesus that transcends divides and outlasts every political agenda is somehow ignored.
While it seems as though the age of Christian public witness is over as the divides that run through the evangelical church have been exposed, there is ripe opportunity for us to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus in the public square—and to do so in a way that is perhaps the most powerful way of all. There is opportunity yet to live and speak in such a way that shines the healing light of the gospel into the streets of our city and into the halls of our church houses. There is opportunity still to live with one another in our churches and in the public square in such a way that is worthy of the gospel we claim to serve as ambassadors. If we are to embrace such a moment for the glory of Christ in His church, it must be done in the framework of what Augustine called the great “double love” and what Jesus said resided at the heart of a Christian ethic—love of God and love of neighbor.
In loving God, we must not associate party agendas with a Christian agenda.
Especially in a world that is corrupted and misdirected by sin, there is too much complexity to embrace either the conservative or liberal agenda as fully representative of the agenda of the kingdom of Christ. On the right, there is a tendency to ignore systematic issues such as generations of racism—both explicit and implicit—that have privileged white Americans and disadvantaged minorities. On the left, there is a tendency to sideline moral issues such as abortion resulting in the government-approved murder of an unthinkable number of unborn children. It should be clear that no political agenda fully aligns with a Christ-exalting agenda. All agendas in this world, no matter how well-intentioned, are subject to sin’s sway.
We must be willing to forgo our friendships and alliances with political parties where—and in a fallen world there is no if—the love of God demands.
It is only when we recognize that our own agendas and the agendas of the political parties with which we align are at some level flawed and corrupt that we can resist the temptation to associate aligning with one political party as faithfulness to God and condemn the other as unfaithfulness. Such staunch, unconditional association is what James condemns when he warns Christians that friendship with the world is enmity towards God. We must be willing to forgo our friendships and alliances with political parties where—and in a fallen world there is no if—the love of God demands.
Regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, we as Christians must discern the ways current political agendas work against the agenda of Christ and advocate for justice. We must also discern the ways current political agendas align with the agenda of Christ and support such efforts. In today’s political and social climate, regardless of who is in office, Christians will always be doing both out of a supreme affection for and loyalty to God—and we can partner together in doing so.
In loving neighbor, we must strive to listen before we strive to be heard.
Our perspective of the world and our experience within it is not absolute. As was said before, “Our experience and context have massive implications for the way we see the world including our political party affiliation and the policies we want to see set up or demolished. But our experience and context is always limited, never encompassing the full spectrum of reality. Therefore, we would do well to humbly and respectfully listen to others whose experience and context are not like our own.” This is not because there is no such thing as absolute truth. On the contrary, there is absolute truth, and it is located not our experience but in the work of God in Christ. Therefore, as Christians, our relationships with one another are not mediated by political party affiliations but by our shared experience in the gospel of Jesus.
To rise up and be quick to speak our opinion and eager to make our agenda heard is disobedience according to James 1.19. This is because doing so reveals that we desire to meet our brother or sister on our terms. It reveals that we desire our experience and our opinions to be the terms by which we relate to him or her. In doing so, we are asking that he or she become like us—that they adapt our experiences and agendas. We are demanding that they become like us as opposed to encouraging them to become like Christ. This is not love of neighbor but love of self.
As Christians, our relationships with one another are not mediated by political party affiliations but by our shared experience in the gospel of Jesus.
When we let political agendas and personal experience mediate our relationships within the body of Christ, we are neglecting Christ. This does mean that we will always understand one another. As a white man who grew up in the suburbs, I can never understand the experience of a black man who grew up in the city. But I can listen to him. I can affirm him. I can dignify his experience as equally real as my own. I can refuse to present my experience as the mediator of my relationship with him as if my love for him is extended only as long as he is like me, or at least agrees with me.
Our life together in the gospel transcends all that divides us—whether our experiences or our political party affiliations or any other thing.
In the gospel, we have a shared experience of being exposed as frauds and failures and being met with divine love still. We have a shared identity of being remade in the image of Christ—an identity that binds us together with one another in Him. Our life together in the gospel transcends all that divides us—whether our experiences or our political party affiliations or any other thing. Therefore, in an election that seemed to reveal division in the church, the unity that binds us together still can shine forth. There is perhaps now more than ever opportunity to live together in such a way that displays the power of the God and the glory of Christ in the gospel.