Several weeks ago the results of a major mid-term election allowed Republicans to take the Senate, incumbents to get the boot or barely hold on to their seats, and pundits to have a field day diagnosing the issues related to campaigns and candidates alike.
While people surmised why votes went one way or another, nearly every local election made one fact clear: We are living in a divided nation. Every winner can’t claim a total victory. Sure, if you win by 51% of the vote, you win; but at the end of the day, it likely meant that you garnered only half of the voters at the ballot box.
This divide in American politics may strike fear in the hearts of people who simply want their representatives to govern. Others find the results to be disheartening, hinting at continued gridlock in our nation’s capital.
But what if, from the point of view of the church, this division is an opportunity to help people find their way back to the Lord?
Think about it: The media enjoys divisive politics because it means attracting more viewers. Politicians can rally their electoral base. Even we viewers at home like a little drama in our politics as we tune out people who are either boring or non-confrontational (or have common-sense solutions, for that matter).
In all of this, there are few institutions that promote reconciliation and peacemaking.
Enter the church. God’s purposes for the church not only transcend our society’s politics, they also seeks to bring reconciliation in places divided by all sorts of barriers.
This happened very early on: The day Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples received the Holy Spirit and starting speaking in a variety of languages. To those gathered in Jerusalem at the time, it was a unifying moment: Each person heard the same gospel in their native tongue. For once they had something in common.
As the church matured over time, the egalitarian nature of Christian community became a beacon of hope throughout the Roman Empire. While citizens of the Empire thrived on inequality and hierarchy to manage power and prestige, the church gave everyone–regardless of socio-economic stature, race, ethnicity, or gender–a place at the table.
It was in his letters to the Corinthian churches, in particular, that Paul encouraged the church to spread the Gospel by bearing witness to the unity, harmony, and peace that Christ ushered into the world through the Holy Spirit.
The Bible says, “From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view…All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Corinthains 5:16, 18-19).
In other words, when a person becomes a Christian, she is not a product of her culture or society any longer. She is redeemed to Christ and brought into a relationship with God. She is a new creation; and as a new creation, she becomes a citizen of the kingdom of God.
As citizens of the kingdom, Christians are called to be agents of reconciliation in a divided–and divisive–world.
Instead of taking sides, we are to stand on the side of Jesus. Instead of touting our political victories or condemning the opposing team, we are to remind people that they are ultimately held accountable to God, who doesn’t claim any political party.
Christians are outsiders looking in, objective players who have a bigger vision than those who govern in the moment.
“So we are ambassadors for Christ since God is making his appeal through us” (v. 20).
An ambassador is one who goes to a foreign land to help people make peace with another nation. In this context, Christians are to be peacemakers that help reconcile people to one another and, ultimately, to God.
Postscript: I wrote about two weeks ago. This week, I was disheartened to hear that the events surrounding the death of Michael Brown have escalated protests and violence in major cities, including here at the ATL. The church needs to encourage local communities in reconciliation, foster conversations between neighborhoods and law-enforcement agencies, and promote honest conversations about responsibility, accountability, the threat of a sensational media, and race relations. We will be in prayer for all the families involved in injustice and the on-going consequences of America’s love affair with guns and gun violence, which seems to be at the heart of most–if not all–of these conflicts of late. –JVL