By Joe Boyd
I’ve been writing this column on culture for nearly a year now. The big idea is to look at what is happening in America to see what good or bad ramifications it may have for the local church. It’s not always easy to decide what to write about each month. Over the last several months I’ve been tempted to broach a specific subject, only to talk myself out of it. I can’t avoid it any longer.
Though I’m sure some will look for clues to my political leanings in what I write, I’m not going to endorse or condemn a particular presidential candidate or political party. I will say only this: the state of the political discourse in our country is not good. It’s broken.
Maybe the best the church can do is not to try to influence politics directly, but to model a more healthy environment of conversation and activism.
I see at least three ways the church can stand up in 2016 as a witness against the current political climate.
1. We can drop the labels.
People are people. We are complex. The idea of having a specific political platform we all must live under, labeling ourselves as “Republican” or “Democrat,” is impractical and not realistic. I personally don’t fully agree with either platform. I agree and disagree with both political parties. In short, I’m too complex to label.
One of the founding unity statements of our tradition is, “In essentials, unity. In opinions, liberty. In all things, love.” There is timeless wisdom in that. It’s a message our world needs more than ever. Those among us in the independent Christian churches and churches of Christ have an opportunity to live up to that statement.
Labels divide us, whether they are political, religious, ethnic, or otherwise. Name-calling, overgeneralizing, and closed-mindedness are antithetical to the message of Jesus. If we must label each other, let it be only “sister” and “brother.”
2. We can appeal to the best in others.
Politicians use fear as their ace in the hole. To quote one my favorite philosophers (Yoda from Star Wars), “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Regardless of the source, I find these words to be 100 percent true.
The easiest way to get someone to do something is to make them afraid, then fuel their anger. Once people are afraid and angry, they develop a mob mentality and, generally, make myopic decisions.
This is how the world works, but it’s not how the kingdom works. The kingdom turns everything upside down.
The message of Jesus is fundamentally optimistic—the kingdom of God has come! It is, after all, good news.
The fear and hate in this political year will only grow. The church may be the only institution in America poised to respond with love and grace to a nation that will grow desperate for it.
3. We can disagree better.
It’s hard to look at our current political climate and think of words like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Yet, according to the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22, 23, these are exactly the words people should be using to describe us as followers of Jesus.
Of course, Christians do not always agree. Sometimes we have sharp disagreements.
Historically, the church hasn’t always disagreed in ways that honor Jesus. I concede that. But we can do better.
The world we live in today is terrible at civil discourse. The church can begin to facilitate honest conversations. The key to this is taking the time to hear and believe one another’s stories. Sitting across from someone and hearing their story breaks down walls.
A friend of mine often says, “You can’t hate someone up close.” I think that’s almost always true. You can hate people from a distance, but when you take the time to talk to someone, you begin to see them as simply another broken person in need of grace. Then, and only then, can you disagree in a way worthy of our calling.
Joe Boyd is founder and president of Rebel Pilgrim Productions, Cincinnati, Ohio.