It has been a tumultuous political season, punctuated by an outcome last Tuesday that, regardless of your political persuasion, was largely unexpected. Some are jubilant while others are despondent, leaving us more divided after the election than we were prior. How are Christians to process all that has happened? How can we help others?
To help answer that question I have included here some thoughts I shared at a recent event hosted at W83 entitled ‘Civility in the Public Square.’ I have edited them in the hope that they will help you both process your own experience of the election and positively shape conversations you are having with others. Because regardless of who you voted for or your response to the results, our primary citizenship is heavenly and therefore our primary loyalty is to our King who has called each of us to be ambassadors of his gospel of peace and reconciliation.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.
– 2 Corinthians 5:17-20
A little over 150 years ago America was being torn apart by civil war; a fracture rooted in deep differences that threatened the very nature of what it means to be a nation defined by the phrase e pluribus unum (out of many, one). As you also may know that crisis elicited from the fertile mind of Abraham Lincoln words that have become canonized as American scripture:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
I am in no way suggesting that the current state of our political landscape matches the horror of the conflict over which Lincoln presided. But his words, we are not enemies but friends, speak to a shared optimism that e pluribus unum is not an empty slogan but a virtuous ideal to which we should strive.
So let me suggest three ways in which Christians can embody a disposition that is at the core of our faith and founder; qualities that flow from the gospel that Jesus taught and lived, and qualities that are critical if we are to be his ambassadors of reconciliation that is at the heart of his gospel and our calling (2 Corinthians 5:17-20).
The first quality is gospel shaped humility, which is an antidote to discourse that is too often convinced of the superior virtue of its position and therefore too resistant to change. Gospel humility, in which we acknowledge and confess both our own sin in contributing to the toxic division in which we find ourselves and our need for wisdom from others, opens up dialogues where listening becomes more important than speaking, and our posture towards those with whom we disagree is marked by empathy and compassion.
The second is gospel shaped grace, which is an antidote to discourse that demonizes and confers the status of enemy on those with whom we disagree. God’s grace reminds us that while we were his enemy (Romans 5:5-8) he demonstrated his love to us through Christ’s death. This undeserved favor that God has shown us liberates us from the need to feel superior towards others and creates a spirit of love and generosity that allows us to reach across our differences.
The final quality is gospel shaped hope, which is an antidote to a nostalgic longing for some glorious past that grips so many people; what Terry Eagleton in his book entitled Culture defines as a longing for the paradise we have lost. This kind of nostalgia can quickly devolve into fear, cynicism, distrust and despair. Gospel hope, rooted in the resurrection, reign and promised return of Jesus, allows us to envision and work towards a future in which one day swords will be beaten into ploughshares (Isaiah 2:4) and where justice and righteousness will roll on forever like a mighty river (Amos 5:24).
So as we move forward from November 8th may God help us embody gospel shaped humility, grace and hope so that it strengthens our bonds of affection and reminds us that we are not enemies, but friends.