By Jeff Mathis
Pastor, First Baptist-Sylva
Here is a true statement: Some of us will be displeased with the results of the election. What’s less certain, First Baptist Church, is whether we’ll be displeased with one another.
I know. I’m understating it. The word ‘displeased’ doesn’t begin to capture the range of emotions people feel as we approach the end of the election season. Words like ‘fury,’ ‘anguish,’ and ‘despair’ may be more apt.
And while we cannot know how it will play out, we can be assured that the divisive, vitriolic, and vengeful spirit that has crept into our culture will not merely evaporate and disappear when the polls have reported their tallies.
Our work to remain united as the Body of Christ has just begun. In the coming days and weeks, it will be paramount that we practice love to one another as Jesus directed and that we will be clothed with the Christly virtue of loving kindness.
Loving one another in our current climate is no small feat.
Like other families, workplaces, and communities, our church family sees the world from different perspectives. There is any number of disagreements and flashpoints that could divide us long before we get to addressing our political differences.
We know this. But now, I’m going to lean into it.
One of our church’s most-celebrated attributes is that we are a diverse and dynamic congregation. We are a collection of brothers and sisters who holds any number of differing opinions. Our differences do not constitute a threat. Our diversity is not a liability. Our allegiance to Jesus Christ is what holds us together amidst the differences that could divide us. Jesus is enough to keep us connected as brothers and sisters in God’s family.
For well over a century, our church has not allowed our differences to separate us from one another. Our church members have occupied different sides of the aisle and have been elected from different political parties. Even so, our church members shared pews in worship. Our church’s political differences did not keep us from being in the same Sunday School class. Neither did they keep us from singing in the choir together or playing on the same softball team. Instead, our church proved that the larger the divide between us, the greater Christ’s power was to connect us.
Because our church heralds the Baptist principle of separating church and state, our church chooses to be Christ-centered and politically non-partisan. This is not an aberration. No, this distinctive expression of our love for one another reflects our value that the Church has a prophetic role to play in the world. Just as the prophets like Samuel, Nathan, and Micah teach us, God’s people have a unique calling to speak God’s truth to power. Regardless of the monarch, the administration, the parliament, or the congress, the Church’s role is to stand as a prophetic check on any who governs. History teaches us that when the Church becomes the state, and when religious institutions broker temporal power, God’s name has been used to invoke many evils.
Just ask Jesus. He was tempted to seize worldly powers at various times in his life.
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Jesus responds:”Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” (Matthew 4:8-10)
We know that Jesus says that we cannot serve two masters. But my, it’s tempting to try.
The Bible teaches us that when Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God, he’s referencing the Church, the Body of Christ. The Church is a global collection of Christ-followers. Because of Jesus, and as evidenced by the Church’s 20 centuries of witness, the Church is an international assembly. And whether we are followers of Jesus in North Carolinian, in Cuba, in South Korean, as Republicans, in Ethiopia, as Eastern Orthodox, as Socialists, or Pentecostals from Venezuela, we are all One in Christ.
Thus, our church and its leadership will neither endorse one political party or candidate over another. We will pray for those who hold office and speak respectfully and honorably about all, even when we know there are significant differences in our church body. Our church’s focus will be centered on “Doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God” in all phases of our lives (Micah 6:8).
Paul directs us to be conformed to Jesus and to have the same mind as Christ. The great missionary to the Gentiles describes the Church as a body made up of different parts. Paul is telling us that it requires all of us for Christ to be revealed in the world. We are not all feet. We are not all elbows or arms. We are, however, One in Christ.
When we resist the desire to carve up one another because of our differences and obey God’s command for us to love one another, the Church will be the balm that our sin-sick world needs. Jesus calls this peacemaking. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul tells Christ’s followers what it looks like to make peace:
“Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer…extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all…Live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:16)
Therefore, as the Church of Jesus Christ that gathers on Main Street in Sylva, North Carolina, let us resolve and covenant with one another to make peace by practicing love. Let us love one another by being mindful of the people who will see your social media posts and receive the emails you forward. Let us be reminded that we hold the highest office in the land as Ambassadors of Jesus and that our speech and our actions must demonstrate our desire to serve one another rather than lord it over one another (Mark 11:42-45). Let us soothe open wounds. Let us be a blessing to those who send us hateful text messages. Let us be found to empathize with others’ pain and strive to understand others’ fears and grief. Let us be humble. May we repent of our sins. And may we be like Christ in all things.
Instead of looking like the world around us, let us choose harmony even when we feel out of tune. For when we choose to live peaceably with one another, others will see Christ in us and will give glory to God in heaven.
Yes, the challenges before us are real. It will be tempting to damn one another and to become estranged when our differences overshadow our unity in Christ. The Church is bigger than this moment, however. Jesus is our foundation, and we are rooted together in Him. Nothing can shake this truth. Now, all we have to do is to live into our identity as Children of God.
You may recall from the Gospels that it’s the peacemakers who get the title of “Children of God.”
Let’s not wait until the polls close. Peacemaking starts now.