Christian churches have a grand opportunity in the United States from now through the year’s end.
This presidential campaign is more raucous and polarizing than we’ve seen in some time.
Christian disciples with very different political views find themselves part of the same congregation, making this quite a testing time when it comes to Christian unity.
Being church in this milieu clarifies what unifies congregations. These conditions shine the spotlight on the strength of Christian unity.
The following three observations describe what we are observing in Christian congregations this year:
1. Some congregations are discovering their political perspectives are more unifying than their Christian identity.
It pains me to admit this, and I wish it were not so.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, our family visited a church and attended a Bible study class followed by worship on a Sunday morning.
In the adult class where we found ourselves, the first 30 minutes was animated discussion about the wonders of one political party and the ills of the other.
Finally someone said, “Well I guess we should get to the lesson for today. Who’s teaching this morning?”
The enthusiasm in the room dropped several notches, followed by a grudging decision to leave their exciting political discussion to begin thinking about Jesus.
Attending this class made it extremely clear that one must be a member of their political party to be welcomed into this class. They were far more excited about politics than Jesus.
We walked away disappointed, certain not to return. Political unity trumps Christian unity in some congregations.
2. Some congregations are intentionally delaying political discussions while intentionally strengthening their Christian unity.
I heard recently a lead pastor share about a new men’s Bible study that gathered very early in the morning at the church.
This group quickly gained momentum, enjoying the opportunity to consider Scripture and faith in relation to one’s everyday life with other spiritual pilgrims.
Another pastor who was listening asked how this group is relating to the presidential campaign.
“This is a very politically diverse group,” the lead pastor replied, “with Tea Partiers on one side and liberal Democrats on the other, so we don’t allow them to move into political discussions. They first have to unify around Christ before they will be strong enough as a group to talk politics.”
The wisdom of this pastor was helpful. Some congregational leaders are intentionally gathering the faith community around Jesus Christ and strengthening Christian unity before engaging the more divisive issues of the day.
3. Some congregations are discovering their Christian unity is far stronger than their political differences.
Earlier in this presidential campaign season, I was with a congregation for a weekend leading a lay leadership team retreat and worship on Sunday.
I discovered their lay leaders were very diverse in their political perspectives. I also learned this was not much of a problem for this faith community.
One very politically conservative disciple expressed their collective view well, “I don’t love Joe (different name) because he’s a liberal Democrat. I love him because we are brothers in Christ.”
And, I learned this was actually true. These people socialized with each other outside of “church” events, sharing life in caring ways.
Their unity in Christ allowed them to be different without these significant differences tearing them apart.
Some congregations are so connected to each other in Christian unity that other differences pale in comparison.
When Christian unity happens, the other typical divisions among humans recede on the priority list.
We grow far more accepting and faith communities enjoy bonds overshadowing all kinds of differences.
This is one way we know the Holy Spirit is present in our faith communities: when Christian unity happens.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this article first appeared on Pinnacle’s blog and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his personal blog.