BY: RON GARNER
When I was a kid living in South Florida, there were two rival friend groups living in my neighborhood. If you were in one, you were the sworn enemy of the other. So even if Tommy, a neighbor, was in my class, had similar interests to my own (riding bikes endlessly up and down our street, while discussing “Pitfall Harry” strategies) and was even a close confidante back in 1st grade, he still was a persona non grata. A life-giving friendship that could have seen us both through the turbulent days of middle school and the roller coaster of high school fizzled before it even began. Why? He was on the wrong “team.”
I am now squarely in my middle-aged years and look back to this time with some nostalgia, but with even more relief. Glad the adolescent angst is in my rearview mirror. Yet I have come to realize that, much to our society’s detriment, we carry forward some things from adolescence, despite the fact that they (in my case, for example) should have been shelved long ago with my swatch watch and “jams” (yes, I am a child of the 80s).
Mirroring my childhood neighborhood, the divisions continue. In this adult version, we have the conservatives and the liberals. To be on one side means that we are the sworn enemy of the other. And from each perspective, why wouldn’t we? From the conservative’s angle, the liberals are bent on destroying everything that America holds dear, from its foundational institutions to its traditional Judeo-Christian moral roots. From the liberal’s view, the conservatives are propping up these antiquated institutions and laws that are by their very nature unjust, oppressive, and antithetical to the teachings of Christ. What exacerbates polarization is that Jesus’ followers on each side can quote Scripture to solidify their position. The result? An “Us vs. Them” mindset. Essentially a grown-up version of my “hood.”
In this edition, each rival side has its own media sources; its own leaders; obviously, its own parties; and as much as it pains me to admit it, its own churches. This last one I find deeply disturbing. In John 17:21, Jesus, with divine foresight, sees the day where his followers would be at each other’s throats. He prays that we (his future disciples) “would be one as He and the Father are one.” Please understand this is not a prayer for absolute conformity, in which we all (have to) agree on everything from our politics to our fashion. That is symptomatic of a short-lived cult, not a two-millennia movement that has transformed our world. Instead, Jesus’ petition is a plea for his followers to imitate the relationship of the Holy Trinity. And how is that relationship best characterized? By an other-centered love—John 17:26. A love that is simply focused on the other rather than the one in the mirror.
What if Christians took Jesus’ words here seriously (I know, a novel thought) as we near the election? How might we live differently in our “neighborhood”? How about just this one: Refuse to consider a fellow Christian our enemy no matter what label they wear or others assign to them. Jesus makes it very clear there is no “us” vs. “them.” There is only one Universal Church and every Jesus follower, no matter what his or her political ideology, is our brother and sister. In Christ, there is no “wrong” team. Period. Don’t let the media or even a fellow pastor tell us otherwise. If Christians just embraced this one biblical concept, how different our “neighborhood” could look! Christians, instead of often leading the bitter name-calling polarization, could actually model reconciliation.
Had I only crossed “enemy lines” and reached out to Tommy, not only might I have made a lifelong friend, our childhoods might have been enriched. My fellow Jesus followers, it’s not too late for us! Invite a fellow Christian from a different political party for coffee and listen. Not only might we make a friend, but we might also grow to be a little more like Christ.