MEREDITH TRIPLET, CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Political polarization has never been so high. It seems inevitable that political conversations will veer towards vitriol. How, exactly, has our country built such strong boundaries between those of differing political beliefs? How did we end up in our current state of partisanship? Why do some people believe that all liberals want to squelch freedom? Why do some people believe that all conservatives are all racist bigots? Finally, why is each of these beliefs held by some Christians?
Why isn’t our identity in Christ isn’t enough to outweigh our political differences?
I’m going to level with you: I don’t have an answer to these questions. But one thing I do know: conservatives and liberals are both sincere in wanting what’s best for our country and our world. We come to different conclusions on what needs to be done to improve our world because our differing backgrounds give us differing perspectives. Despite this, we can be united by the gospel.
In order to bridge the political gap, it’s essential that we better understand one another. Lots of ideas get thrown around when trying to explain the divide between the political parties: rich/poor; white/diverse; educated/uninformed; coastal/midwestern; secular/Christian. But in my own experience, the distinction between “rural” and “urban” is much more informative than any other. Where you grew up determines the amount and type of exposure you’ve had.
If you’re from a city or a college town, then you’ve likely met many people from different backgrounds who hold to different beliefs and different ideas than your own. You’ve probably had the chance to meet an immigrant, a struggling single mom, someone who was denied a great opportunity because of racial bias, someone who is Islamic. These personal experiences have impacted the way you see the world, helping you to foster compassion for those with different backgrounds from your own and want to provide equal opportunities for everyone. You’re more likely to be liberal. Smog in your city or conversations with academics might lead you to worry about our environment. The ever-increasing cost of rent and stagnating wages in your area might lead you to worry if the rich are growing richer at your expense, and at the expense of the working class in general. Put in context, I find this worldview to be quite reasonable.
If you’re from a more rural background, then you’ve likely interacted with stable a circle of people you’ve gotten to know and work with over a long period of time. You’ve likely attended a the same school or church for most of your life and had the chance to see others overcome their struggles through the support of the community. You’ve probably been in a group where most people look like you and think like you. These personal experiences have impacted the way you see the world, helping you to value loyalty to your group, commitment to the sacred ideals of your religious beliefs, and a commitment to hard work as the primary means to solve problems. You’re more likely to be conservative. Recent conversations about discrimination might lead you to worry that your church might be forced to hire someone who doesn’t agree with your beliefs. Job loss at an important local industry might make you worry that new energy sources or other technological advances might harm your community and our nation, or that outsiders might come in to take the rewards of your labor. Put in context, I find this system of belief to also be quite reasonable.
We all have understandable values and understandable fears. But as Christians, we need to be reminding ourselves of the overarching themes in the Bible that point to God as a source of confidence and hope. We are assured that he is looking out for us as a mother hen looks out for her chicks. We are assured that our own worry cannot add a single day to our lives, but that God is sovereign over all things. Of course, God can use us to accomplish his will in the world – but we are to judge our efforts according to our fruit. Is our political dialogue producing love and peace, or hatred and enmity? Are we as Christians encouraging those who share our political opinions to trust in God to work all things together for good, or are we anxious in our desire to accomplish our own plans? Do we consider those with different opinions from our own with charity and compassion, or do we put our political identity above our spiritual identity when talking politics with those who disagree with us? If “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” ( Gal 3:28, NIV), then surely there is neither Democrat nor Republican, Socialist or Libertarian!
I see a nation and a church that is split along boundaries of political affiliation and rural/urban background divides. But Christ is bigger than this boundary! If we can come together and be united as one, what a powerful picture that would be of the boundless love of Christ! I can’t help but meditate on the vision of oneness that Christ himself prayed in the high priestly prayer. Oh, that we may all – liberals and conservatives and communists and fascists – be one, united with and through Christ, even as Jesus is one with the Father.