Would you feel comfortable going to church with somebody from a different political party? In America today, many people wouldn’t — because they feel self-righteous disgust, even hatred toward people on the other side of the political divide.
Polling data reveals a nation of people filled with partisan anger and convinced they are morally superior to those who disagree with them about politics. For example, over 40% of both Democrats and Republicans believe members of the opposing party are “downright evil.” About 20% of people in both parties believe that people in the other party are “like animals” and “lack the traits to be considered fully human.” And perhaps most disturbingly, 20% of Democrats and 15% of Republicans believe “we’d be better off as a country” if most people from the other side “just died.”
These polls were taken before the incredibly divisive year 2021, which has polarized Americans even further. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that seemingly the only thing many people can agree on is that if the wrong party controls the government, it might be appropriate to resort to violence. In early 2022, according to a Washington Post poll, more than one-third of Americans said they believe anti-government violence is sometimes justified — including 40% of Republicans, 41% of independents, and 23% of Democrats.
A second civil war or a Rwanda-style genocide might be in America’s future, if we continue down the path of mutual hatred, dehumanization, and escalation of tensions between opposing political factions. Is there anything Christianity can do to help reverse this terrifying trend?
One way for Christians to begin to make a positive difference is by realizing that our religion can be interpreted to support various perspectives on the controversial issues of the day. Neither conservatives nor liberals have a monopoly on Biblical arguments in support of their preferred point of view. For example:
On racism: The Parable of the Good Samaritan challenges people to overcome their prejudice against minority ethnic groups (Luke 10:25-37); and the Apostle Paul encouraged a wealthy Christian to free his runaway slave, a controversial request at the time (Philemon vss. 15-17). But Paul’s famous statement that “there is neither Jew nor Greek… barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col. 3:11) reminds us to focus on everyone’s underlying humanity as a child of God, rather than overemphasizing racial or ethnic identity. Both liberals and conservatives can claim the Bible supports their point of view about how best to address the issue of racism.
On vaccines: The Bible admonishes us to take care of our bodily health: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.” (1 Cor. 3:16-17). Refusing to take precautions against a deadly disease puts a person at risk of destroying their bodily temple. On the other hand, the Bible also says that Christians with strong faith may not be harmed by risky activities such as snake handling or drinking poison (Mark 16:18), and that Paul himself was bitten by a venomous snake and suffered no ill effects (Acts 28:3-5). Both liberals and conservatives can find Biblical support for their position that either everyone should take the Covid vaccine or that people have the right to opt out of it and take their chances.
On economics: In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus promoted capitalistic investment, praising servants who achieved a higher ROI when tasked with managing their master’s financial assets (Matt. 25:14-30) — and this can also be interpreted metaphorically, signifying that God looks favorably upon risk-taking and entrepreneurship in whatever field of life. However, Jesus also condemned the hoarding of wealth and emphasized the importance of helping the poor (Matt. 19:16-24). The early apostolic church practiced a form of socialism in which everyone shared their wealth (Acts 4:32-35); but to keep things fair, Paul instructed the church that “one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). Both conservatives and liberals have plenty of material in the Bible to justify various positions about economic issues.
Once we’re willing to admit to ourselves and each other that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, but that Christianity transcends the limited perspectives of both political parties, we can begin to appreciate the deeper meaning of the faith.
Many people of Jesus’s time were looking for a political messiah who would seek worldly power to establish the ideal society, a literal kingdom of God on earth; but Jesus rejected that vision (“my kingdom is not of this world” [John 18:36]), instead teaching that it is up to us to make the world more heavenly by reforming our personal character and behavior. By seeing other people as our brothers and sisters — as fellow children of God in the human family, despite our differences — and by loving one another and seeking peace and reconciliation, we bring God’s kingdom into being.
Politics can be one way to try to create a better world, but there is not a consensus among Christians, or anyone else for that matter, about what exactly that means or how best to accomplish it. What we can agree on — if we’re sincere about following the teachings of scripture — is that God calls each and every one of us to become our best self, to let our light shine, to see and appreciate the light of God in others, and treat everyone with kindness as our neighbor.
Well-meaning people have always disagreed about politics, and probably always will, but that shouldn’t make us into enemies. If we live like true Christians, we should be exemplars of modesty and humility, seeking respectful dialogue rather than insisting upon the superiority of all our own ideas. We should remain open to relationship even with those we believe to be gravely wrong in their opinions, hoping to better understand and persuade them, rather than canceling and condemning them.
On this last point, it is especially important that Christians who believe in an expansive view of God’s plan of salvation, such as Christian Universalists, hopeful universalists, and others who emphasize the inclusive love of God for all people, should manifest this spirit in our approach to political disagreements, lest we be hypocrites. We can always hope that truth and goodness will prevail, not only in the afterlife, but also here on earth. Oftentimes, the best way to advocate for our particular political views, whatever they may be, is to demonstrate the quality of our faith and character, so that people whose politics are different will see that somebody on the other side is worthy of respect and admiration.
Speaking to the church, the Apostle Paul implores us, that “from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. …” For behold, “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,” says Paul. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Cor. 5:16-20).
It’s hard to be an effective ambassador of Christ when you’re filled with hatred and judgment of those who are different. Jesus Christ spoke truth to power, sometimes boldly, but he was also filled with a spirit of forgiveness, even to his enemies, and did not foreclose the hope of God against any soul. The political differences of America today pale in comparison to the oppression of the Hebrews by the Romans — but let us remember, Jesus ministered to the Romans nevertheless. If we seek to follow in his footsteps, surely we can break bread with those from a different political party in our diverse representative democracy. Let us strive to be on God’s side, putting God and his teachings above what divides us.