As November 3rd draws nearer, I hear not only an increase in the bitter and divisive political rhetoric as Biden and Trump vie for the presidency, but also pleas on the part of some Christian leaders to focus on “Christian unity.”
To be honest, I don’t blame pastors and other leaders for wanting to provide an alternative to the angry and partisan language that seems to dominate every waking moment of our lives.
I can also only imagine the pain and frustration that some pastors are experiencing as they the political divisions tear apart their congregations.
“Christians, we need to be united! We can’t let partisan politics divide the body of Christ!” is a common phrase I’ve heard from pastors and theologians.
Of course, the bitter divides and arguments are not a new feature of politics but the pressures of this past year as well as the high stakes of this election has strained friendships and relationships to the breaking point.
Individual Christians are finding themselves leaving congregations or denominations that they have invested years or even decades of their lives in because of the divisive nature of this election.
Christians are finding themselves walking away from congregations and denominations that they spent most of their lives calling “home,” because their political vision and that of a particular church/denomination, no longer align.
Pastors and other religious leaders often find themselves walking a fine line between trying to encourage their congregants to embody the love of Christ as they seek to put into practice their political vision and not letting partisan politics rip apart their congregation.
So it is understandable, especially as the angry and bitter rhetoric increases the closer we get to November 3rd, why church leaders want to emphasize a form of Christian unity that goes beyond allegiance to a political party.
Asking congregations to remember the humanity of their peers, even if they bitterly disagree over who to vote for in 2020 is necessary, especially as the threat of post-election violence looms large.
The problem is that appeals to Christian unity often fall flat and feel superficial. Often appeals to Christian unity seem to imply that if we could simply stop talking about politics then the divisions in our nation will suddenly go away. Unfortunately, the reality is that many of the issues that we are grappling with as a country go beyond Democrats vs Republicans.
To simply present Christian unity as Democrats and Republicans being able to worship together in peace in the same congregation, presents a shallow understanding of what true unity looks like and it also presents partisanship as the overriding problem facing the United States.
Intentionally or not the hyper fixation on smoothing over political differences reinforces the idea that, “If only Christians could worship together and be in communion regardless of their political problems, then our problems as a nation would be solved.”
The problems that haunt our nation can not be solved by convincing Democrats and Republicans to sit down for coffee together.
The United States is steeped in white supremacy, sexism, and violence. While it is true that Christians should not uncritically follow Democrats or Republicans, since liberation and salvation will not come from either party, pretending that one can be a faithful Christian while ignoring politics is false.
Look, I get it. I’m skeptical of electoral politics and the two party system. I am the first to tell people that voting alone will not help us achieve liberation and justice.
But I also recognize that politics is one of the driving forces for violence and oppression.
Police killings of Black and brown people?
The caging and separation of undocumented children from their parents?
The tying of health care to employment?
The non-existent safety net that allows poor people to suffer?
The bumbling responses on the federal and state level to COVID 19 that has led to the deaths of 225,000 people?
These are all political issues. And to remain silent on these issues in order to avoid causing political divisions amongst Christians is not only an act of cowardice but it is antithetical to the gospel.
It’s one thing to avoid preaching a partisan Jesus.
Too many Christians turn their preferred political party into an idol that can do no wrong.
But it’s another thing to pretend that the gospel is apolitical.
Jesus preached a radical and inclusive understanding of God that challenged an oppressive empire.
Jesus talked and fellowshipped with people who were actively despised and treated as subhuman. Jesus stood with the marginalized and the oppressed.
True Christian unity should look like Christians across the theological spectrum standing together to fight back against attempts to limit the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
It should look like taking a stand against police brutality.
It should look like Christians pushing back against politicians that insist that the disabled and the elderly are expendable.
It should look like Christians speaking out against gerrymandering and voter suppression.
True Christian unity is holding politicians accountable for when they endorse policies that hurt and kill the most vulnerable in society.
It’s not partisan to expect the President of the United States to condemn white supremacist militas and any candidate who is unable to do so is not fit for Presidental office.
It’s not divisive to point out that both parties have endorsed policies that have led to never ending wars that have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.
Yes, let’s advocate for Christian unity. But let’s not reduce Christian unity to Republicans and Democrats being able to worship together in the same space without offending one another by talking about politics.
Let’s define Christian unity as standing together to create a more just and equitable world.