Dear Pastors and Preachers,
Many of you (us) have been taught a falsity about unity.
We have been taught that to lead is to make equal space for all people, regardless of political difference and to find our unity in Jesus. This has been framed as a noble thing. But before we address our churches, I encourage us to choose who we will alienate instead of standing for nothing at all.
I imagine that in the “before times” prior to the Presidency of Donald Trump and the many evils accompanying his administration, that this sentiment had more merit.
You may have tried to tow the line, in order to create some semblance of a space where all could worship. But these are the not the before times.
We have to reckon with the unique role of Christianity both in our nation and in our congregations.
It would belabor any good sense to list the atrocities that we have experienced over the last four years, and even more vexing to swim through the multitudes of ways that Christians have sold out their allegiance to Jesus in exchange for political power. It is the thirty pieces of silver given to a Judas that brings death upon death upon death, even to the one who initially benefits.
The relationship between church and state has become a marriage, in many places, between church and nationalism.
To that end, we might be tempted in this moment to stand at our pulpits and capsize into cliches to muddle through these next few weeks. We might be tempted to call for unity before we seek to address pain or injustice.
We might seek to claim that Jesus is king without reflecting on the religious rights exaltation of Donald Trump and the supreme court as the ultimate artibitar of right and good in the world.
We might be tempted to act like there are “fine people on both sides.” This ideological placating may feel like it preserves Christian unity, but if we are paying attention, we know that the work of the day is not to maintain unity, but to be honest and clear about why disunity in our communities exists and to take responsibility about how and if we can move forward together.
There is this language that has largely come from the right that says “we should still be able to be friends with our friends and family with our families despite political differences. The church replicates this stance in uniquely Christian ways by trying to mediate feelings by saying that we are all the body of Christ, the church, or some other distant and abstracted cliche.
I have been thinking a lot about the lapsi lately, Christians, who renounced their faith in Jesus under threat of martyrdom by Rome. They sold out their faith in the face of a political giant that wanted their assimilation into the empire.
The early church did not come to a consensus on how these people should be treated. Some sub communities rejected them outright, some accepted freely, and some allowed them back after a period of penance.
They didn’t outright agree that people’s actions and political affinities are free of communal accountability.
These people, some of who were one generation or less removed from the incarnate Jesus could not come into an agreement on how or even if, reconciliation can come when the core of faithfulness to Jesus is abandoned.
When Christians capsize into the empire whether by fear or by choice, there are consequences for the whole community.
Empire Christianity specifically, always will further marginalized the oppressed for the benefit of those at the center and the Trump administration has joined into this historical trend.
The problem for Christians in the United States right now is that no one forced us into the belly of the empire, we went willingly in 2016 as if waiting for an opportunity.
Some went for tax breaks, some for religious freedom (a concept that would have been foreign to the earliest followers of Jesus as Americans practice it), some for ideological purity and the courts.
This willingness to marry our Christianity in name with the powers of the empire has created the dilemma that many of us will face on Sunday morning.
We might want to call on reconciliation before we have fully acknowledged pain and pursued accountability. We might want to call people into forgiveness and unity without there being consequences for wrongs done. That isn’t a Christian virtue, it is placating and spineless leadership.
Many in our communities have felt the pain of the Trump presidency in real and tangible ways, not simply ideological or theological ones. They may have directly lost their family, friends, rights, housing, or healthcare, or safety.
When it comes down to it, politics aren’t ideas, they are the outer working of ideas on human bodies.
At this moment, millions of people are traumatized by four years of a Trump presidency.
This isn’t because they are abstractly liberal or godless, but because of the unique ways that the last four years have exposed, incited, and amplified divisions in the United States that have consequences on the bodies of the marginalized.
So, before we stand in our appointed or self selected positions of authority, we ought to consider Jesus. We ought to consider the God incarnate who had enough backbone to alienate the so called religious in favor of the marginalized.
We ought to consider how he was found among the “other” and made friends, not to change, but to love. We ought to consider his relationship with power, wherein he “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (Phillipians 2).”
Our job is not to be ambassadors to empires or political apologists, but Christ’s healing balm to people in pain, people who have been crushed by the systems that we create, people who the religious establishment has systematically discarded and demonized in increased ways over the last four years.
So, miss me with unity. Those words do nothing but protect your power, elevate pastoral conflict avoidance, and uphold the status quo.