Division and Demonization

June 18th, 2013

Most young people in America are well aware these days that the political climate in Washington, D.C., is filled with partisan bitterness. Political differences are as old as the republic. In the election campaign of 1800, for example, which pitted two of the framers of the Constitution against each other, supporters of John Adams labeled Thomas Jefferson as an atheist and a “low-lived, half-breed,” while Jefferson’s supporters called Adams a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant.

Nonetheless, political scientists say that things haven’t been this divided in Washington since the years leading up to the Civil War. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, vilify each other almost daily. They not only disagree with each other but also demonize each other as enemies of decency and American values.

Compromise, the primary means of getting business done in the capital, has become rare, making it extremely difficult for Congress to pass legislation related to gun control, immigration, budget management, and a host of other issues. Each of the two major parties, when it is has found itself in the minority in the Senate over the past two decades, has set new records for blocking bills favored by the other side through use of the once rare tactic known as the filibuster.

A People Divided

The divisions aren’t just in Washington. Bitterly divided government reflects a bitterly divided American populace. Many politicians don’t wish to be seen as willing to compromise with the other side—not because they think compromise is wrong but because they fear that partisans from their own side will seek to replace them with someone more rigidly devoted to the party line.

The church knows all about division and gridlock. The Church of England’s decision to ordain women as priests caused some members to leave for the Roman Catholic Church. In the United States, some congregations left the Episcopal Church over the issue of allowing homosexuals to serve as bishops. Many other denominations have been weakened by heated debates also. These disputes often distract Christians from doing the work of God’s kingdom.

Agree to Disagree?

Young people will likely have questions about the divisions among their fellow Christians. Aren’t Jesus’ followers supposed to be “of the same mind” (Philippians 2:2, NRSV)? What happens when we disagree? How can we maintain mutual love and respect when we’re always arguing? On the other hand, are some issues too important for compromise? How do we know which ones? Is it wrong to break fellowship over disagreements within the church?

To help young people (and adults) deal with these questions, it’s worth remembering that Christians have disagreed from the beginning. Peter and Paul argued about whether non-Jewish converts to Christianity had to follow Jewish religious laws (see Galatians 2:11-14). Paul’s views ultimately prevailed. But that doesn’t mean we think any less of Peter as a Christian.

Jesus used harsh words to address the Pharisees as hypocrites, vipers, and even children of the devil. Yet a careful reading of the Gospels reveals that the Pharisees and Jesus agreed on more issues than they disagreed and that Jesus had friends among the Pharisees and even dined in their homes.

When human beings are involved, disagreements are inevitable, whether they occur among neighbors, in churches, in politics, or within families. The lesson from the Bible is not that believers should never disagree; instead it’s that the way we should approach disagreements is with a spirit of love, humility, and forgiveness.

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

comments powered by Disqus