A Christian alternative to polarization

February 12th, 2020

For three days in an Airbnb rental in a cozy Atlanta neighborhood, my team and I took a spiritual retreat. Nine of us worshipped together, laughed and played together, ate meals together, envisioned the coming year together and worked on some detailed processes together.

We built team spirit, shared organizational knowledge and strengthened our commitment to a shared vision of the future.

But that’s not all we did. We also complained. And contributed to polarization.

I wish I could tell you that we were high-minded the entire time we were together. But the truth is, we weren’t. We met in the middle of the impeachment process. We spent some time worrying and wondering out loud how things had gotten to this point. Worrying and wondering quickly devolved into complaining. Complaining led to polarization. That is, until one person piped up and said, “Hey people! it’s time to either take action or be quiet.”

I wonder if that’s what happened in Jesus’ day as well. After all, he lived in a time of religious and political polarization. Sadducees and Pharisees didn’t have much love for each other: they disagreed on matters of faith, culture, biblical interpretation and relations with Rome. Neither group saw eye to eye with the Zealots or the Essenes. Each of the four parties related differently to the Temple and envisioned different futures for the Jewish people. Independent folks not aligned with any Jewish party were often overlooked. Overall, folks were upset, torn and afraid.

In the midst of it all, Jesus stood apart from the prognosticators of his day. He didn’t align fully with the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Zealots or the Essenes. While he borrowed from the wisdom of each group, he kept his own counsel. Instead of following prescribed party lines, Jesus lifted up a vision for the future that transcended any of the narratives of the day. That’s why he could have such a diverse following. His “tribe” included a tax collector, Pharisees, independents, Zealots and Temple authorities. Even Romans and non-Jews.

How did he do it? His kingdom of God vision preferenced ethics over politics. Consider his various teaching. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Whatever you have done unto the least of these, you have done unto me. Judge not lest you be judged.

With Jesus at the helm, the apostles didn’t, couldn’t, sit around and complain. They had to move into action.

My team and I took a hint from our team member, and from Jesus, and moved from complaint to accountable actions, from partisan polarization to Kingdom ethics. Organized around Micah 6:8 (NIV) — ”He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” — I want to share with you some of the actions members our diverse team have committed to:

Act justly

  • Participate with Justice for our Neighbors, a United Methodist organization that works with immigrants and immigration issues 
  • Register with Vote Run Lead, an organization that trains women for public office 
  • Talk with members of the local community to see where justice is needed 
  • Open up home on weekends for local organizing and voter turnout activity 
  • Volunteer with Solidarity Now to advocate for children’s rights at the Mexican border 
  • Make sure adult children are registered to vote 

Love mercy

  • Teach daughters to name three gratitudes daily 
  • Family check-in on how each member served or helped another human being each day 
  • Raise justice concerns to the congregation and to elected officials 
  • Speak up about cancerous “isms” and how they reinforce injustice 

Walk humbly with your God

  • Pray to love those whose views/beliefs differ 
  • Pray for the president 
  • Pray for the Senate and House of Representatives 
  • Pray for the nation daily 
  • Pray for one’s own soul 

Partisan politics is a spectator sport, a blood sport, in which there is actually very little personal participation. Like football, the spectators react to the players on the field, but risk very little personally.

Kingdom ethics, on the other hand, requires personal involvement and the opening of one’s heart, mind and soul — and sometimes even home — to connect with people who are very different. Kingdom ethics strengthen the whole. If it’s us versus them, then it’s not the Kingdom.

When polarization wins, we all lose. There is a Christian alternative. 

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