A brief note as we wind down, over the next week, our series on whether or not Christians ought to vote. (I say "we." Who is we? Make yourselves known, readers!) I realized in writing the last post how exasperatingly partisan such a discussion is. I as the writer can present any argument I choose, in the precise way that I choose -- as if I don't already have a dog in the fight! And some of the propositions and arguments presented are such doggedly divisive issues that I wanted a peaceable disclaimer before we continue.
Christians cannot hate each other. Yet through words or actions, Christians often do hate each other. In a society as polarized as any in the world, Christians must be a people who model peaceable conflict. I am speaking on a macro level, but, as Wendell Berry would remind us, big problems will never be solved by big solutions; big solutions are usually the cause of big problems. The only answer can be local: you and I, on the ground, living as neighbors of the same community, working out the hard mundane realities of daily life through the small works of mercy that make such life possible and good.
Thus, I am not asking for "the" church in America -- millions of racially and socioeconomically diverse people belonging to innumerable denominations -- to "just get along." I am asking that in our conversations with friends and enemies alike, day to day, and in "virtual" conversations such as on this blog, we be gracious to one another. I have mentioned hospitality before; hospitality is not merely casseroles at church (though it certainly is that!). It is providing and maintaining and endlessly generating the space for people who are different and who disagree to be in relationship with one another. And that is a primary calling for the church today.
So when we talk about something as contentious as voting, or politics, or violence, or patriotism, let's remember that calling. The world has never been anything other than pluralistic; we've merely not noticed or named it until recently. Israel lived in a land of other gods, and the church arose in the great empire of Rome. God's people are called in the midst of their context and are expected to have deeply rooted convictions with which neighbors will disagree. Not only that, but we have been given in Scripture a witness to the ways in which God's people ought to go about disagreement "in the family." Some of the names we have been given for such disagreement are confession, forgiveness, reconciliation, and grace. We confess our sins to God and to one another; as God has forgiven us in Christ, so in Christ we forgive one another; as we have been reconciled to God through Christ, so we have been reconciled to one another through Christ; just as God, in his great love, has shown his grace to us in Christ, so we are gracious to one another. This is how God calls his people to act: as I am gracious, so you are to be gracious; as I forgive, you forgive.
Therefore we remember that it is okay to disagree. How could we not! A conflict-free marriage would be disastrous -- are these people, or robots? Or even between humans and God -- the relationship offered between Israel and Yahweh in the Old Testament is one of disputation, disagreement, wrestling, not impersonal piety or mindlessness. Read the Psalms! God seems able to handle the worst that we have to offer, even to invite it, because he wants all of us.
So in community we learn to practice dispute divorced from hostility. That is, we learn to forgive. We learn not to question others' motives or character. We learn to see others as human beings, made in the image of God, persons for whom Christ died. We learn to allow their arguments and convictions to be worthwhile, honorable, respectable. We learn to love them for all of their beliefs, good or bad or naive or overwrought. We learn to be in relationship without needing down-the-line agreement.
We learn to be hospitable.
Even so, we learn to listen with an open mind without abandoning our own deep convictions. I am a pacifist, my neighbor a just warrior; can we be friends? brothers? fellow Christians? Can we sit in the same pew together, pray together, live together? Can we discuss politics and war and church and the Bible without killing each other? That may sound like hyperbole, but it is the historical record of the church. We kill each other for such disagreements, and lesser ones.
So in a world where religious violence, on all levels, threatens order and peace, can we be God's peaceable people? In small ways, in local ways, on the ground and with our neighbors, can we disagree on serious matters with grace? Can we speak, and listen, and be in relationship, without forfeiting our convictions?
That is my question, my call, and my request for us as we continue.