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Our country is divided. Where will unity be found?

September 1, 2020 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

2020 has been a tough years in many ways, but one of the most recent causes for dismay has been the civil unrest we see all around us. Between politics, race relations, the relationship of citizens to the police and government, and many other arenas, there just seems to be division and strife everywhere we look. What should the church’s response be?

Certainly, the answer could probably fill a book. But let me share a few reflections on the unique role the church can play in bringing unity in the midst of so much division:

1) Emphasize that we are all members of the human race – A good deal of the current strife is over race relations. No doubt there is good reason for the anger and pain, for injustice and oppression almost always leads in that direction, and our country has a long history of both. But the tragedy of the world’s approach to solving this issue is that they want to bring about equality by emphasizing what divides us! They want to divide people into binary categories – black or white, straight or LGBTQ, male or female, rich or poor – and then use politics, education, or shame and guilt if necessary to level the playing field. I may be wrong, but I believe that any approach to equality that emphasizes what divides us is bound to fail. As followers of Jesus, we believe that every human being is made in the image of God, and therefore worthy of immense value. This is the only ground from which we can convincingly argue for human rights. Furthermore, we believe that every human being is descended from a common ancestor. The Bible does not talk about race; that concept is a human construct, created to divide and oppress people who do not look like those in power. I believe that the way forward is not going to be found in emphasizing the differences between people, but in emphasizing our common humanity and worth in the sight of God.

2) Remember that we are all sinners in need of a Savior – The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that although we are all made in the image of God, we are also broken by sin, so that we are not in right relationship with God, each other, nature, or even ourselves. Our hearts are so full of wickedness that we could do nothing to make ourselves right with God, and we are “incurvatus in se,” curved in on ourselves in self-centeredness and pride. We gain a sense of self-worth by looking down on others: those Marxist liberals or fascist conservatives, the bigoted people, the open-minded people, the rich, the poor, the lazy, the greedy, etc., etc. Half the country shakes their head wondering how anyone could support Donald Trump. The other half shouts at the other about the lunacy of supporting Joe Biden. And round and round we go until the whole country is in flames. But the gospel reminds us that our identity is found not in what we do or how we compare to others, but in God’s love for us: “while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This not only humbles us into realizing that we are no better than anyone else, but also gives us the power to love our neighbor, and even our enemy.

3) Join together in lament – As a pastor who speaks in public every Sunday, I know how powerful words can be. I struggle with how to support my African-American brothers and sisters who are angry and in pain, while also supporting my brothers and sisters who are police officers, who are also angry and in pain. Any statement in support of Jacob Blake or George Floyd can be interpreted as an attack on the police, while any statement in support of the police can be seen as a dismissal of the pain of the African-American community. The Bible, however, gives us language for such a time as this: lament, which is a prayer in pain that leads to trust. Even when we don’t fully understand what is happening or agree on who is to blame, we can still join together in lament. We can lament that we live in such a broken world. We can lament that there are people who are killed or profiled by some police officers. We can lament for the police officers who have to make split-second, life-changing decisions and live with the consequences the rest of their lives. We can lament for the victims of injustice and hatred. We can ask God for help, that His kingdom would come and His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. We can ask Him to work all things together for good for those who see no hope. And we can ask Him for the wisdom and courage that will be necessary to be the church which He intended for us to be, doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

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