This is a picture that gives me hope. It’s from a few years ago in Ukraine. The nation was fiercely divided along political and cultural lines. Violence had broken out between anti-Russian protestors and the Russian-aligned government. People were dying in the streets.
Into this violence, the Church tried to act as a mediator. Above, what you see is a Ukrainian Orthodox priest. He has put his body between the government para-military police and the protestors. The implicit statement is “if you’re going to kill each other, you’ll have to kill me first.” This wasn’t the only priest who did that. A quick google search will bring up numerous images like this.
Does this mean that the priest was politically neutral, that he didn’t have any opinions about the arguments? The answer is a strong “no.” The Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox Churches don’t get along politically. The Russian Orthodox Church is aligned with Putin. The Ukrainian Orthodox oppose the Russian invasion of their country. The priest in that picture most likely has a side he agrees with more than the other.
However, that priest knows that the Gospel transcends political and cultural beliefs. Even in a nation that is so divided, he takes the position of peace over violence, of love over hate. The Church, and church members, can have opinions. But they can’t go to war over these opinions. They must see the true humanity of all people, and put Christ first in every instance.
I thank God that our nation is not in the same situation as Ukraine. However, I recognize that we are bitterly divided. These divisions seem to have increased recently, with the situation around the Supreme Court nominee. With mid-term elections coming soon, I expect the tension will only increase.
The rhetoric on both sides is out of control. Whether you’re “Blue” or “Red” is no longer about your opinion on the size of government (as it used to be). Rather, it seems to be about everything. Even things like where you shop, where you eat, what brands you buy, and what sports team you back can have Blue Vs. Red connotations. In these last couple of weeks, they’ve even made your feelings around sexual assault and false accusations part of political conflict. The political establishment is making you choose: which do you hate more, sexual assault or false accusations? What a ridiculous and incendiary false-choice!
As your pastor, I’m writing today to speak the Gospel to all of us. I have some thoughts I’d like to put forward as we try to live in this tension.
Pray for your country. Pray for our President, our Congress, and our Courts. Pray for state and local government. Pray for our culture, our military, our media, our immigrants, our economy, the poor, the imprisoned, and all who steer the country in terms of values. Pray for the Church, that she would not be divided. Pray for your friends and family members, that there may be peace between all people.
Have your political opinions. Seriously, you have the right to your opinions. You also have the right to voice them. Remember that other people have the same right.
Challenge your own opinion. Where does your opinion match up with Scripture or the teachings of the Church. How does Jesus inform your opinion? Be humble enough to change your mind to match your faith.
Because someone has a different opinion, they are not your enemy. They aren’t stupid, heartless, or evil. They are likely a normal person, a sinner, just like you. They may well be someone who loves Jesus, someone you’ll live with forever in Heaven. Treat them as you would like to be treated, remembering Jesus words to “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” and “do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Don’t give in to Group-Think. Blue and Red seem to have laid claim to everything. But that’s silly. For instance, ideas about healthcare, guns, abortion, and global warming have nothing to do with each other. Why can’t you be for universal healthcare, for open-carry, pro-life, and worried about global warming? But, in this climate, you have to swallow everything from your “team.” Don’t do it.
Don’t let the Culture War consume your imagination. Think about other things (Philippians 4:8). Turn off the TV, or at least switch from Fox/CNN/MSNBC to the Nature Chanel or HGTV or something. Go outside. Read your Bible, or a novel, or poetry. Spend time with friends. Pet a dog. Turn off talk radio and listen to music. I’m not saying “don’t be informed.” I’m saying “get information, and then live a good life.”
Put Christ First. Like the priest in that picture, don’t let your “team” beat out our God for your affection. Stand up to violence, hate, and bullying. Defend the weak. Love your enemy.
Christians should be like the priest in that picture. He’s a person with his own opinions, language, culture, and political ideas. But he’s a Christian first. He’s willing to stand between combatants and say “this is not the way.”
Can you imagine if the Church stopped fighting for Red or Blue, and instead strove for healing and peace? Can you imagine if we didn’t support politicians, but instead backed Gospel-aligned policies? Can you imagine us as people of peace, people who are known not by our team color but by our love for one another? That’s the Church I long for, and I’m willing to be that kind of Christian. I hope you are, too. So pray for me, and for all of us, that we might live that life.
The Reverend Thomas McKenzie, Obl.S.B.
Pastor, Church of the Redeemer, Nashville