After the events in Charlottesville, VA last week, I, like many others, have been brought face to face with American culture. It seems certain now that it is not just the professional politicians who are biased, partisan, and self seeking. In short: our society is divided. With individuals of the “left” and “right” ideologies becoming more firmly entrenched and defensive of their own views, it is harder to maintain hope of compromise and cooperation. People from all schools of thought are playing the “blame game,” much like Adam and Eve did after God confronted them about eating the forbidden fruit (Gen 3:8-13). On of the most common critiques I have seen about our president is his failure to blame the right people. While people in error always need to take responsibility, spending too much time looking for culprits can blind us to finding a solution to the deeper causes of problems.
This blaming is actually hiding the fact that our society is actually united–by mutual hatred. Many today are driven more by what they oppose than what they favor. This played out in a big way in the recent presidential election. I know numerous individuals who voted not for a certain candidate, but in opposition to the other party. If our oppositions are to be what defines us, how will we reach cooperation? The church has a crucial role to play in this enterprise.
There was a letter written in the second century C.E. to a certain Diogenes that contains a wonderful description of what it means to be a Christian. The letter-writer claims that although Christians are “residents at home in their own countries, their behaviour is more like that of transients [i.e. resident aliens] . . . their days are passed on earth, but their citizenship is above in the heavens” (Ep. to Diog. 5). In other words, authentic Christians are like foreigners, even in their own cultures and nationalities. The church is called to be counter-cultural, which, concretely, means it is to be counter-American. This is more than a call to be oppositional, though, such as in ways that churches stand up in opposition to abortion or other issues (although these things are important). The church must avoid the temptation to define itself solely by what aspects of American culture it rejects. Rather, it must transcend this tendency and become a truly alternative Christian culture.
The church is called to be a society united by mutual love–as opposed to mutual opposition, or even hatred. The church, gathered together by God, is the people who have heeded Jesus’ call to repentance. It is not a collection of like-minded individuals, as an alternative group rather than “leftists” or the “alt-right.” To the extent that the church splits into factions that reflect political loyalties, it fails to fulfill its prophetic call. The church must reflect the group of original apostles who gathered around Jesus. These men came from all social and economic strata of their society, and widely differed in political views. The group even included Zealots–those who were willing to commit acts of violence for their views. Jesus transformed all of these people into proclaimers of God’s kingdom. To quote Paul, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
Yes, it is difficult to love those who stand for hatred, but this is where Jesus’ call to love our enemies really matters. When the world sees the church seeking to understand and love–as well as call to repentance and transformation–those most difficult to love, it will be clear that God is very much active in the world. The church is where individuals are united despite and above their political and social views. Everyone in it is humbled before God and on a mutual journey to imitate Christ. To reach a nation united in hate, Christians must publicly and authentically demonstrate an alternative kind of culture–one united in love, mutual concern, and compassion.