Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel are curating “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!
by Jessica Tate
Early in its life, NEXT Church sensed a call to be a place within the Presbyterian Church (USA) where we could build bridges across the divisions in our lives and in our church. The divisions are many —
urban or rural or suburban or small town distinctions
larger churches, small churches
rich or poor or somewhere in between.
Our culture is one of increasing division. We see it writ large today as the final polls suggest a presidential election – and a country – fairly evenly (and often bitterly) divided across party lines.
As many of us go to the polls to shoulder part of our responsibility as citizens in a democracy, the 1946 Book of Common Worship for the Presbyterian Church in the United States offers this prayer:
Almighty God, who dost hold us to account for the use of all our powers and privileges: Guide, we pray Thee, the people of these United States in the election of their rulers and representatives; that by wise legislation and faithful administration the rights of all may be protected, and our nation be enabled to fulfill Thy purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Does our vote — the best of each person’s wisdom, experience, conscience, and faith teachings — count? Yes.
Does it matter who wins today? Yes.
Will the next president and city council member and senator and school board member enact laws and policies and nominations that will effect our daily lives and the lives of our fellow citizens? Yes.
Will winning or losing mean life as we know it is over? No.
The reality is that regardless of how the votes turn out, we still have to live together on November 9th and 10th and 11th and into December and January and through the next year and the year after that.
The division and anger we have seen around this presidential election is significant. We have been quick to demonize the other candidate, the other party, the other supporters, the other voters. And yet, truly, there is no them. There is only us.
At Montreat Conference Center a few weeks ago, Melissa Harris Perry quoted Maya Angelou saying, “You can never say of other people that they are monsters. Anything that another human can do, you can do. We are all capable of greatness and of horror.”
That sounds familiar. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Against that backdrop of human goodness and sinfulness – our capacity for greatness and horror – Jesus commands us to love our neighbor. Indeed, Jesus commands us to love our enemies. My friend and colleague Don Meeks says be very careful who you label an enemy, because the second you call someone an enemy, you are compelled to love that person.
I pray that on November 9th and 10th and 11th and into December and January and beyond, the church will help us find a way forward as a country and as communities. We are well poised to do this — not only because of our Lord’s command to love one another — but because of the kind of community we are called to be.
For the church gathers NOT around a particular issue that aligns with a particular political agenda, but around a foundational belief in the transformative power of God who has the power to transform us individually and collectively.
We gather NOT out of convenience or likeminded-ness, but because of a deep commitment that we belong to each other – that our salvation is bound up in the salvation of others.
We gather NOT around identity politics or ideology or age. Rather, we’re one of the last places in our society where people gather across generations and differences and seek to create together the beloved community.
We gather NOT as a social club or professional organization, but as a people who are seeking to know and follow Christ in our daily lives.
Go vote today. And in the days ahead let us commit ourselves to the long, slow work of loving our neighbors and loving our enemies and seeking together the common good for the sake of Christ who was sent because God so loved this world.
Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church. She lives in Washington, DC.