Living as a Kingdom Community in Divided Times

I still remember the look on Matt Harvey’s face.

At the time, he was the managing editor of The Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram and I was a sports writer masquerading as a regional news writer. I had, recently, joined the news world after starting out as a sports reporter. I struggled with the transition of being a news hound and interacting with my news colleagues. Several sports newsrooms that I worked at were places where you could say almost anything, because, well … we write about sports. No one took our opinions that seriously.

That changed when I moved from the world of covering high school sports to that of political elections and county commission meetings. I found myself in a new environment where my words, both in print and in the newsroom, mattered more than I had recognized at my young and naive age. So, I said something that was common place in the sports world, but a personal foul in my new environment.

I made a derogatory comment about someone from a political party that was not my own. Harvey, who was just feet from me working at his desk, turned his chair around and gave me the look only those in the newsroom could understand. It was the look of I messed up, and I was going to learn a valuable lesson as a result. He said, and I am paraphrasing, “the other party buys newspapers, too.”

He turned around and went back to work. He said nothing else of the matter, but I learned my lesson.

It is a lesson that has stuck with me almost 17 years later. (Wait, did that really happen 17 years ago? I need to pause to reflect upon how fast the world is aging.) I tried to never make that mistake again, especially as I entered pastoral ministry. I never wanted to prevent myself from being approachable by someone who believes or votes differently than I do. That would go against who I have become and, also, the very nature of Christ who welcomes all to the table.

That understanding has led me to reflect upon how churches, and communities of faith, are never just one thing. In every church I have served, I have pastored to the most conservative of Republicans and the most progressive of Democrats. As well, I have pastored to those who claim no association with either party. I have sought to lead from my convictions that are formed through my faith in Christ, but to not allow the opinions and ideology of the world to define what it means, for me, to be faithful.

I will be honest and admit that has never been easy. Not for me. Not for a lot of pastors. Not for people who sit in our pews. In a society that is increasingly partisan and polarized, we have a hard time separating our political views from all aspects of life. As a result, we associate ourselves with only those who agree with us on our views. Our partisanship has created homogeneous communities where we only live, work, and pray with those who agree with us politically.

The consequence to that is we do not know anyone is not like us anymore. We’ve built walls around ourselves to where only those who agree with us are welcome inside and those who challenge our views are placed on the outside. That creates situations where we are unable to talk about common ground, build relationship, or, even, to understand why someone may take a different stance on an issue. Our our political discourse has created something that would be akin to professional wrestling.

Unfortunately, it has affected our conversations within the life of the church. We have lost the ability to share life with people we may have disagreements with and, at the same time, we have sought to create communities that “look like us” instead of looking like the reflection of God’s kingdom. Instead of creating community where all are welcomed to “come, taste, and see that the Lord is Good,” we have fostered a community that welcomes only those from a certain segment of the population that is more in alignment with our feelings and perspectives.

No where in Scripture, and especially within Jesus’ ministry, do we see that as a reflection of what the kingdom of God is to look like. We do not see a community of like-minded individuals coming together in opposition to those “not like them.” What we see forming through Jesus’ invitation to “come and see” is a community of people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives who have joined together to love God, grow in faith, and serve the Lord. Jesus’ initial followers included zealots, fishermen, tax collectors, rich, poor, religious leaders, and others. His was a diverse set of followers that sought to go where Jesus led them.

We cannot miss that in our ministry today. The essence of God’s kingdom is to welcome and invite to the table those who come from a vast array of backgrounds and perspectives, because we share a common purpose together: to love God, grow in faith, and serve the Lord. To miss that in an era of political division would be to miss what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ and, as well, the ongoing witness of his life and love.

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