When my husband and I were newlyweds, our fancy cooking gear from our registry did not make me an expert in the kitchen. I remember one time when I quickly washed our Calphalon wok, leaving behind some splashes of water. I then proceeded to pour vegetable oil into the wok and turn the heat on high. Four years later, all the scrubbing in the world could not remove from the ceiling all the giant oil stains caused by the explosion. Lesson learned. The expression “oil and water” made perfect sense to me now.
Unfortunately, some of my favorite Christian people, if put in the same room together, could have the exact same effect as my cooking experiment.
Can We Love Each Other?
As a campus staff member with InterVarsity, I have worked at some of the country’s most politically liberal campuses. When we lived in another state, my family and I also worshipped consistently with a politically conservative denomination. I love my friends from that conservative church and I love my Christian college students who come with a liberal arts perspective, but I’m not sure they would love one another if in the same room together.
I worry about our tendency to find comfort in politically homogeneous groups of Christians, while scoffing at Christians of other political mindsets. We often define ourselves by our political persuasion above our Christian identity. We attach a label—conservative Christian, liberal Christian, Democrat and Christian, Republican and Christian. These labels may not cause an issue if we did not use them to define ourselves in opposition to other Christians.
I wish it were fewer times that I have heard the issue of salvation brought up in the context of politics. At one church I have attended, my pastor had to preach a sermon, stating, “Yes, there are Christian Democrats.” I find myself also needing to remind liberal Christian college students that God does not give them the green light to write off conservative Christians just because their political beliefs are “a turn off” to their peers. We belong together and we have to hold that truth with integrity in every area of our lives, which means no bad-mouthing, undermining, or acting superior.
The danger of these labels on both sides is that we end up pitting ourselves against other Christians, seeing our political identity as more defining that our shared identity in Christ. Instead, we need to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially when they are opposite of us. Our bond in Christ is that strong. Paul goes to great pains to make the point to the Galatians that, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”(3:28) The same goes for whatever categories we use to separate ourselves from other believers in this day and age.
We can scratch our head and wonder how our family can be so diverse, but we need to recognize our common bond in Christ and our shared identity. In Ephesians Paul tells us, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”(2:14) Our relationship with Christ may draw us to a particular political persuasion, but if it turns us against faithful brothers and sisters who are also doing their best to live out their persuasions, then we are counterproductive. There is no room for hostility when we have been made one.