Who is Your Neighbor?

By Jon Carlson

“Fixating on differences leads us to ignore glaring commonalities.”

– Christena Cleveland

Photo by Ljupco / istockphoto.com

Do you picture Jesus as liberal or conservative? Put another way, do you assume that Jesus more or less agrees with your political views?

What would change in your relationship with Jesus if you learned that he disagreed—either subtly or substantially—with your politics? You might hope you would try to align your politics to his, but suppose you hit upon an irreconcilable difference. If you and Jesus cast your votes in opposite directions, how would it shape your relationship?

We might not think of Jesus in quite such blatantly political terms, supporting or opposing this or that policy, but if Jesus wants Christians to have the same love relationship with each other that we do with Him, then the impact of partisan politics on our relationships matters.

…if Jesus wants Christians to have the same love relationship with each other that we do with Him, then the impact of partisan politics on our relationships matters.

Political differences go beyond questions of policy ideas. Modern politics tap into deep (but often subconscious) questions of identity, loyalty, and belonging. Politics becomes tribal, impacting our relational wholeness, inviting us to divide the world into “us” and “them.” We can struggle to recognize each other as brother or sister when we’re so consumed by thinking in terms of Republican and Democrat.

Shanto Iyengar, director of Stanford University’s political communications lab, sums up recent sociological research into political polarization this way: “Political identity is fair game for hatred.”

For Christians, this is a big problem.

In Scripture, we see that Jesus desires for his followers—those who consider themselves “Christians”—to experience the same relational wholeness that Jesus experiences within the Trinity. “The glory that you have given me I have given them,” Jesus prays in John 17, “so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.”

Given that 70% or more of Americans identify as Christians, the intense rhetoric—even hatred—surrounding political differences should give us pause. How are we living into Christ’s desire for “oneness” when we’re fixating on our political differences? If we aren’t thoughtful and careful in our political engagement, politics may diminish our unity in Christ and damage our witness to the world.

Our politics don’t reveal the truth of Christ to the world; our deep and abiding love for one another does.

Reflect:

  1. Does imaging Jesus as a liberal or conservative frighten you? Why or why not?
  2. Where have you seen Christian unity obscured by political differences?

Jon Carlson serves as Lead Pastor of Forest Hills Mennonite Church outside of Lancaster, PA. Jon and his wife, Lyn, are raising three kids who seem to have endless supplies of energy. Follow on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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