By simply watching the news or keeping up with current events, it becomes obvious that ours is a nation of dichotomies. From the very beginning our society has been divided into “for” and “against,” or “pro” and “anti” camps. My political science professor in college believed this to be a main reason why political third parties have such difficulty gaining traction. The revolutionary generation was split into Loyalists (pro-British or anti-independence) and Patriots (anti-British or pro-independence). Once our freedom was won, citizens were again divided into Federalist (for ratifying the Constitution) and Anti-Federalist (against ratifying the Constitution) factions. The “for” or “against” dichotomy is alive and well in today’s political rhetoric as groups are labeled “pro” this or “anti” that.
As a Christian, society strives to pull me into one camp or the other. Convictions, philosophy, or faith might tempt me to sympathize with one group. It is in these times when it is most imperative that I remember my true calling as a Christian – to love each and every person as Jesus does. We might think that one side is more in keeping with our beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus loves the people on the other side any less than he loves us. Perhaps one reason why our world is so divisive is because we have yet to fully learn how to be against the ideas of others, without being against the people themselves. As Scripture reminds us, ours is not a struggle against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12). We struggle to find a way to love our country, without endorsing its injustices. We find it difficult to keep political, ideological, or even religious opponents from becoming personal enemies. I would suggest that this is nothing new, and because the challenge is in fact a very old one, perhaps we can find examples of how we might navigate our cultural dichotomies successfully in a way that glorifies Christ.
Paul was familiar with the challenge of competing cultural identities. He was a citizen of Rome, and yet his Jewish faith kept his heart in Jerusalem. He says as much in his letter to the Philippians:
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. (Phil 3:4-7 ESV)
Paul’s pride in his heritage could have easily become a source of division. It could have caused him to look down on others, if not for the fact that “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Therein lies the key. It is okay to love ones country, so long as we love Christ more. It is okay to vote for Republican or Democrat leaders, so long as we remember that Jesus is King. We can have opinions, be passionate about things, and even take sides, so long as doing so doesn’t compromise our ability to promote Jesus’s agenda above all others.
I had a youth minister who taught me that Jesus is not the first thing on our list of what’s important; he is the only thing. If Jesus is simply #1 on my list, there will always be things sitting at #2 or #3 that threaten the supremacy of Christ in my life. If, however, I see everything as a means by which to glorify Christ, I am free to look at life differently. By subjugating all other agendas to the agenda of Jesus, we transform cultural battlefields into opportunities to serve others in the name of Christ. Paul once wrote to the church in Corinth:
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Cor 9:19-23)
He was willing to emphasize, or de-emphasize, his national identity if it made it easier to reach people with the gospel. Can we say the same? Are we willing to forget about being American, Mexican, French, or Iraqi? Are we willing to put aside being a Republican or Democrat? Are we vigilant in preventing our material wealth from become a barrier that keeps us from reaching the poor? Are we willing to de-emphasize aspects of our identity, not because we don’t love those things, but because we love Jesus more? The world keeps telling me to pick a side, to decide what I am for. Well, I side with Jesus, the only person who has ever truly been “for” everyone.
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
Justin Simmons has served as minister for the Glenmora Church of Christ in central Louisiana since 2011. Previously he studied at the University of South Carolina (BA, MA), and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University (MDiv). He is blessed to call Melissa his wife, and has three wonderful step-children. He enjoys reading about history and practical theology, listening to Gregorian chants, and passionately following Braves baseball and Gamecock sports.