…in a nation that is becoming increasingly divided politically, the church must set the example of unity, respect, and love in our culture. Our witness to the gospel depends on it.
By Christine McParland
Recently my small group had an impromptu discussion about politics that pleasantly surprised me. After praying and worshiping together online, our conversation veered in a controversial direction: the government’s developing pandemic restrictions. One of the group members candidly asked the others where they stood politically so he could better understand where everyone was coming from. Oh boy, here we go, I thought to myself. One by one, each member shared their perspective, ranging from political parties to preferred news outlets.
While we shared many commonalities, there were enough differences to spark debate. Yet after everyone had their say, our group dynamic retained the same friendliness and respect from the beginning of our conversation, as if we had never talked politics. Except we had. I was not only relieved that we had avoided contention but also encouraged to see that this kind of dialogue was possible among Christians. If only all political conversations could be like this.
Most of us would rather dodge uncomfortable conversations than address the political issues dividing our country. Why should we care about talking politics as Christians? What difference does it make if we can’t change anyone’s minds (or the election results)?
It matters because in a nation that is becoming increasingly divided politically, the church must set the example of unity, respect, and love. Our witness to the gospel depends on it.
Just hours before he was crucified, Jesus prayed for the unity of his church:
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” John 17:20-21, NKJV
That they may all be one. . . that the world may believe. . . More than being a nice “extra,” Christian unity is critical to the credibility of the gospel, especially in the eyes of the world. If we allow politics to divide us, we risk compromising the integrity and authority of the Church’s witness. Our spiritual enemy knows that if he can divide and distract us with bitter conflict over matters like politics, he can hinder our mission to share the gospel. Conversely, if we demonstrate Christian unity, he knows our testimony will be difficult to refute.
It’s important to remember that Christian unity doesn’t necessarily mean Christian uniformity. We can (and will) still disagree about a lot of things, including our political views. But because Christian unity goes deeper than any worldly commonality we could ever share, it transcends our disagreements. Christian unity depends not on how we vote but on a mutual commitment to follow Christ in obedience, love, and the pursuit of righteousness and justice. Can you imagine the impact on our nation and the world if the church was truly and fully united? What an undeniable, unstoppable, and unconquerable witness to the transforming power of the gospel!
Before writing this off as overly idealistic, consider your own role in this global mission to promote Christian unity. While you’re not responsible for the words or actions of other believers, you are responsible for your interactions with them, including during political discussions. Here are some principles to help you talk politics with other Christians in a way that honors God and fosters unity.
1. Know what you believe and why you believe it, and don’t be afraid to honestly share your political views.
“Don’t talk politics” is a popular maxim, but learning to engage in healthy dialogue sometimes requires us to talk about challenging and uncomfortable topics. If someone asks about your political views, take advantage of the opportunity to foster understanding by sharing your perspective honestly. Scripture advises us in 1 Peter 3:15-16 to “always be ready” to gently and respectfully explain our hope in the gospel, but this principle is also a helpful guideline for communicating other convictions, including political ones.
Before you share your opinion, however, make sure you first understand your own position from a biblical perspective. Why do you align (or not align) with a political party, or why do you support one side of a specific issue? Which biblical principles guide your political convictions? If you haven’t taken the time to consider the convictions underlying your view of what’s best for our country, consider this your homework assignment!
Why? Because the more grounded you are in your convictions, the less susceptible you are to your emotions getting the better of you and negatively influencing the conversation. Knowing what you believe and why empowers you to calmly consider different viewpoints without feeling threatened or becoming defensive. And when you share the biblical support behind your position, you can encourage dialogue with other Christians on the common belief in the authority of Scripture. Or, you can open up important conversations with non-believers about why the Bible shapes your thinking, including your political views.
2. Seek to understand where others are coming from (especially if they don’t agree with you).
A biblical formula for healthy conversations is found in the book of James: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (1:19). Show your intention to understand others by first listening to them before jumping in with your own view. Even if their viewpoints oppose your convictions, have the humility to realize you’re unlikely to change their minds by debating or arguing. Instead, pray that the Holy Spirit would guide their convictions and lead them “into all truth”—and be willing to allow the same Spirit to lead you as well (see John 16:13).
When you find yourself at odds with another’s political views, beware of making snap judgments. Instead, find out what they believe and why. Set aside your own viewpoints for the moment and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Don’t worry—you don’t need to compromise your own convictions. You’re just being a good listener! When you get to know others’ hearts, you may be surprised to find that you still share similar convictions, even when you have different conclusions on how they should play out in the political arena.
3. “Let love be your highest goal!” (1 Corinthians 14:1 NLT)
When having difficult conversations as Christians, it’s more important to love than to be right (or to convince the other person that you’re right). If others see that love is your driving motivation, they will feel safer and be more open to discussing politics when it comes up. Whether or not you agree in the end, how you handle the conversation directly impacts your unity as brothers and sisters in Christ—and thus the church’s witness to a world in desperate need of healing and hope.
Let’s not become blinded to our spiritual enemy’s attacks to divide the church in America when our country needs us most. Instead, let’s demonstrate the radical hope of the gospel by pursuing Christian unity through respectful conversations and love for neighbor. Regardless of the election outcome, the United States (and the rest of the world) will continue to face dark and challenging times ahead. Now more than ever, the church must stand strong, uncompromising in her commitment to unity and her witness to the gospel. Our trust is not in any single politician, policy, or party platform, but in the good news of Jesus Christ. The gospel alone always has been—and ever will be—the hope of the world.