A View from the Pew: Preserving the ‘Tie that Binds’ when Politics Divides

The church of my childhood left many indelible impressions, but none more than unifying act of baptism. To reinforce the communal nature of this sacred ritual, we traditionally closed the service with the singing of “Blest Be the Tie that Binds.” It was profound and beautiful.

In churches across the country today, the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love is threatened by the sharp edges of politics. This is even more true now that we have entered the presidential primaries leading to the 2020 election. The unity of the church has always faced many threats, and in this moment in our history, politics has become one of the most serious.

What’s a pew sitter to do when we arrive each Sunday for worship, our heads filled with the clamor of the week’s political sparring? How can we set aside political differences to extend the right hand of fellowship or greet each other with a holy kiss (metaphorically, given current coronavirus concerns)?

At a time when it would be easy to retreat into political factions, here are five suggestions for preserving fellowship in the face of political differences:

  1. Extend grace. When someone cuts us off in traffic, they are being reckless and selfish and displaying the fundamental belief that the rules do not apply to them. When we cut someone off in traffic, it’s because we have an urgent need to do so, a legitimate reason to pursue our own agenda that, if others knew about, they would understand. That’s how rationalization works. Now apply that approach to politics. People who hold different political views from you deserve the same level of grace you would expect from them. Rather than thinking less of them for holding a different view, simply think of them as your sibling and give them the grace to be who they are.
  2. Ask genuine questions of ourselves and others. I think often of one of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “seek first to understand then to be understood.” It has so many practical applications in family relationships, in the workplace, and definitely in church. The best way to have thoughtful dialogue with someone with whom you do not agree is to ask them earnest questions about their views and hear their responses without judgment. You may not change your mind about your position, but giving them an opportunity to voice their reasoning may change the way you see them. It’s also a good way to practice active listening skills.
  3. Focus on the shared act of worship. Admit it, you have walked into church recently, seen someone who recently posted something with which you disagreed politically to social media, and you avoided them or, worse, interacted with them in a phony politeness while secretly condemning them. The way to combat this distraction is to see everyone who has made the effort to come to church that day as a team member helping you achieve the task of worshipping God. Together, you and that person with whom you disagree have the shared work of lifting prayers, hymns, Scripture, and proclamation to the Lord as an offering of worship, and you need each other to accomplish it. Worship takes effort, and when you are focusing on political differences, you are making it harder.
  4. Fast from rancor. I remember in 2008-2009 when people first started taking a fast from social media during Lent. It felt a little overblown to me. Social media was just catching on, and it seemed as silly and antiquated to give it up as a religious practice as the Amish driving a horse and buggy rather than an automobile. Now? It seems like a great idea. So much of the division in our churches and in our country is driven by the content of social media that setting it aside for a period of time in order to focus on our relationship with God—and with others—seems like a common sense solution. If giving up social media for Lent is too great a sacrifice, you might find it more helpful to simply give it up on Sundays. That way you can have at least one day a week to see people as individuals and not a compilation of social media posts.
  5. Love your neighbor as yourself. I seem to recall that Jesus had some helpful advice on this topic that we would do well to remember in nearly all facets of our life. Loving others as we love ourselves is a difficult way to live. Our love brings about healing and understanding that allows us to stay in relationship. Jesus knew that love wins out over even the most violent disagreement. He extended forgiveness for those who crucified him while they were in the very act. As Christians, we profess to be followers of Christ’s example. Doing so with our love will preserve our ties in the face of divisive politics.

Regardless of whom you support in this year’s election, my prayer for you is that your relationships within your church are strengthened and you find a greater sense of community than ever before.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications.

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