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Unity in Divisive Times

Unity in Divisive Times

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Most of us have that one relative we really hope doesn’t show up for Thanksgiving dinner or the next family wedding. You know, the one who assumes everybody wants to hear his or her side of everything. Or maybe we’ve been that relative, made Grandma furious with us, and regretted it afterward.

Lately, it’s not just that relative causing problems. COVID-19, the upcoming presidential election, racial tensions, and 2020 in general have divided formerly close families and friends. Recently, a friend shared on social media her discouragement at being rejected by her family for her political views. In addition to raising even more volatile political questions, making the discord public escalated an already uncomfortable situation in a family where most members claim to follow Christ.

The situation is not new. Some families have been divided for years over certain issues, with both sides quoting Scripture. Racial tensions and division have challenged the Church for decades; denominations that split over viewpoints are now scrambling to mend the divide. In one of the darkest times of U.S. history, the Civil War literally divided families. Documented stories describe soldiers ordered to capture or kill an opposing soldier who was a family member or friend, or face execution themselves for failure to follow orders.

Tensions have run high during the past several months. Social media platforms spew vitriolic opinions as families, communities, and yes, churches, disagree on how schools should open, whether or how to hold special events, and if a vaccine will be effective or dangerous. Racial and social tensions have resulted in protests. And don’t forget the approaching presidential election.

As the body of Christ, we must do better.

Psalm 133 says it is good for God’s people to dwell in unity. Several New Testament passages, including Ephesians 4, call for unity among God’s people. The Bible doesn’t promise achieving unity will be easy, but on the other hand, if it wasn’t possible, God wouldn’t command it. And because God expects it, Satan hates it.

Upon close examination, much of the current discord stems from a lie: The enemy wants us to believe there are only two possible choices in any given situation. And if the other person doesn’t see it the way we do, he or she is clearly and entirely wrong. With social media, a takedown of the opponent is just keystrokes away.

In fact, this perception is a logical fallacy, known as a false dilemma. Rarely do these matters concern verifiable logical fact — if A is, then B can’t be. If my truck is blue, it can’t be red, and I can see that by looking. Not so with many of today’s dilemmas. Their intent is to divide people and distract them from seeking solutions — or more importantly, seeking God.

Leading the Israelites into Canaan, Joshua made this same fallacious mistake. Seeing an angel with a drawn sword, he wanted to know, “Are you for us, or for our enemies?” It seems a reasonable question. It would be awesome to have such an imposing figure on Israel’s side; on the other hand, if the imposing figure was an enemy, he had the drop on Joshua and key intel on the Israelite army. There was, however, a third option: “Neither,” the angel replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come” (Joshua 5:13–14).

This was Joshua’s strong cue to fall on his face and seek God, and the same is true for us. It is easy to quote “If my people . . . humble themselves and pray . . . I will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14), but harder to refrain from telling God exactly how he should do it. A Christian family, or an entire congregation, arguing about the details of COVID-19 or political platforms, is a poor witness, a distraction to the cause of Christ, and a clear violation of Scripture. Rather, we must seek God about how to respond. Joshua got it right. He inquired what God’s message was, so he could obey. God knows the truth about every situation, and we are assured that truth, righteousness, and justice will prevail. Our job is to seek Him, and to lead accordingly in our circle of influence.

We may not agree on how to vote in November, but should we go all-out to prove others wrong, making everyone miserable? Or can we humbly suggest that we all seek God, even if it means considering new possibilities as we pray together? Can we carefully examine the platform of our preferred candidates in the light of Scripture, be willing to admit when it doesn’t line up, and seek God’s direction? As we search for solutions for our families and schools, can we have discussions with Christian friends in a gracious way, being “quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19)?

If not, why should non-Christians be interested in hearing the gospel by which we claim to live? The Great Commission hasn’t changed. John’s first epistle tells us that Christians should be known by their love. Let’s be sure that our interactions during chaotic times are no exception.

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