God’s people in a divided world

This year, over 60 countries are conducting elections. It’s said to be a global record, more elections this year than in any other year in history, around 2 billion people going to the polling booths.

It’s also said that we’ve never experienced a period of greater political polarisation. People hold their political views often with religious zeal, sometimes with destructive effects. We struggle to listen carefully to opposing positions and make room for different perspectives. As political battle lines are drawn, the result is an environment of high uncertainty and anxiety.

In his book, The Spirt of our Politics, Michael Wear describes the challenge of modern politics, especially in the US, as being more like leukemia than appendicitis. We say to ourselves, “If only we just cut out our political opponents, then our politics will operate properly.” However, the problem is far more systematic, rather than solved simply by cutting out our opponents. 

Drawing on wide research, Wear describes the character of political polarization today as having three main ingredients. There’s aversion: we tend to dislike and distrust people of differing political views. Then there’s othering: we place opposing people and groups outside the boundaries of normal human community. Thirdly, there’s moralisation: we elevate political disagreement to the level of iniquity, our political stands are about dogma and the fight between good and evil.

Jesus is Lord: we live for him above anything or anyone else

So, as Christians, how do we navigate these times of political polarization and anxiety? Whilst there’s much that can be said, let me make three brief observations from Paul’s letter to the Romans. 

First, God has set earthly powers in authority over us. He is sovereign over all powers and calls us to be subject to them, to treat them with honour and respect (Rom. 13:1-7). We’re to pray for governments and those in authority over us and seek to live peaceful lives (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Second, we need to be careful not to quarrel about disputable matters (Rom. 14:1). Deciding on the merits of respective political platforms requires Christians to understand and weigh different (and often competing) factors: which policies matter more than others? How much do I balance a leader’s character versus their policies? Making conclusions is complex, and therefore, disputable. Paul argues that we must be careful not to treat with contempt other Christians with whom we disagree (Rom. 14:3, 10).

Thirdly, Jesus is Lord: we live for him above anything or anyone else (Rom. 14:7-12). Worshipping Jesus as our Lord is inherently a political statement because he is our King. We owe him our utmost allegiance. Everything else is secondary. Therefore, we don’t break the unity we have in Jesus over politics. Two of Jesus’ disciples, Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector, would have come from opposing political camps, but they were united in their love for Jesus.

When we engage with the world around us, we take as our example how Jesus relates to us. He is the crucified Lord, who saves us by grace, and rules through humble service. Therefore, we relate to others by grace, loving all people, including our enemies. We engage with people, even those with whom we have political differences with respect, hospitality, and peace.