The Third Way and US Politics

Talking about politics?

The general focus here at the Third Way Newsletter is often on issues of gender and sexuality and the Church. That makes a lot of sense given that questions and contentions about sexuality and gender seem to fuel much of the disagreement, debate, and disunity within the church in the global West, and particularly the United States today; LGBTQ+ concerns are the experimentum crucis for a Romans 14, Third Way of dealing with debatable matters in the Church today. Recently though (and I am embarrassed that it has taken me so long to notice) it occurred to me that this year, the church in the US seems to be contending nearly as much around the issue of politics.

Now historically (at least in recent history), I would argue that political disagreement within the US Church has mapped fairly easily onto the larger, pre-existing denominational and identity divides. White Evangelicals vote Republican ever since the rise of the moral majority, historically black churches trend Democrat, mainline Protestants have largely followed their geographical demographics with a bit of a tendency towards the Democrats, Anabaptists and Quakers don’t vote (or secretly vote but don’t talk about it), and Catholics have their own liberal/conservative theological divide which generally maps onto a Democrat/Republican political affiliation. Of course there have been exceptions which have been more or less notable, and in the last few American elections, millennial Evangelicals have gained some attention by shifting towards independent and Democrat affiliation.

But this election seems different, and I think legitimately so. The old categories are breaking down (has anyone decided yet whether the new designation “Progressive Christians” are Evangelicals or Mainline Christians? Where are all of these neo-Anabaptists coming from?) and with them, so are the easily mapped political associations. I know self identified Evangelicals (my own roots) who are planning to vote Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Constitution, and Green; some will be engaging in a principled abstention from voting and others won’t be voting out of cynicism or a generalized political apathy. The political landscape of American Christianity is changing.

What does this have to do with the Third Way?

And there is a lot that is good to be said about this increasing political diversity in the Church. In fact, I am a huge fan of disentangling Jesus’ church from secular politics. I am really happy that being an Evangelical Christian no longer automatically means being a Republican in the US. I think that this shift away from automatic political identification is a positive one. But we need to realize that it comes at a cost. One of the great lessons I have learned over the last several years is that diversity is better, stronger, and more beautiful than homogeneity but it is also harder. A diversity of political affiliation (including disagreements over whether we ought to have a political affiliation at all) within the body of Christ is a strength but is also a place of vulnerability. It is a chance for us to be divided, to lose our love for one another. To borrow a metaphor from Paul, it is when the hand first realizes that it is not an eye, that it is most likely to say to the eye “I don’t need you”.

Of course this is another iteration of Paul’s whole point in Romans 14. We are to be one, despite our political, theological, and other identity differences, we are to recognize our oneness in Christ, we must continue in our love for one another.

In this political season that is not at all easy. Remember, we are talking about real disputable matters here, not matters of no importance. Or relationship to politics (secular or ecclesial) matters. I genuinely believe that the outcome of the upcoming US presidential election will be a matter of life and death for many people. It will determine the foreign and domestic policies which drive military intervention abroad and medical intervention at home. Even the decision whether or not to participate matters. My Anabaptist friends remind me that the act of voting entangles me with the system of Empire and will incline me towards identification with the world, my progressive and conservative friends remind me that silence in the face of injustice (or potential injustice) allows the perpetuation of injustice.

These points are well made, the positions are well reasoned, and I am not neutral about them. I am fully convinced that by supporting the positions and candidates I disagree with, my fellow Christians are actively contributing to damage in the world. And yet…. and yet I also notice that, like me, they are acting out of their best understanding of what God is showing them. I must see that they too are trying to choose, and act out Love Himself. Once again, here again, we must remember that we may be among the weak, or we may be among the strong, and that either way we are called, neither to give up our beliefs, nor to cease in our love for our family in Christ. We can mourn (and I do) the very real damage the Jesus body has done, is doing, and will do to “the least of these” but we must mourn as one body; it is our body, the body of Christ, and if He can love His whole body, I believe that I am to love it as well.

So what am I going to do?

This last Sunday one of our pastors told us that Jesus had broken her heart over the disunity of the Church in this political season. She called on us to join her in fasting and prayer every Tuesday between now and the election for the unity of the Church. I want to extend that invitation to you. I do not expect that I will radically change my beliefs about politics or society, and I don’t intend to back down or stop calling for what I believe to be the most loving actions US citizens can take in November, but I will commit to stand in the Spirit of God and pray against the division of Jesus’ church. I will repent for the times I have allowed politics to make me think of the members of Jesus body as “the other”, and allowed my love to wane. I will pray each Tuesday that God increases my love for those whom I believe are wrong. And I will pray that you will join me.