Two weeks before the 2008 national election my church in New York held a church-wide forum featuring a discussion of some of the contents of this book followed by presentations by two congregation members, one who was planning to vote Republican and the other who was planning to vote Democrat. After declaring how they were going to vote, the panelists spent some time explaining their positions and then entertained questions from the congregation. Their gracious tone, their thoughtful engagement with Scripture, and the nuance of their thinking demonstrated that the church (even an evangelical and reformed church like ours) really can be a “big tent” where people can deeply disagree and yet still love each other and worship together. It held out some hope for the role of the church in a country whose public debates have become so rancorous that the attempted murder of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in January 2011 at a meet and greet event in Tucson felt almost inevitable.
So much has happened in our country since the turn of the century. We have had eight years of a Republican administration, led by a president of strong evangelical faith. We have entered a war with Iraq whose initial goals were met quickly but which has lingered with much loss of life all around. We have continued to fight in Afghanistan, with heated debate over the value and goals of the mission. We have entered the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. We have seen, with astonishment, the election of an African American to highest office.
Along the way we have seen the rise of a new generation of evangelicals whose political engagements and interests have been broader than those of its predecessors, so much so that many in this new generation have contributed to the election of a Democratic administration. This shift has not been easy for the church. It has led to fissures, name-calling and distrust between evangelicals—vividly illustrated by the explosive political split of a mega church in sub-urban St. Paul at the time of the 2004 election. Discord has deepened in the rightward swing of the 2010 midterm elections and threatens to be as wide as ever in the election of 2012.
But I am convinced that the broadening and subsequent confusion among evangelicals has also been good for the church, because it has forced believers to try to understand each other.
I remain convinced that Christians have the resources to do what the world cannot do—to disagree and be engaged politically without polarizing. But I am also convinced that this will not be easy, unless, of course, Christians abandon all concern for the world, an option that is not open to us. Jesus commands us to be salt and light, to pray for our neighbors, and to contribute to their welfare. The moment we begin seriously to love our neighbors as ourselves we will find ourselves disagreeing with each other on how best to do it.
This blog, a prelude to book I will be publishing in February 2012 (Body Broken: Can Republicans and Democrats Sit Together in the Same Pew?—New Growth Press), aims to keep Christians engaged with the world without derailing or exploding the church.