By Stephen Reeves
To say our country is politically divided is to put it mildly.
Our disagreements about the nature of our problems and how they should be solved are real and deep. While many divisions are historic and longstanding, by many measures we are more politically divided than ever before. The accompanying hateful rhetoric and lack of respect from candidates, pundits and elected officials makes working together nearly impossible. The resulting political stalemate leaves pressing issues unaddressed.
Unfortunately, these divisions also run between and through churches. Congregations are often segregated by preferred political ideology. While many denominations and conventions lean to one side of the partisan aisle or the other, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship churches are frequently “purple.” Most CBF congregations that I know have both committed Republicans and Democrats. This reality makes addressing issues of political import challenging. It is all too tempting to adopt the language and tactics of our current political culture.
That’s why CBF Advocacy is joining a broad coalition of national Christian organizations calling on us all to do better. This new campaign, Golden Rule 2020: A call for dignity and respect in politics, is in my mind, beyond civility—it is the standard Christ sets for his followers. If our country is going to rise above our current intractable divisions, we believe Christians should lead the way by modeling better political dialogue.
Sunday, November 3, 2019 marks one year from the 2020 election day. Golden Rule 2020 is encouraging all churches to take action in worship that day by first praying for the healing of the divisions in our country and second by promoting the use of the golden rule in our own political discussions.
The coalition is offering several helpful resources including sample prayers and readings, a short liturgy, sermon ideas, and Sunday School lesson ideas for children and youth. More resources can be found at https://www.revivecivility.org.
Over the course of the following year this coalition will be planning more activities and offering more resources for people to engage and model better political discourse.
The hateful rhetoric and disrespect so prevalent in our politics may tempt us to opt out and give up, but I believe that our faith and our responsibility as citizens compel us to engage. Following Jesus surely means caring about those he cared about and our democracy, at its best, means each voice matters and government actions are ultimately our actions. What we need is a radical counter-cultural political witness rooted in an attempt to follow what Jesus called the second greatest commandment—loving our neighbor as ourselves. This mandate exempts no political party.
In the next year, we could try to avoid all talk of politics in our churches, but then where do we teach and learn how our faith should inform citizenship?
It is tempting to offer church as a respite from the inundation of politics, but doing so risks leaving our political formation up to politicians, parties, cable news or Facebook memes. No matter how your church plans to address the upcoming election season, it is certain to come up. If we want things to get better, we have to be better and we need to start within our own churches. Let us strive to bear witness to a better way.
By promoting this effort, we are not pointing the finger at the speck in our neighbors’ eye and demanding others change their ways. We all fall short of the ideal at times, so we are asking more of ourselves.
We are also aware, as MLK warned in his letter from a Birmingham jail, that calling for civility is often used by those in power to silence the demands for justice from the marginalized. Calls for civility rightly ring hollow in the ears of those whose civil pleas for justice and human dignity have been long ignored or silenced. Civility can be weaponized to silence the passion of those we consider our political “other.” Justice is a higher value than civility. We must, as King warned, not be more committed to order than justice.
CBF Advocacy is committed to working for justice, but hateful rhetoric and dehumanizing language only escalates and never produces progress or resolution. Instead, we call for introspection, self-examination and personal accountability. As we advocate for our position and exercise responsible Christian citizenship, may we not forget the imago dei and inherent dignity of those with whom we disagree.
This is no easy task but following Jesus and living by the golden rule has never been easy. Join us as we prayerfully consider our role in promoting dignity and respect in this tumultuous political season.
Stephen K. Reeves is associate coordinator of partnerships and advocacy for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.