The election results are in and they reveal what we already knew – we are a divided people. This is no surprise. In the first Presidential cabinet, there was division. Jefferson and Hamilton vied for power and control; Lincoln’s cabinet was named “a team of rivals” by one historian. If you think the politics of today is vicious, review the smear campaign against Franklin Roosevelt in the 1936 election.
There is something in our nature that causes us to pick sides and make the other the “enemy.” It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve picked the side of the serpent against the side of God. Their sin quickly compounded; Adam threw Eve under the bus, blaming her for all his troubles. “If only she had voted differently, God, I wouldn’t have failed.” Among other things, Adam was the first political operative.
If you want to see people pick sides, go to a small Baptist church business meeting. People will pick sides in the name of Jesus faster than you can quote John 3:16. My Aunt Ouida and Mrs. Eva had known each other all their lives, but nearly got in a wrestling match in one church business meeting over the color of the carpet in the new church. Both of them, I am sure, were certain they were right.
I’ve had married couples sit on my office couch and demonize the person they vowed to cherish till death they do part. They were on opposite sides and were ready to force their children, family, and friends to declare loyalty to one side or another.
There is an old wisdom I’ve applied in these situations. When a couple comes to talk to me, and they are divided, I’ll ask what attracted them to each other. Often, their mood softens. They go back to happy memories. They discover the love that began their relationship is still there, buried underneath piled up hurts, pains, and burdens.
I’ve consulted with churches who are stuck because they are divided. After I listen to their angst about their divisions, I ask them what they agree on. This often leads to the scratching of heads. When we dig in, however, they have a cause they agree on. Once they remember why they are a church, the solution to the problem gets clearer.
What I’ve learned is pretty simple: If you focus on what divides you, you will stay divided. If you focus on what unites you, it’s easier to deal with what divides you.
Once, John, one of Jesus’s followers, told him he found someone casting out demons in his name. John and the other disciples told the man to stop, because he wasn’t part of their group. Jesus gave one of his wisest teachings in response: “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.” Jesus was saying, “If this guy is using my name to do good, he’s on our side. He may not know all of what it means; but he’s not the enemy.”
I wish we could sit down as a nation and have a conversation about what unites us, not what divides us. We’d have to turn off CNN and Fox News. I think we would discover that Democrats and Republicans both love their country. I think we might discover that Northerners and Southerners both want good for their children. I think we might find out that East Coast and West Coast folks both want to enjoy their freedoms. There really is more that unites us than divides us.
Maybe it is up to Jesus followers to show how this happens. Maybe if we show how we love each other as Jesus loves us, people will say, “You know, I’m not sure about Jesus and I’m not sure about church, but I would like to learn to be united like those folks are.”
One thing I know for certain: staying divided gets us nowhere.