How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!
- Psalm 133:1
It may not be surprising to you that there are wide variety of political opinions of members of St. Paul Lutheran Church, and that variety exists within the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) as a whole. If you are a part of the ELCA’s Facebook group you can witness these differences on practically a daily basis. As a pastor here at SPLC I get to experience this variety through my conversations with members of the congregation, and sometimes in response to a sermon I have preached or even a newsletter!
In regards to the ELCA in general, why, just today there was a post from someone who said that they have spoken to a number of “liberal” Christians who said they do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and was wondering if this is common among liberal Christians. Well, this then sparked a backlash from others saying that he was stereotyping liberals, and that many people from different political/cultural backgrounds including conservatives often doubt different aspects of Christian dogma, including the resurrection and other supernatural events.
Our society is so politically charged, to the point it seems, where every conversation can turn into a minefield of offensive statements and pitfalls. Much of this has to do with how we define people’s religious, political, and cultural beliefs/attitudes. In general it seems that these definitions can be broken down into four categories as they are used today in the United States: We have the liberals, conservatives, progressives, and the ultra-conservatives. Basically liberals are left-leaning, conservatives are right-leaning, while progressives are on the far-left, and the ultra-conservatives are on the far-right.
However, the more and more I talk to people about current day issues in our country, the more and more that these ways of classifying people do not seem to fit. That is because more often than not, liberals have more in common with a typical conservative than they do with a progressive, and conservatives have more in common with the classical liberal person than they do with an ultra-conservative.
In many ways both progressives and the ultra-conservatives are examples of extremism in politics and in ideologies. Both sides believe that they are completely correct in their beliefs, and that listening to the other side of the debate is tantamount to being a traitor. They are both very inwardly focused, tending to maintain relations, read books, watch the news, etc, from sources that already agree with them. And both the progressive and the ultra-conservative will often resort to using ad hominem attacks against if you disagree with their perspectives on issues. Thoughtful dialogue is not the general interaction on both of these extreme sides.
Interestingly when you look at the characteristics that are typically ascribed to conservative values, such as orderliness, in-group focused, and less open to new people, cultures, and ideas, these very neatly apply to how progressives relate to non-progressives. Perhaps the ultra-conservatives and the progressives have more in common than they realize, even though they are diametrically opposed in beliefs. Both fall easily into extremism, which can lead to totalitarianism. And to make things really crazy, many “conservatives” I have spoken to, including in my own family, often show an open mind when it comes to new ideas and people, and are not as inwardly focused, as conservatives are traditionally described. In this way the liberals and the conservatives have quite a bit in common.
This goes to show that these dichotomies we invent to describe people’s overall attitudes and actions, are not as clear cut as we often like to think of them. When we start to group people together like this we do so because it is easier, but it tends to cover up the nuance that is present in individual and communal worldviews. We can no longer see each person for who they are, instead we see them as a label. Perhaps even my characterizations of progressives and ultra-conservatives fall into this category as well, but I think it is important to be aware that problems can arise when we go so far to one side or the other in politics, culture, and life in general. At the end of the day I think it is a good thing that there are so many diverse viewpoints, and ways of thinking about society and the world around us.
This is all very interesting (at least to me), but I do believe it can become a problem when we start to lose focus on Christ and what God’s love and grace mean for our lives. Paul says in Ephesians 4:1-6: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” We can often become so focused on these worldly labels, opinions, and ideologies, that we lose sight of what is truly important. We are all called to be united together for “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
These worldly divisions can attack us and seek to put a wedge between us as members of the body of Christ, and it can happen to any one of us. Another reason we are called so often to forgiveness and reconciliation when we go astray of these values! I also would like to encourage you, if anything I have said is upsetting, or you feel I am being biased in any way, please contact me and let me know. I would love to be able to sit down with you and talk about all of these difficult topics, where we can learn together mutually! At the end of the day we are called to be united in the love and grace of Christ, so we must be willing to have some of these hard conversations and disagree and find much that we agree on as well. My prayer is that we as a community of faith will continue to grow ever more fully into the church that God is calling us in this year 2022. May God bless you all!
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
-2 Corinthians 13:11
-Nathaniel Allen, Pastor