There is an old saying in the Senate: “The other party is the opponent, but the House of Representatives is the enemy.” It’s a nod to the Senate’s more collegial days, when they viewed themselves as a helpful corrective to the often more chaotic and contentious House.
Similar to the House, which has been less collegial and more polarized than the Senate for much of our history, Christians involved in politics often seem to treat fellow Christians who have different political views worse than they treat people who share their party. That leads me to important practical questions: How do we maintain loving community in a politically diverse body? How can Christians be called to different, even opposing, political views and actions?
At my church last Sunday, we sang the old hymn “Victory in Jesus.” It’s a wonderful and rousing hymn. But this particular time, it reminded me of something Charles Williams, an Inkling and contemporary of C.S. Lewis, wrote, “Perhaps it was a preposition wrong that set the whole world awry.”
Too often some of us change the title of that hymn in our heads and hearts to “Victory FOR Jesus”—instead of celebrants living in the victory he won and inviting others into the celebration, we view ourselves as soldiers on a battlefield, conquering the world for Jesus by law and worldly power. For the American church, the main front in that battlefield has been politics for quite a long time now.
What I have seen and felt more often than I wish in the battlefield of politics is that fellow Christians disagreeing on how theology should guide us politically are considered confused at best, traitors at worst. Honestly, if you think that victory for Jesus means getting a new law passed or winning an election instead of changing a heart, loving a person or sharing the gospel, then that kind of enmity is almost inevitable.
Victory IN Jesus means that he has already won the victory over our true enemies at the cross. The church is just working to live in light of that victory. That can make a radical difference in how we approach a calling to politics—and in how we treat fellow believers with different political views.
The most vivid picture in my life of all this happened in a church small group over a decade ago. I was working on President Bush’s reelection campaign. Several members of my small group supported Senator Kerry. One of them even volunteered on his campaign. Yet despite our political differences, and despite the fact that we were actively working on opposing campaigns, I will never forget the calls and emails they sent me right before the election. They knew that because of my role I was in for a long and stressful night. They reached out with blessings and prayers for me—the person working for a political candidate they opposed, an enemy in the world’s reckoning but a brother in Christ.
I think that understanding the gospel in politics means rethinking who our “enemies” are. Two thousand years later, I do not think the incredible nature of Christ’s interactions with tax collectors or Roman soldiers affects us as it should. Think of Christ’s affirmation of the Roman centurion—a soldier in an army occupying the Promised Land; the very army that would nail him to a cross! Or ponder his embrace of tax collectors—traitors serving an occupying government. Those he most readily identified as enemies were usually religious figures keeping people from the Good News, not political or military figures.
Paul says that the church body “does not consist of one part but of many.” We might consider taking that more seriously and understanding that we serve a God whose ways are beyond ours. Paul is not just talking about roles in the church; I believe he is talking about more fundamental differences. We serve the God who can call his servants to opposing political parties, countries, and even armies, yet who all still serve his purposes.
What if all Christians in politics saw our ultimate calling not to ‘win,’ but to bring gospel love and hope to the people with whom we work every day? And what if we understood our brothers and sisters on the other side of the aisle as having that same calling? We serve a King who won the victory without assuming office or title, who humbled himself as a servant, and whose only law is love. That’s probably a pretty good hint at how he views victory for us as well.