“Has he lost his mind?”
This has become a regular reaction to what I find on my Twitter feed. American Christians, whom I have long respected for their discernment, are engaging their political enemies with the acumen of torch-bearing villagers. Certain that Jesus is on their side, any who disagree with them are considered minions of hell. I look at the church divided and I am sad – and glad we are more balanced in Canada.
And then I worry. Is it really any different on this side of the border? I know many Christians who believe that being Christian goes hand in hand with being conservative or being liberal.
This is plain wrong. If we follow the Jesus of the Bible, we will find ourselves uncomfortable on either end of the spectrum. Some of my Christian Twitter friends don’t seem to be feeling much of the tension that they ought.
Dr. Barry Johnson’s “Polarity Management” system is a helpful tool to analyze polarities. He says that there are two basic kinds of problems – either/or and both/and. Either/or problems have one right answer: 2+3=____? or, The greatest commandment is ____?” In these arguments we try to establish who is right and who is wrong. These are usually resolved once we look the issue up on Google and find out my wife was right all along.
Some problems don’t have a right answer. These are both/and problems. Here are some examples:
- Is social media good or is it bad?
- Shall we buy carpet or take a trip to Europe?
- Ford or Chevy?
- Liberal or Conservative?
These are both/and problems. It is vital to know which type of argument you are in. We want to avoid arguing both/and problems as if they were either/or. Johnson says this is like arguing that inhaling is better than exhaling.
Since Christians are mandated by our Lord to be “the salt of the world,” let’s frame the question like this: “How can Christians best be salt in the world, liberal or conservative?” Christ told us to be salt; he told us that we are to season, preserve and heal the world. He also said that if we aren’t salt, we will be cast before swine.
In Johnson’s model we put the two terms, liberal and conservative, on the wings.
Our “Higher Purpose,” then, is to be salt. Our “Deeper Fear,” or what lies in the opposite direction of the higher purpose, is to be cast before swine. All Christians, both liberal and conservative, have the same higher purpose and the same deeper fear. That’s encouraging!
Liberals and conservatives simply have different ways of achieving the higher purpose. Liberals champion collective responsibility and individual rights. These are good things – rooted in biblical truths. When Jesus calls us to be salt, he means, among other things, to do what the law has always told us to do: take care of the stranger, the widow and the orphan – the vulnerable. These are created in the Image of God. The Christian liberal understands that we are fallen, and predicts our natural selfishness will interfere with loving our neighbour, so it advocates the use of government to ensure that we meet our collective responsibilities to the vulnerable and to protect individual rights.
Conservatives emphasize human freedom and individual responsibility. These are also aimed toward saltiness and underpinned by the same biblical principles.
When we over-focus on one pole,we neglect the other. If we neglect the good of either position, we are half as salty as we are supposed to be. Then we are in danger of ending up in the eternal pig pen.
There are good Christian people on both side of the political spectrum treating both/and arguments like they were either/or. They fail to realize that their opponents are trying to do the same thing that they are – be true to the will of our Lord.
I don’t hold out a lot of hope for non-Christian combatants in this war between left and right. But for Christians I have hope. We have an allegiance that goes beyond labels and political parties that makes unity possible. We have the commands of our Lord. He doesn’t say be left or right – he says, “Be salt.”
For Christians to be salt and light in the political sphere, we must abandon rigid adherence to just one side of the spectrum. The Christian can to hold onto his or her preferred means to achieve saltiness, but they also need to respond with grace and generosity toward the other reality, even the negatives, for by doing so, they may also gain the saltiness of that position.
From the broader perspective afforded by allegiance to Christ and the grace and generosity that flows from it, Christians by the power of the Spirit, might even spread a little seasoning on my Twitter feed.
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