I am watching a social divide get wider and wider every day. I see a country turning on each other. We’ve heard political statements made about race, gender, refugees, women’s marches, homosexual cake-making, celebrities in pink beanies—and the list goes on. I’m watching the division in our country become more visceral.
So I ask the question as a Christian: How do I respond? What do I say?
It’s hard. Sincere Christians don’t want to offend people, but love people. Followers of Jesus don’t want to keep others from knowing Jesus. The church doesn’t want to be known for being close-minded, out of touch or hateful in any way. With tensions this high, we don’t want to be the center of controversy, drama or arguments.
So we often choose to be silent and disengaged from conversations on critical topics in culture. After all, Jesus said, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels” (2 Tim. 2:23). The key word is “foolish.” Some obvious characteristics of foolishness are yelling, screaming and fighting.
But what about smart dialogue that makes us and our communities better? Sometimes, instead if having “everything to do with important conversations,” we choose to opt out of these essential dialogues that Jesus meant for us engage in. Without the “Christian voice” in the narrative, like any conversation, it becomes one-sided.
I want to challenge believers with this: We have an obligation to engage in what is happening in culture. Jesus walked into culture and asked hard questions, bringing clarity with love, honesty and hope. We should do the same.
That doesn’t mean we won’t be in the middle of cultural arguments and issues. Jesus was in the middle of controversy, but with a grace that allowed others to hear what he had to say. He wasn’t immune from the arguments of the cultural and political leaders of his day—but he chose to speak life and truth into the current national climate of the first century. Christ in us compels us to speak with the same grace, the same life and the same truth into our culture, as well.
It’s not about left and right. It’s not “their side” or “my side.” As Christians, there is only one side: God’s side. God’s kingdom is one of acceptance, unconditional love, honor, forgiveness, grace and hope.
I’m reminded of a political leader from the Old Testament, Joshua, who engaged in fighting wars, leading people, making policies and standing for what was right. In one instance, there was a battle ensuing and conflict was evident between two sides, and when Joshua asked God, “Whose side are you on—mine, right?” God answered with, “I’m on my side.”
If you are a follower of Jesus, there is only one side: God’s side. When you’re on God’s side you DO take a stand. When you take a stand against injustice, you fight for the oppressed, you care for the fatherless, you give to those who are living without—you take a stand with God.
It’s not about engaging your political views, but about engaging your gospel views with others. This is God’s side. This is the side that says all people are created by God and in the image of God. It’s the side that says everyone has value, that all people are worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of ethnicity, wealth, gender or status in life.
Jesus transcends the barriers of prejudice, and we should, too. Jesus said that if you want to make a difference spiritually in your city, then treat the guy next to you the way you would want to be treated: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
As human beings, this can be hard to do. So someone responded, “Who is my neighbor?” And that’s when Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan. While a series of “religious people” chose to opt out of the “carnage in the streets,” a Samaritan man chose to not just engage, but help and invest (he paid for hospital bills and hotel rooms) in this person in need (Luke 10:25-37).
Jesus modeled a gospel heart beautifully and encourages us to do the same. How we treat and love our neighbor is at the very core of what it means to be an authentic follower of Jesus. If the greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, then engaging with others who think and believe differently than we do is at the heart of the gospel.
Samaritans and Jews were “racially charged” because of their past. Simply put, there was a racial divide between the Jewish people and Samaritan people. So when Jesus speaks of this, Jesus is speaking directly to the racial and political tensions that were present in his day.
It’s less about engaging your political views with others and more about engaging your gospel heart with others. That’s why Christians should choose to win hearts, not arguments. So love your neighbor. In complicated times such as these, it can’t be more simple than that.
So, how can you thoughtfully engage in what is happening around you?
1. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
Many of us don’t know what it’s like to experience racial bigotry, sexual-identity confusion, gender inequality, etc. So do your best to gain understanding. That’s wisdom according to God: “The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding” (Prov. 4:7)
Make an effort to understand where the other is coming from. This will not only build a bridge, but it will help calm the waters as you empathize.
2. Before you say it, pray it.
I’m guilty of just speaking what I’m feeling. Before you engage with someone or in something, give it some time in prayer. It’s there that you will learn God’s heart for your situation and for that person. It’s a lot easier for you to see where they are coming from when you see how God sees them, and prayer will help you do that.
3. It’s not just about being political—it’s about being gospel.
Gospel means “good news.” So be a bringer of good news, not bad news or “fake news.” You can’t have the gospel without grace. We need the graciousness of God.
So be a gracious person. Graciousness is one of the most potent postures you can make when engaging with others. At the end of the day, graciousness overcomes combativeness. Graciousness is this: Having a forgiving attitude and a compassionate position while walking in wisdom with those whose attitudes and beliefs differ from yours. So be gracious towards others, rather than being defensive towards others.
4. Consider others to be better than you.
Remember … according to Jesus, everyone has equal value. No human is better than another. That’s a hard attitude to have and be consistent with. But Jesus held true to that by having this attitude: Consider others better than you. Paul says it best in Philippians 2:3-6:
“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges.” (The Message)
5. Have conversations, not confrontations.
We’ve seen enough confrontation to last us a lifetime. So let’s start having conversations. That means it is a two-sided dialogue. Be a potent listener. Listening shows more power and grace than you can imagine. We have to listen in order to be listened to.
This means that you should never come in to a conversation simply telling someone what to think or what you think. Ask the other person what they think. How you say it is just as important as what you say. Stop trying so hard to be “convincing” and start being “inviting.” Don’t see barriers, but opportunities. Choose to rally around themes that bring the gospel to the conversation: love, honor, peace, humility, kindness, forgiveness and hope.
So if someone asks me, “Are you for or against Trump?” I’m going to rally around the themes of peace, forgiveness and honor by responding with this: “Instead of who I’m against or what I’m against, let me tell you what I’m 100 percent for: human dignity, valuing all races, finding forgiveness to heal, and bringing us together in peace. I can see you’re hurting over what’s happening—how can I help?”
6. Practice peacemaking.
Be intentional to bring peace to people, places and discussions. This is not a peace that is fabricated, but a peace that is faith-related. This is a peace that is not manipulated with the right substance or the right circumstance, but a peace that is magnified as a person.
This is a supernatural peace—a godly peace—that has nothing to do with human beings or human circumstances. In fact, it can’t be produced by anyone, but it can be found by everyone. This peace is a Person. It’s Jesus. He is called “the Prince of Peace,” and he crushed evil like no one else could (Rom. 16:20).
The closer you are to Jesus, the closer you are to peace. Jesus lives in perfect contentment. You can, too.
7. Be a good neighbor.
I know I already said it, but I can’t say it enough: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. True joy is NOT found in pursuing our own desires, but in fulfilling the desires of others. So choose to keep your doors open and your life open as a good neighbor to create a better community.
Acceptance is more palatable to culture than resistance, so we can choose to accept people where they are and influence people to where they could be in Jesus. Follow the advice of Jesus: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” (Heb. 10:24)
At the end of the day, it’s less about proving you’re right or wrong, and more about seeing others draw closer to the unconditional love of Jesus.
Alan Pastian is a campus pastor at River Valley Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota (an Outreach 100 church, No. 23 Fastest-Growing and No. 46 Largest). For more: AlanPastian.com