For three days in an Airbnb rental in a cozy Atlanta neighborhood, my team and I took a spiritual retreat that led us to the topic of polarization. Nine of us worshiped together, laughed and played together, ate meals together, envisioned the coming year together, and worked on some detailed processes together.
We built team spirit, shared organizational knowledge, and strengthened our commitment to a shared vision of the future.
But that’s not all we did. We also complained. And contributed to polarization.
I wish I could tell you that we were high-minded the entire time we were together. But the truth is, we weren’t. We met during the impeachment process in 2020. Since then, we’ve seen even more polarizing issues including the battle against COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement and LGBTQ protests. It almost seems like, during the last year, there was a new issue each week creating a divide amongst the public. During the retreat, we spent time worrying and wondering out loud. Worrying and wondering quickly devolved into complaining. Complaining led to polarization. That is, until one person piped up and said, “Hey people! it’s time to either take action or be quiet.”
This happens frequently in congregations as well. Complaining keeps congregations, and people, stuck in the problem rather than taking action to solve it. By taking action, we can identify a solution to the problem at hand. Don’t let the complaint trap snare your congregation.
I wonder if that’s what happened in Jesus’ day as well
After all, he lived in a time of religious and political polarization. Sadducees and Pharisees didn’t have much love for each other: they disagreed on matters of faith, culture, biblical interpretation, and relations with Rome. Neither group saw eye to eye with the Zealots or the Essenes. Each of the four parties related differently to the Temple, and envisioned different futures for the Jewish people. Independent folks not aligned with any Jewish party were often overlooked. Overall, folks were upset, torn, and afraid.
In the midst of it all, Jesus stood apart from the prognosticators of his day. He didn’t align fully with the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Zealots or the Essenes. While he borrowed from the wisdom of each group, he kept his own counsel. Instead of following prescribed party lines, Jesus lifted up a vision for the future that transcended any of the narratives of the day. That’s why he could have such a diverse following. His “tribe” included a tax collector, Pharisees, independents, Zealots, and Temple authorities. Even Romans and non-Jews.
How did he do it? His Kingdom of God vision preferenced ethics over politics. Consider his various teaching. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Whatever you have done unto the least of these, you have done unto me. Judge not lest you be judged.
With Jesus at the helm, the apostles didn’t, couldn’t, sit around and complain. They had to move into action.
My team and I took a hint from our team member, and from Jesus, and moved from complaint to accountable actions, from partisan polarization to Kingdom ethics. Organized around Micah 6:8 (NIV)—”He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”—I want to share with you some of the actions members our diverse team have committed to:
- Participate with Justice for our Neighbors, a United Methodist organization that works with immigrants and immigration issues
- Talk with members of the local community to see where justice is needed
- Volunteer with Solidarity Now to advocate for children’s rights at the Mexican border
- Make sure adult children are educated on our nation’s history
- Teach daughters to name three gratitudes daily
- Family check-in on how each member served or helped another human being each day
- Speak up about cancerous “isms” and how they reinforce injustice
Walk Humbly with Your God
- Pray to love those whose views/beliefs differ
- For the members of minority groups throughout this country
- For the nation daily
- And for one’s own soul
Partisan politics is a spectator sport, a blood sport, in which there is actually very little personal participation. Like football, the spectators react to the players on the field, but risk very little personally.
Kingdom ethics, on the other hand, requires personal involvement, and the opening of one’s heart, mind and soul—and sometimes even home—to connect with people who are very different. Kingdom ethics strengthen the whole. If it’s us v. them, then it’s not the Kingdom.
When polarization wins, we all lose. There is a Christian alternative.
If you’re interested in learning about How to Create a Culture of Renewal, sign up for one of our upcoming courses here. Our next session is on August 3rd!
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