The results of a major U.S. midterm election in early November allowed Republicans to take control of the Senate, incumbents to get the boot or barely hold on to their seats, and pundits to have a field day diagnosing the issues related to campaigns and candidates alike.
While people surmised why votes went one way or another, nearly every local election made one fact clear: We are living in a divided nation.
Every winner can’t claim a total victory. Sure, if you win by 51 percent of the vote you win; but at the end of the day, it meant that you garnered only half of the voters at the ballot box.
This divide in American politics may strike fear in the hearts of people who simply want their representatives to govern.
Others find the results to be disheartening, hinting at continued gridlock in our nation’s capital.
But what if, from the point of view of the church, this division is an opportunity to help people find their way back to the Lord?
Think about it: The media enjoys divisive politics because it means attracting more viewers. Politicians can rally their electoral base.
Even viewers at home like a little political drama, as we tune out people who are either boring or not confrontational – or those who have common-sense solutions, for that matter.
In all of this, there are few institutions that promote reconciliation and peacemaking, which provides a unique opportunity for the church.
God’s purposes for the church not only transcend our society’s politics; they also seek to bring reconciliation in places divided by all sorts of barriers.
This happened very early on: The day Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples received the Holy Spirit and started speaking in a variety of languages (Acts 2).
To those gathered in Jerusalem at the time, it was a unifying moment. Each person heard the same gospel in his or her native tongue. For once, they had something in common.
As the church matured over time, the egalitarian nature of Christian community became a beacon of hope throughout the Roman Empire.
While citizens of the empire thrived on inequality and hierarchy to manage power and prestige, the church gave everyone – regardless of socioeconomic stature, race, ethnicity or gender – a place at the table.
It was in his letters to the Corinthian churches, in particular, that Paul encouraged the church to spread the gospel by bearing witness to the unity, harmony and peace that Christ ushered into the world through the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 5:16, 18-19 reads: “From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view … All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”
In other words, when a person becomes a Christian, he or she is not a product of his or her culture or society any longer. They are redeemed to Christ and brought into a relationship with God.
They are a new creation; as a new creation, they become a citizen of the kingdom of God. As citizens of the kingdom, Christians are called to be agents of reconciliation in a divided – and divisive – world.
Instead of taking sides, we are to stand on the side of Jesus. Instead of touting our political victories or condemning the opposing team, we are to remind people that they are ultimately held accountable to God, who doesn’t claim any political party.
Christians are outsiders looking in, objective players who have a bigger vision than those who govern in the moment.
“So we are ambassadors for Christ since God is making his appeal through us,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:20. An ambassador is one who goes to a foreign land to help people make peace with another nation.
In this context, Christians are to be peacemakers that help reconcile people to one another and, ultimately, to God.
Joe LaGuardia is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Vero Beach, Florida.