One has to be very unaware not to have noticed the heightened racial tension in light of the last presidential election and other cultural events, a tension that has affected the body of Christ. I am in considerable sympathy with those African-American brothers and sisters who are highlighting these matters, though not always in agreement. Yet it often does not seem that unity in the gospel is winning out, but rather that division over political disagreements is increasing.
This raises a fundamental question that is vitally important to the gospel: Is political agreement necessary to Christian unity in worship and service? In asking this question, I am not suggesting that gospel belief will be devoid of political implications. Rather, I am suggesting that gospel belief will not necessarily produce uniform political perspectives. Does this mean we cannot stand shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart if our cultural and political application of the gospel differs?
Today’s Political Disagreements
For the sake of this argument, let me state that I did not vote for Donald Trump in the recent presidential election. I certainly did not vote for Hillary Clinton, just as I have not voted for a Democratic candidate for many years. The reason for my unwillingness to vote Democratic is this party’s vehement advancement of the continued slaughter of unborn human beings (a disproportionate percentage of whom are African American) and its promotion of a pagan view of sexuality and personhood that directly assaults the rule of our Creator. This does not mean that I always vote Republican; to be honest, I do not have a great deal of confidence in the Republicans. Thus, I voted for a third-party conservative for president, being concerned about the character of Trump and not wanting to give Christian support for sexual indecencies that many evangelicals had previously criticized when committed by opponents.
I note this because I believe that many of my African-American Christian friends will express a differing political viewpoint. I know that many consider the social and economic platform of conservatives to be unbiblical. So we find political disagreement among fellow Christians that roughly mirrors the ethnic and social classes of which we are members. Here, then, is the question: Does this political disagreement rule out our heartfelt and joyful union as fellow disciples of King Jesus? I am not asking if our union in Christ calls for us to listen to one another and seek agreement on cultural/political issues—I know that it does. I am asking if political agreement is necessary prior to experiencing gospel reconciliation. Especially when Christians share strong agreement in our theology of the gospel and when these theological issues are of great significance to the church in our time, should we sever our communion and shared labor for the gospel over cultural/political disagreements?
Christ Is All
I find the answer in the New Testament, where the apostle Paul envisions precisely this situation. He writes in Colossians 3:11: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” There can be little doubt that these cultural categories involved people with widely divergent cultural and political viewpoints. It is especially unlikely that every Christian in the Roman Empire would have “voted” the same way. Yet Paul states that as Greek and Jew, as barbarian and Scythian, as slave and free, they are to look to Christ and find an overriding union that binds them together in shared love and gospel labor. Our union in Christ is more significant than any cultural divide, Paul insists, and we are to look upon one another as in Christ, who “is all, and in all.” The result of our being in Christ—and Christ in us—is a shared, unified identity that nothing else is able to break.
Let me conclude with some questions: If skin color and cultural/political viewpoints are to determine our lines of shared worship and gospel labor, where is Christ in our priorities? This was a question that has rightly been asked of white Christians, whose sin of racism demanded a color-coded worship. I also fear it needs to be asked of some African-American brothers and sisters who seem to express an unwillingness to join with white Christians unless political concerns are redressed. If this is so, will it not be true that our political stance has become, at least functionally, a new law that binds us in hatred and division? Of what significance to us is the death and resurrection of the Son of God? If we cannot find our overriding identity in him—with all repented-of sins washed away by his blood, forgiveness offered to one another as sinners who have been forgiven by God’s grace, and the gospel itself as our only hope of peace—can we really say with Paul that “Christ is all”?