By: Katherine Baker
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
(John 16:12–15 NRSV)
Let’s admit it. For more than half of the election season, we spent our time in hiding, filtering our newsfeeds, and censoring ourselves from heated conversations. I declined several dinner parties, postponed important engagements, and erred on the side of absent when it came to family reunions. Even as a Christian, I’m opinionated, confrontational, and a terrible listener; and by no means is this any different when dealing Christianly with political differences. I’m not alone in wondering about this hot topic that we tend to avoid.
What does it mean to deal Christianly with our political differences? And why have so many of us decided that it means to not deal with it at all?
More and more, we understand that gone are the days when we could identify ourselves with a particular partisanship without the repercussion of judgmental glances or the insertion of offensive commentary. It doesn’t matter: right wing, left wing, or anywhere in between. We feel vulnerable and ambitious, basing our Christian politic solely upon our individual experiences and our local, indigenous culture. Whether it is our loyalty or our empathy, our duty or our desire, we don’t actually know what the Christian politic is.
What would Jesus have to say about our nation today? What would he say about our leaders? Our propositions? Our communities?
The reality is that we’re asking these hard questions aloud so long as we’re the ones answering them. But when it comes to professing our opinions at home, in the workplace, and on the street where people can disagree or show disinterest, we’ve disciplined ourselves with hesitance—navigating conversations with our political feelers, tracking spiritual similarities and religious practicalities like a metal detector eagerly sweeping back and forth. The conversations that free us of our own restraints are the ones that go exactly as we had planned or had hoped: You’re green party? You care about social justice? You’re anti-national debt? You’re pro-healthcare? Ding, ding, ding, ding! Me too! Why would we dabble in disagreement when we can lounge in that which is lenient?
While the church moves forward, learning to focus on interfaith dialogue, multicultural outreach, missional diversity, and ecumenical initiatives, somehow anything and all-things political are left outside our bounds. We ask less and less what Jesus says about the topics that stir our hearts more and more. Scripture, however, cautions us otherwise.
The new way, truth and life
In John’s gospel, we hear Christ’s call to know more fully the truth, and to hear and speak the truth by way of the Holy Spirit as a community of faith. When the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you (vv. 13 and 14). The truth that we are guided by and that we are invited to understand is Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (rather than truth as finite logic and factuality). In receiving Jesus’ parting words, we remember his eternal promise as the living word interceding for us and revealing God’s will for our lives.
Even in our differences and even in the perils of time, communion with God and communion with one another are made possible. The Holy Spirit has come to us communicating Christ as the very gospel of our lives even after Jesus is gone. And, particularly demonstrated at Pentecost, the Spirit rescues us, the people of God, from the very narrowness of our minds—what has separated us before has been consummated by God through Jesus Christ into the very hemisphere of grace.
Our perspectives, our values and our involvements are given life and meaning for God has transcended particularity and redeemed humankind. While we’ve made our hideouts and though we’ve regulated our speech, we are freed to hear the spirit of truth not only in our hearts but also in the hearts of those around us. This is the truth of the gospel being declared to us by the Holy Spirit that we may glorify God, our Father Almighty.
What would Jesus say about our nation, our leaders, our propositions and our communities? We may never be sure; however, we can always be certain that Jesus would listen closely and beckon that all of his children shall come to him.
I know that mutual respect and reckless compassion are hard things to come by. But we are not alone. Jesus Christ encourages us to live in the freedom of the spirit that opens us to experiencing God in true fellowship. God is the God of the opinionated, of the passionate, of the naïve, of the lonely, of the avenged, of the forgotten, and of the terrible listeners. This hopeful word casts our reality no matter who we are, what we believe, or how we live our lives—motivating us in unsearchable ways. This is the dynamic treatise that God has made in our hearts and the dynamic treatise that God invites us to make with one another. Establishing healthy respect and real compassion for our peers, mentors, mentees, and all of our neighbors is a vital authentication of an outrageous, indelible story of grace.
This hot topic conversation that we tend to avoid doesn’t get any easier but it certainly can get more earnest. Dealing Christianly with political differences means this: We shall hear desperately and satisfyingly the spirit of truth that does not stand alone but declares to us our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ for all. Amen.
Katherine Baker is an ordained RCA Minister serving at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids, MI. She received her theological training at Princeton Theological Seminary and Western Theological Seminary and also graduated from Hope College. Her research focus involves multicultural life and adoptive faith in the confessing church as well as discipleship.