“All this is from God ... who gave us the ministry of reconciliation” — 2 Corinthians 5:18
We know we live in a polarized nation. Polarized around politics, religions, culture, geography.
If the church is a ministry of reconciliation one of its tasks is to overcome divisions that have intensified over the last generation or so. Such divisions are reflected in lopsided vote totals and the leading of lives where we rarely run into folks who disagree with us.
If you don’t know folks who disagree, it is easy to believe the worst about them. The only way to mitigate against this is personal engagement, even friendship, with those who are different. Given the nature of our social lives, this won’t happen by accident. It needs to be an intentional process.
Sometimes formal situations are set up to allow for this. Interfaith dialog events provide an opportunity for people of different religions to share and learn from each other.
Sometimes it happens informally. I think relating to folks who think differently should be built in during the holiday season. Thanksgiving means bringing relatives together over a common meal.
Unlike our social worlds, which are chosen, families generally are not. So, it is less likely that you gather because you share the same religion, the same politics, the same outlook, the same life situation.
What gathers you together is that you are family and are stuck with each other. That and good food. I think our country needs more of those kinds of situations, where the relations and connections we have are stronger and deeper than what divides us.
Could the church be that kind of place that brings together people who disagree?
For the apostle Paul, the church’s mission is that of reconciliation and yet churches can fall into the same trap as the culture, where you have blue and red churches, middle class and working-class churches, and our cultural divides play out in our churches.
But the one advantage the church has is the communion table. Like the family table around Thanksgiving, the communion table is a place where folks can overcome differences with food, fellowship and a deeper bond that are not determined by our divisions.
Rather such reconciliation happens because of what God has done for us. The communion table can happen not because of our chosen lives but because we are chosen by God to be included as family. It is to that which we belong by virtue of God’s love for us and God’s love for the world.
Roman 8:15-17 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba![m] Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness[n] with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
Imagine a country where we didn’t fear each other. That in our differences we could be all seen as bearer images of God. As CS Lewis writes “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.”
Not all churches, families or countries function this way, and this can be a painful time as a result. But my prayer is that they would. Whatever it is that estranges us, God can help us find those connections and relations that can make us whole, as individuals, as a community and as a country. That will produce the solidarity needed. In the end, we really do need each other.
Rev. Dwight Welch is a chaplain for United Campus Ministry at MSUB and pulpit supply for Peoples and First Congregational churches.