(This also appeared in the Faith column of the Sentinel-News in Shelbyville, KY on February 3, 2017)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:22-26, NIV)
Conflict, stress, division and disunity have again become ubiquitous in our society. Since the inauguration, many of our hopes for a movement towards unity and harmony seem so far to have been dashed. And it has only been two weeks. When I turn on the news or log in to social media, when I engage in a conversation at the grocery store or post office, I can almost hear the fabric of our local, state, national and global community ripping in two. And I would be lying if I said that it didn’t break my heart and fill me with grief.
And here’s why. Our unity is literally the most precious and potent power we have. And it is a gift. Now wait a minute, am I talking about the church or the community at large here? Well, both. For those who are disciples of Jesus, the unity that we experience in the body of Christ, despite our different gifts, our differences of viewpoints, our different demographics or worldviews, is the most powerful thing we have to offer the world. Our unity gives hope to anyone who has become estranged from God and her/his neighbor that reconciliation is not only possible but God’s good and perfect will. And in our community, our unity in the context of our diversity (e pluribus unum, “out of many, one”), is a bright shining light on the hill attracting those living in the darkness of poverty, oppression, hopelessness towards a better society where people are guaranteed the protection of their rights for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Remember that the first word in the name of our nation, by the way, is “United.”
So you can imagine why the hateful division in our country right now, spurned by the idolatry of ideological purity, and stoked by the power-grabbing partisans of our political processes, breaks my heart. For Christians, do not surrender our unity in the church; Jesus paid too high of a price in his blood for us to have it! For the rest of this nation, please don’t voluntarily give up the cornerstone of the American institution!
If we are going to preserve our national and our faithful unity during this current assault, we are going to have to change our attitude towards one another. The gift of unity comes by the power of the Spirit of God. And if we are to be good stewards of it, then we are going to have to cultivate and live by the fruits of the Spirit. Paul tells us the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. At the root of all these things is humility. We must be honest and humble about ourselves to realize that we share a common humanity, and that if we had been born at another time, in another place, in different circumstances, we might hold the views that we find absolutely objectionable. True humility and spiritual maturity allows us to see things from other people’s perspective. It doesn’t mean that we have to agree with them, but we can come to understand where they come from and what life’s circumstances or stresses or conflicts or fears they are responding to. And when we do that, and when we are able to treat each other with gentleness and self-control, we can forge the path to greater connection and unity.
I am grieved, but I have hope. And my prayer for you is that you maintain your hope. Do not surrender your hope. Hope is one of those things that the Devil cannot steal from you. Too high of a price was paid for us to have that hope, and the only way we can lose it is if we surrender it. I believe that God knew what he was doing when he breathed the breath of life into humanity and called it good. I don’t think that God made a mistake when he sent the only begotten Son to save us from our sins and open the gates of eternal life not only for me, but for those I call my enemies. And I don’t think God is making a mistake as the Spirit blows among us now, urging us to resist the Enemy’s plea to get us to hate each other, to surrender our hope. My prayer is that we be one people, one body, for the glory of God.