Christian Disunity: If Only We Could Blame the President!
If only we could blame Donald Trump for it. American Christians are separating into warring camps over him. Not all Christians — I keep seeing encouraging signs of unity in other realms — but there’s enough political battle between us to cause considerable media stir. And believe me, the media loves to see us fighting among ourselves.
It’d be easy to blame Trump for it. Love him or hate him, you have to agree he has a gift for making himself the center of attention. Simply mention him, and it’s hard to keep the conversation from becoming about him. And it really is about him, isn’t it?
No, not this time. And it’s not his fault, either.
We’ve Got Ourselves to Blame
First of all, we Christians have never needed Trump as an excuse to divide ourselves. We’ve been doing it just fine (which is not fine, actually) for centuries. There was the one about whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, or from the Father and the Son. Remember that one? You should — it was huge, a major contributor to the Great Schism between the western (Roman) Church and the eastern (Orthodox) churches.
Later on there was the Reformation. I hasten to point out that Luther originally hoped his reforms would remain within the Roman church, but we all know how that turned out. Since then, Protestantism in particular has found ways to divide over everything from start to finish: from the way God created the earth to the way He plans to end it.
Is this embarrassing to the faith? Yes and no. It’s embarrassing that we’re not living up to Christ’s best for us. And yet His Church still thrives in spite of it, 2,000 years after He walked the earth. I look at church history and I think, There must be a God. We’d never have survived our own foolishness without Him.
We’re Responsible For Obeying Christ
Still, it would be nice if we could blame someone else for it. Maybe we could, if God had given us an exception clause — if the book of Philippians had said, “I urge you to live in unity, as long as you’ve got a president you can agree on.” Or if Jesus had prayed for us in John 17 to stay live as a unified body, except He’d give us a break if we had to deal with a hostile media.
I have trouble finding an out like that anywhere in the Bible, though. We’re responsible. We’re the ones who claim to follow Christ in His supernatural power. We’re the ones the Bible was speaking to in Philippians 2:1-4, where it said,
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
A Simple Approach to Recovering Unity
It’s a challenge, standing united when we disagree during this impeachment season and this election year. I have a simple approach for us to try, for starters: Listen to each other.
We still have much in common, after all. It was never necessary in the first place to make Trump our flashpoint for division. We agree on too much, even in our politics. Every believer I know of agrees that Trump has made major mistakes, and that he’s gotten some major things right. We just weigh them differently.
A good friend of mine says his integrity would never allow him to vote for a man of Trump’s public character. He weighs that heavily. I listen to him, and I have no trouble respecting his approach, even though I choose to give more weight to the president’s policy accomplishments — especially considering his leftist opposition. My friend listens to me, and he respects my approach even though it’s not his.
What my friend doesn’t do to me is define my politics the way the media does. The mainstream media loves to portray pro-Trump Christians in the same poor light as they see him: racist, elitist, homophobic, xenophobic, and uncaring toward the poor — or so they allege. In fewer words, since the media is in many ways indistinguishable from the Democratic elite, we’re deplorables, clinging to our guns and religion.
The message there? A large swath of Christianity is utterly lacking in principle. In response, I ask my #NeverTrump Christian brothers and sisters, How believable is that? Is that what you think our Christianity does for us? Really? What if you listened to us instead of the anti-Christian media establishment?
Let’s Listen to Each Other
Pro-Trump Christians see the president standing for the right kind of freedoms and opposing the wrong kind of libertinism. He intends to keep America properly strong, and he’s our best defense against the Left’s false moralities and foolish economic and national defense ideas. Those are principle-based reasons to support him.
We weigh those reasons in the balance with other principle-based reasons not to support him — reasons we’ll freely acknowledge — and we find that on the whole we’d much rather have him leading us than any other currently viable candidate.
#NeverTrump Christians might disagree with us on that. I’m only asking for so much, though; just an initial move back toward unity among us as brothers and sisters in Christ, by way of listening to each other. But we’d better get at it. In these days of rising anti-Christian hostility, we’re going to need each other.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:14–15)
Part of a series on Christian unity in the era of Trump.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ and Critical Conversations: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens, and the lead editor of True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism.