“Come, let us reason together, says the Lord.”
The varied responses to the U.S. presidential election is something United Methodist Christians must not ignore. And now, more than ever, we need to talk about what it means to be a follower the Prince of Peace at a time of ideological and cultural conflict.
We can’t ignore it because it is directly affecting our ability to be in ministry and to be in love and charity with one another.
Earlier this month, a United Methodist event in Fayetteville, N.C., for 5,000 church youth was rocked after some attendees used the event’s hashtag, #nccp16, to promote what many felt was a racist, unchristian agenda. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there have been over 700 incidents of hate and racism since the Presidential election. In the community of faith, we are all called as citizens of our country and people of faith, to vote our conscience and to participate fully in our political processes. Voting for one candidate or another doesn’t make one person a better Christian or a more faithful disciple than the other, or a good person or a bad person. The important thing is that we participate.
However, it is apparent that some voters, including some Christians, have perceived some of Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric—which many denounced as inflammatory and racist—as a license to flout our Biblical teachings about peacemaking, reconciliation, loving the stranger, and being “in love and charity with our neighbors.”
Whenever Christians use any political figure, party, or ideology as an excuse to objectify and dehumanize another brother or sister in Christ, we fail to live up to our discipleship. And when we express our disagreements on either side through violence, bullying, name-calling and aggression, we are equally guilty of misrepresenting the Gospel. At the same time, people who have been marginalized throughout history cannot be expected to sit by passively and give over to retrenchment and racialized policies that imply that a “great” nation is one where one group is favored and superior.
Is the church willing to face the creeping crises of our continued irrelevance by providing a spaces for honest talk about race relations, about how to participate honestly in our political systems, and how to bring our faith to bear on our public life?
What might have happened if the youth involved in the conflict at Pilgrimage 2016 had been invited to sit together and talk? To listen to each other’s stories and hurts? We will never know. But we do know that the church is a place where such coming together must happen, lest we lose our ability to let our faith inform our political lives.
We are people of the Way. The Way of peace. The Way of agreeing to disagree, and the way of struggling and reasoning together to try and get it right. And during the coming season of Advent, we are to be people who celebrate and rededicate ourselves to serving and following the Prince of Peace.
We at the General Commission on Religion and Race affirm the Pilgrimage 2016 leaders for attempting to navigate a touchy and complex time, and we offer to all United Methodists in the United States and around the world resources and discussion starters for such a time as this.
We are at a critical juncture in our life together as a Christian community in a world that tempts us to divide and exclude. Let’s not miss the opportunity to effectively and prayerfully be the church of all people in the midst of disagreement.