As we anticipate the 2020 election, U.S. Mennonite Brethren must rethink our approach to politics. American political culture is fiercely polarized. We hear the U.S. president speak in racially charged tones and refer to people who disagree with him as his enemies, and we begin to look at each other in the same way. In our spheres of influence as individuals and churches, what can we Mennonite Brethren do to change this ethos?
We can begin by acknowledging the challenge involved in taking a different approach. USMB congregations include both Democrats and Republicans, and unless we actively resist it, divisiveness will take root, ruining relationships within the church and destroying our witness among those who look to us to model God’s love and grace. Our neighborhoods, schools, businesses and community organizations need to see Christians loving their neighbors as themselves and exemplifying the wonderful truth that all human beings are created in God’s image and likeness—not tossing verbal grenades or avoiding one another when there are differences.
It’s been helpful for me to recognize that political affiliations are powerful and that avoiding these labels is challenging. In an interview with Ed Stetzer about his book Love Over Fear: Facing Monsters, Befriending Enemies and Healing Our Polarized World, pastor and author Dan White Jr., says, “If you are a Conservative and you move toward Progressives with affection, you will be labeled as one who compromises on moral issues. If you are a Progressive and you move toward Conservatives with warm hospitality rather than warring hostility you will be labeled complicit with injustice…. Our identity is so rooted in political affiliations that we fear being viewed as compromising or complicit. The ‘us vs. them’ way of self-identifying is so intense and even sub-conscious that it controls us more than our primary identity in the words, works and ways of Jesus.”
Our goal then is to root politics in the teachings and person of Jesus and to evaluate the character of political leaders, public policy issues and our vote against Scripture and who we know Jesus to be. When we do this, a longstanding dilemma arises: How do we bring our faith convictions to bear in politics when the candidates or the parties don’t fully align with what we know Jesus and the Bible to teach? We cannot use our loyalty to a political party to override biblical truth and teaching. Our first loyalty is to the way of Jesus; all other loyalties are secondary.
Too often we excuse harmful policies and bad character so that our preferred political party stays in power. We can’t continue to do this. When we name the failures and weaknesses of parties and candidates and talk together as followers of Jesus, we can be a positive force working against partisan divides.