Election Day 2020 has come and gone. I’m writing on November 4, the day after the election, and millions of mail-in ballots are still being counted, leaving the results of the presidential election undecided. We are in a liminal moment, waiting, feeling unsettled, or as one humorist quipped, “It’s like the entire nation is on the Maury Show waiting breathlessly to learn who the father will be.” For us Christians, thankfully, that question (“Who is my father?”) has long been answered, as I wrote about here and in the previous posts in this week’s Current Events five-part blog series on what Christians should do after we vote. As followers of Jesus, it is almost certainly more consequential how we live after we vote than who we voted for. If you haven’t read the previous posts, you can start with the first one here.
My wife, Michelle, has been reading the book, Love Kindness by Barry Corey, and I want to share a few statements he makes that are very helpful as we think about how to be the body of Christ once the election is over.
Corey writes, “Kindness has become far too often a forgotten virtue. Christians often bypass kindness to begin a shouting match, or we just talk among ourselves about how awful the other side is. We rant before we relate.”
Pope Francis, in The Joy of the Gospel, talks about this too, reminding us of Jesus’ words in John 13:34-35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” Then he goes on to say that we, church, are people on a boat heading in the same direction. That image got me thinking that too often we are like people on a boat headed in the same direction, but we have erected a wall down the middle of the boat so that the right side and left are divided. All they can do is yell at each other over the wall. We rant before we relate.
Imagine if your church sanctuary had a wall right down the middle. The right-leaning people sat on the right, and the left-leaning people sat on the left. Divided. Rarely interacting, except maybe on social media, where the tone is critical and attacking, furthering the divide, fortifying the wall. (That said, I need to mention a bit of an aside for those of you who are part of the family of Faith Church reading this: I have been so impressed with the way that you, though you have differing opinions on politics and many other matters, interact with one another keeping the most important thing the most important thing: our love of Jesus and our heart to follow him.)
Of course Faith Church doesn’t have a wall down the middle aisle of our sanctuary, and I’m guessing your church doesn’t either…and yet do we? Have you allowed a wall to be built in your heart and mind, blocking you from some in the body of Christ? Have you allowed bitterness and unkindness to grow inside you, directed toward those who think differently from you? We Christians must guard against allowing that kind of wall to be built. I suspect the origins of the wall are rooted in care. You care about the people in your church, and you want what you believe is in their best interest. But remember Pope Francis’ words. Do you rant before you relate? No one is going to convince another to think of something in a new way when their interactions with them are marked by arrogance and unkindness.
Corey goes on to suggest that “To be Christian, kindness must shape us and define us because we are seeing the other as someone made in the image of God.” In other words, we need to go back to the beginning, to the first chapter of the Bible where in Genesis 1:26-27, we read:
“26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; he male and female he created them.”
Every single one of us. Image-bearers. People from the other political party? Image-bearers whom God created and loves. People from other religions that are not from the USA? Image-bearers whom God created and loves. People who practice habits you don’t approve of? Image-bearers whom God created and loves. Is that in the forefront of our mind when we are thinking of others?
Corey notes that, “In today’s polarized culture, we are often pulled toward one extreme or the other.” Corey calls these extremes, the soft center on one side and the hard edges on the other side. What does he mean by that? A soft center kind of person is wishy-washy, changing their beliefs, or uncertain about their beliefs. A hard edges person is harsh, attacking, judgemental. Christians should be neither.
So Corey proposes a third option. “Rather than the harshness of firm center and hard edges, or the weakness of a spongy center and soft edges, start with kindness. Kindness is the way to have a firm center, but soft edges.” To have that balanced third option, we can and should view people with kindness because they are made in the Image of God, loved deeply by God.
But what is kindness? Check back tomorrow, as I’ll try to describe this essential quality.