The Cost of Unity

Now is not a unified moment in the life of the nation, and it shows. The congressional district where my mom lives, and where I’m spending my maternity leave, is still covered with signs leftover from Midterms. It flipped from decades of red (including names like Newt Gingrich and Tom Price) to blue, but by less than a percentage point. In the district next door, the winner still hasn’t been officially called and the two candidates are separated by only around 500 votes.

Now is also not a unified moment in the life of the church. 75% of white evangelicals voted Republican in the Midterms. Meanwhile, almost all of my Christian friends, most of whom would formally fit the definition of an “evangelical” even if they might not like that label, voted D down the ballot.

Not terribly surprising–I’m a millennial, a racial minority, live in a city, and am highly educated. Most of my “people” check some if not all of those boxes. All those demographics are drifting blue these days.

But as I’ve been trying to pick places to go to church each week and as I’ve been continuing to meditate on the books John, the theme of church unity has come up a lot recently. Today as I was studying the High Priestly Prayer, I noticed that Jesus puts high stakes indeed on the church’s unity. He prays:

“…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20b–23, emphasis added)

Jesus prays that our unity would be to such a degree that it matches the unity within the Trinity. And what hinges on our reaching that level of unity? Our very credibility before the world. Whether the world believes that the Father sent the Son or that the Father loved us–that’s the Gospel–hinges on whether or not we are one.

All the identities I mentioned above–millennial, minority, educated, urbanite–as well as being a woman–make me disgusted and angry with the “75%” of white evangelicals who continue to support the GOP. Here in Georgia, I’m inherently wary when I search for churches to visit; last week, I intentionally went to a Spanish bilingual church just because I was so disillusioned by political comments made at a majority white church the week prior.

Many young people of evangelical backgrounds feel similarly. A lot of the stories as well as the comments in this article talk about this same disillusionment, and fully 1/3 of those raised evangelical end up abandoning their parents’ faith tradition for one reason or another.

And yet I grieve the cost of this fracturing even as I relish the comfort and safety it brings. The flipside to Jesus’ prayer above is that if we are not unified, the world will not believe the Gospel. It’s already a narrative that’s so utterly counter to what we see in the world–power surrendering for the sake of powerlessness, love for enemies resulting in radical self-sacrifice, and perhaps most unbelievable of all, the conquering of death itself. It’s a straight up supernatural story that feels out of place in the flesh-and-blood world–that is, unless it’s told by flesh-and-blood church that demonstrates utterly otherworldly unity.

And yet, what will be the cost of that unity? I’m honestly not sure I’m following the same Jesus as those 75%, and I suspect they might say the same of me.

Reformation Day was a few weeks ago. Many of the same theological tradition as myself celebrate what they regard as Luther’s courage in abandoning the Catholic church and returning to the Bible, although most Catholics would tend to have a different interpretation. At what point is the evangelical church in America, if it continues to deny Biblical realities, too far gone, to the point that remaining in union constitutes being unequally yoked?

More reflections on what unity requires in an upcoming post.

image: Yoke by Rob Oo: https://flic.kr/p/238Lgub |
CC Attribution 2.0 Generic – License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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