When Mark Galli of Christianity Today published an editorial calling for the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump, it was seen as a rift in Christendom, or at least, a rift among Evangelicals, a group that overwhelmingly supports the president. This break from the pack was received with some amount of shock because of the pervasive assumption that Christians are united. The truth is, we are not, and we have never been.
The 2016 election revealed the political divide among Christians. Despite the ever-present talking heads on television, there is a wide diversity of political views among Christians, and many of them are in direct conflict.
Understanding this divide, Christianity Today tried “to stay above the fray.” They saw themselves as a big tent where Christians of all political stripes could find welcome. Galli said, “politics is not the end and purpose of our being.” I disagree with that premise; politics is the way we negotiate how to live with one another, which is precisely the concern of any ethical framework. The big fights in the earliest proto-Church were about how to live together and how to live with the Roman Empire; these are political questions. Politics is not what brings Christians together.
There must be something else that holds us together. Many Christians would say they are “higher things,” the things of God.
One might assume that the higher things that unite Christians are beliefs, the things we think about God. History proves this false. Despite councils and reformations and counter-reformations, the Church has split over beliefs any number of times. Christians have cut out one another’s tongues over disputes in beliefs — then later canonized the same people as saints! Right belief depends on who has power.
It might be more helpful to think about the things of the Spirit. “The fruits of the Spirit” are given in Galatians 5:22-23: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” If we name ourselves as Christians, we claim that the Spirit is transforming us toward these virtues. These hold us together through other disputes, the theological and political. It is this spiritual unity to which Galli appeals, even saying that their delay in criticizing Trump and his supporters was due to “patient charity.”
This is the danger: unity at the cost of justice. When and how to criticize can only be done according to one’s conscience. However, the conscience can be obscured by the delusions, doubts and desires with which we all wrestle. Even the fruits of the Spirit can become myopic so that love, patience and generosity are only offered to some, to those who look and act like us, so that we can maintain a peace that is ours alone.
Remaining silent to preserve unity and peace among Christians is in no way loving to anyone else. It’s not loving to the 17% more people who were victims of hate crimes after the 2016 election. It’s not loving to the thousands of children still in cages or to people seeking asylum. It’s not loving to the 700,000 people losing SNAP benefits or the 8 million people whose disability benefits are threatened. It’s not loving to anyone who likes to drink water or breathe air, much less the tens of millions who will be displaced by climate change in the next 30 years.
Staying above the fray only benefits ourselves and people like us, but the Spirit compels us to bring Good News to the world. Jesus never stayed above the fray; Jesus was the fray. It’s time we got back in there with him, unity be damned.