Will we be pulled apart by people outside us, or will we be held together by the one who unites us?
In most Christian writing, “one” in the preceding question would be capitalized to make clear the One mentioned is the one true God and Lord. I intentionally left the pronoun uncapitalized hoping to spur more thinking about the question.
While I’m explaining the question: An answer requires addressing at least some of the implied questions. The more important implied questions are: What people? Who is “outside us?” Who is “the one?” What does it mean to be united?
“People” could be anybody, but this year, those people—and this is risky, but I’m going to do it anyway—those people are Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Stay with me.
These aren’t the only people on our minds right now, but if these two people don’t take up significant space in your social media feeds and news watching, then you may not be living in the United States.
Given the amount of time, resources and attention these two individuals are occupying in our nation—even down to discussions in some Baptist Sunday school classes—we ought to consider the original question with Trump and Biden as the “people.” After all, one of them very likely will be elected president in less than two months. Or three, if the vote count takes that long.
Who is “outside us?”
When we use the word “outside” in reference to someone, our tendency is to set that person in a box with little to no overlap with the box we put ourselves in. That’s the kind of “outside” I’m talking about when I ask about “people outside us.”
I should also define “us,” because whenever there’s an “us,” there’s usually also a “them.”
Here, “us” and “them” is defined as “church” and “state.” Inasmuch as we value the separation of church and state, we can think of political candidates—even those who sit with us in church on Sunday mornings—as serving a secular purpose outside of the church.
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When we trumpet the separation of church and state—which we do, because we don’t want any state telling the church what to do, or how and when to do it—we create a group of people outside the church who will serve the interests of the state without interfering with the interests of the church.
As politicians, Trump and Biden are functionaries of the state outside the church, despite how much overlap they may have with our personal political or religious views.
We can fill in the first half of the question, then, as follows: Will we be pulled apart by Donald Trump and Joe Biden—people outside us?
Who is “the one?”
This is an important question to answer. It’s important, because in the question, it is “the one” who unites us.
If the original question is asked outside a Christian context, “the one” could be anybody. Even in a Christian context, we need to be clear about who “the one” is. At some points in church history, the church has assigned a human being to the position of “the one.” We will be hard-pressed to name a time when that went well.
But in the original question, “the one” I mean is the One—the one true God and Lord.
Going back to that question, if we identify “us” as the church and not the state, then we must be crystal clear about who “the one” is. For the church, anyone outside us who promises to unite us should give us pause. They’re probably writing checks they can’t cash.
What does it mean to be united?
Again, if we read the question outside the Christian context, we likely will read “outside us” in social or political terms, “one” in human terms, and “unite us” in social or political terms.
But if we read the question inside the Christian context, then it takes on a different cast. The people “outside us” may be with us socially and politically while not being part of the church. And as already stated, “the one” here is the one true God and Lord.
At this point, we still could read “unites us” in secular, human terms as a social or political unity. But to do that would make the rest of the question shallower than I intend. To ask the question in secular, human terms is to suggest that the most the church offers the world is social and political unity.
With the One uniting the body of Christ, surely the church offers the world more than social and political unity.
“Unites us” here is defined by “the one.”
Paul says it pretty well: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-6).
What on Earth does all this mean?
If we listen to all the talk about and by Donald Trump and Joe Biden, there is a lot riding on the upcoming presidential election. We—the church, the body of Christ—can allow all that talk by and about two people to tear us apart, or we can find our identity and purpose in the One who unites us with unity not diminished by any amount of social, political, economic, racial or other difference.
We have our opinions, and we have our political views and allegiances. And I am grateful we still have the freedom to voice those opinions and views and to vote for whoever we think best.
The bigger question for us, though, is: Will we be pulled apart by people outside us, or will we be held together by the one who unites us?
When it’s all said and done, we’re not going to be asked who we voted for; we’re going to be asked who we followed.
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.