“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” This is the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8 calling us to focus on truth and goodness wherever we find it.
I am sick of the fighting and the nastiness that dominate so much of our public debate and discussion. I am sick of calls for civility being dismissed. I am sick of the twisted moral reasoning we all use in order to defend our preferred political party. I am sick of having to use the qualifier, “Now, I don’t agree with everything here.”
I am sick of judgments being made about someone’s relationship with Jesus based on how they voted in the last election. I am sick of political parties dividing the body of Christ.
Recognizing truth and goodness
Truth, goodness, justice and excellence can be found everywhere and often in what we feel are unlikely places.
Instead of looking for truth only in the places and outlets that make you comfortable or confirm your bias, try getting out of your partisan ghetto and listening and learning from those with a different point of view. God’s kingdom is bigger than our voting bloc, and it is working in places we dismiss.
Obedience to Paul’s command requires knowing the truth and standing on this principle above politics. When truth is our priority, we can affirm it where we find it. We don’t have to agree with everything, we don’t have to approve of everything, but we must affirm and encourage truth where it is found.
This means we can build relationships with those who think differently than us, vote differently than us and look different than us. We can read books and magazines and newspapers with differing viewpoints, affirm the truth we find there and use the truth as points of agreement to build relationship to show God’s love in tangible ways.
Setting our mind on goodness means we set our minds on the goodness of God’s image in all people. To set our minds on goodness means we cannot hate another that is created in the image of God. We must treat all with respect and dignity. We must love all created in God’s image, and we must focus on the good that image entails.
When we live in the truth that all are created in God’s image and loved by God, it becomes harder to hate, belittle and dismiss. The litmus test for our love is not whether you watch the right news channel or whom you voted for in the last election. All people are valuable and are to be honored because they bear the image of our creator.
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Don’t minimize the image of God in others because you disagree with them politically.
Calling out lies and distortions
On the other side of this, we must call out lies and distortions of the truth even when, and probably even more so, it happens on the side we agree with more. Truth is truth and a lie is a lie no matter whether a name has an R or D beside it. Reflexively defending someone or condemning someone just because of their political leanings is not loving our neighbor well.
We are people of the truth, and we must stand for the truth that transcends our political battles. We must celebrate goodness where we find it. We must stand for justice and against oppression. The unity of the church is more important than the next election.
The image of God in others is more important than their voting record.
Unifying salt and light
We are called to civility, to be respectful and gentle in sharing the hope we have with the world. Celebrate truth. Cross the cultural dividing lines to celebrate goodness. Stand with the oppressed. Call out lies and distortions of the truth. Recognize and affirm the image of God in all people.
Paul calls us ambassadors of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 4. Have we lived up to this identity, this calling?
This reconciliation must begin with the body of Christ across racial, ethnic, economic and political lines. We are way too divided in our country but also in the church. Unity, love, respect and civility must start in the body of Christ, and, in this way, we can be salt and light to this divided world.
We can call others to a better way. We can be better ourselves.
Zac Harrel is pastor of First Baptist Church in Gustine, Texas.