No matter which political party you side with, the U.S. is in an uncertain time. The recent U.S. presidential election has revealed many of the deep anxieties of our nation. In the wake of this traumatic election season, we must ask ourselves where our hope lies.
For Christians, our hope lies in God’s coming kingdom, but that hope is not just in an age to come, but in the present as well. So what does latching to this hope look like?
In our book Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, John Pattison and I make the case that our local churches are the place where the politics of God’s kingdom are beginning to emerge, the communities in which we are learning to seek the peace and flourishing that God intends for all humanity.
Here are a few practical ways in which our churches might begin to foster healthier and more peaceable forms of community (polis, the Greek root of our English word politics, means city or community).
Seek friendships with people who differ from you.
Even if a church seems largely homogeneous, there will undoubtedly be some variations among its members. I know of very few churches that don’t have at least a little diversity in terms of age and economic class.
Make an ongoing commitment to know those in your church who differ from you. Step out of your comfort zone; join a Sunday school class, small group or church committee in which you are a minority. Invite people over for meals, and learn to listen to them.
Conversation is the primary means by which we humans know others and make ourselves available to be known by them. As we begin to know others of different backgrounds, our abstract labels tend to fade in the presence of our real, flesh and blood presence with one another, and we become less inclined to demonize the other.
Silverton Friends Church, for instance, (where my co-author John Pattison is a member) gathered a diverse group of its members and spent most of the past school year reading about the LGBT community and discussing how they would respond together to tensions about sexuality in their congregation and their denomination.
These conversations have made their church more sensitive to the concerns of LGBT people in their congregation and in their neighborhood and are guiding them as they seek to embody the love of Christ for all people.
Work together with a diverse range of your neighbors
As we learn to be together in our churches with those who differ with us, we expand our capacity to know and work with diverse neighbors in our place. The skills of listening, patience and working through disagreements that we develop in our churches, will be of immense help as we get to know and to work alongside neighbors of other faiths, ethnicities and economic classes.
Finding opportunities to work with other churches—and particularly churches whose congregations are vastly different than our own—might be a good place to start. What are the concrete ways that we can bear witness to the unity of Christ’s body by working together for the flourishing of our neighborhood? And then, we should also find ways to work with other community groups—neighborhood associations, mosques (or other faith communities), business associations, arts associations and similar organizations.
We may have members who are already involved with some of these organizations, and they could help to foster collaborations. We should also stand alongside neighbors who are the victims of hatred and violence.
In Indianapolis, my own church, Englewood Christian Church, is working with a wide range of neighborhood organizations toward the well-being of our urban place. Over a decade ago, we helped organize conversations with our neighbors in which we began to imagine what it would look like for our neighborhood to flourish.
Healthier forms of politics will emerge as we work together.
In recent decades, too many Christians, on both the right and the left, have been enamored with top-down politics. We are tempted to think that if we can get sympathetic politicians into the White House and Congress everything else will start to fall into place. Often, local politics and the care of our particular places get lost in the shuffle.
Given the deep partisan divide in the midst of our prevailing two-party system, I am convinced that new and innovative approaches to politics will emerge from the grassroots, as citizens recognize the health of their neighborhoods as something worth fighting for. Politics will become more than the struggle for abstract ideals and instead the struggle to love our flesh and blood neighbors well.
Here in Indianapolis for instance, there is a coalition of churches that works to reduce crime by doing Faith Walks that aim to “directly engage those [neighbors] likely to be involved in homicides or a violent lifestyle.” These face-to-face engagements are designed to build relationships that guide would-be-criminals toward education and jobs. They also serve not only to de-escalate violence but also to minimize the need for police intervention.
As another example, my church has been led into working on policy related to early childhood education and renewable energy, not merely because these are good causes, but because in the course of our working with neighbors for the common good of our place, we encountered obstructions that required us to get involved.
Our hope in God’s kingdom, our political hope, lies in our ability to embody a different kind of community. This work, as I have sketched here, begins in our local churches and flows outward, the leaven that ultimately saturates the whole dough of creation.