"That we all may be one." We pray it almost every Sunday. The other Sunday as we were saying it, something clicked in me and I thought, "Wow. This prayer is a huge challenge for all of us Christians." Maybe especially me.
Christians come in many different shapes and sizes, more specifically different political views. That shouldn't be so bad. When you come upon someone whose view is different than yours it's an opportunity to test out your opinions, wrestle with the angel like Jacob did. With any luck, you'll come out stronger. (In Jacob's case he came out with a new name too, Israel.)
I once had a minister who said, "If you're sitting in a church and everyone has the same political opinion you do, get out of there." Good advice. Because it seems that as Christians, our biggest goal is learning to love others, especially those others who are different from us. "Love your enemies," Jesus said.
But there are a lot of people out there that would have us not love each other. I don't know if it's "divide and conquer" or a way of claiming power. Hey, if you say you're the sole keeper of the gospel truth that gives you the right to kick a lot of others off your mountaintop. It might even be good for fundraising.
Personally I become wary every time I see "evangelical Christian" used as a quick label. Of course I'm evangelical. To believe the good news is to want to share it. But am I that label some journalist is giving me? Why must we all be lumped in a group? I prefer the term a friend uses: passionate Christian. To be a passionate Christian is to love and that's what counts most.
There are hot-button issues that are supposed to divide us Christians, left and right, sheep and goats. The sanctity of life, abortion, gay marriage. I can see myself sitting at a table all alone when I say, "I understand the heartfelt opinions of my fellow Christians on these issues." I don't mean that as a cop out. If you can't understand, if you can't have compassion for someone who disagrees with you, what sort of person are you?
I'm not talking about tolerance. Tolerance seems like a bland, passive, often patronizing value. There is a faint air of superiority in tolerating. But loving someone who is different from you, really appreciating them, that's the goal.
Not long ago I was reminded of Chuck Colson's introduction to the reissue of his memoir Born Again. He specifically thanks the editor Elizabeth Sherrill who worked on the book and points out how fond they became of each other, even though they're on opposite sides of the political fence. Elizabeth, who is a friend, told me that the affection went both ways. And she hasn't voted Republican in decades.
We used to sing a song in our high school church youth group, guitars strumming: "They'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love," the refrain repeated again just as a reminder. Seems like the only way to make that prayer "That we all may be one" come true.