How To Maneuver Our Polarized World

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (Phi. 2:1-4, MSG)

Polarization. In my opinion, this has become the cultural and political problem in our country and in the church. That’s a pretty sweeping statement, but it’s intended to spark some thought and dialog on faith and life.

So, what do I mean by polarization? I’m not talking about making things colder (though there is some merit to that idea… you know, “throwing cold water on it” really does have an affect of slowing things down). I would define polarization as the driving of people to concentrate into two opposing positions (polar opposite) on important issues. It is the denigration of the middle ground, the loss of an ability to compromise in order to achieve shared goals and objectives. It is the abandonment of mutual core values, justified by “the times we’re in.” Polarization is further increased by those leaders who would manipulate the masses by pandering to their fears, rather than using their leadership position to lift people up above our fears.

That middle ground is so important, because it is often in that middle place where we find those issues vital to our existence and mission, those things which make our endeavors worthy of our efforts of value to the world and the Kingdom of God. When we are forced to live on the sidelines, we find ourselves afraid and unable to care for anyone but ourselves. The principles our nation was founded on, like those principles on which we can build that fabled “city upon a hill” (from John Winthrop’s 1630 “A Model of Christian Charity” essay/sermon, quoted by nearly every president and candidate since then), are all but lost. These call us to promote justice, mercy, humility, self-sacrifice and peace for the sake of all of humanity because, “The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause us to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world.”

Sadly, much of our political discourse degenerates to name calling, partisan bickering and, well, just plain silliness. The church’s version of that adds to this list a brand of legalism and a judgmental spirit, hiding under the guise of political correctness and/or self-righteous indignation that stifles the spirit and muddies the mind.

“Compromise” used to be a good word, but in this polarized world, it becomes synonymous with capitulation or failure. That is often because we have vacated the middle ground and have lost our basic values, sacrificing them to the god of whatever the issue of the moment is. “If only our side could win, all would be well,” some think, so people find themselves doing things they shouldn’t to accomplish those goals (even in the church!). Because they are afraid of losing, any movement toward the middle becomes to them the beginning of failure. Even embracing formerly shared convictions becomes suspect. Eventually one side will lose or go too far, and the pendulum will swing the other way and the process starts anew. A win-at-all-costs attitude, mean-spiritedness, vindictiveness, a sense of disenfranchisement and a rush to the bottom for the lowest common denominator (usually money), all characterize the consequences of such polarization, both within the church and in our society.

As we have entered into a new season led by a different political class, as we disembark from the COVID-19 pandemic, watch for this polarization and be aware of its seductive pull. Be aware of the call of God and what the Word says about such things as per Paul’s words above. Let us be like Christ… think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of Himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of Himself that He had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, He stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. (Phil. 2:5-8, MSG)

Paul also says this: “respect the government and be law-abiding, always ready to lend a helping hand. No insults, no fights. God’s people should be bighearted and courteous.” (Tit. 3:1-2, MSG) And let us THERE find the middle ground where we can live as God’s people and be free to serve him together, focusing on His call, the work of the church. Is this possible in the church?

Blessings and peace,

Pastor Rich