We met over email in the spring of 2012. I had just co-launched a literary blog and our mutual friend introduced us as fellow writers. Stephanie and I immediately hit it off. Not only was she a gifted writer, Stephanie and I shared a similar sense of humor and sensibility. As we got to know each other and began to write with each other, we discovered a ridiculous number of similarities and common points of interest, including and especially, our shared Christian faith. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, it was as though every other email was a “you too?” moment.
Then one day I wrote a piece that indicated my progressive political leaning. The 2012 presidential election was heating up and though the piece was not overtly political, it revealed my beliefs. Stephanie, it turned out, was a conservative.
This news wasn’t really a big deal to me — I am used to have friends and family who have different political beliefs, and I even got my first start in the blogging world as the token “progressive” Christian through a conservative friend’s blog. But things were getting heated with the election and we didn’t know each other that well.
Stephanie and I began to email back and forth about politics through the lens of faith, which tested whether we were Christians or ideologues first. We shared two things in common in holding our different political beliefs because: 1) we had both thought a lot about them, and, 2) shockingly, neither of us had an interest in destroying America. Eventually Stephanie and I decided to co-write a bipartisan series for our website, looking at partisanship through the lens of faith (summary: love for Jesus makes for fertile common ground).
After the election it was hard to ignore the mix of apocalyptic expressions of woe and the tone-deaf exclamations of victory. Each came with its own vilification of the other party. I found myself at parties with fellow progressives defending conservatives because the caricatures of them were plainly wrong, and I would be hurt if Stephanie didn’t defend me against caricatures of progressives. In fact, over the past two years Stephanie and I have both limited the type of political commentary we put up on social media, using whether it would hurt the other as our barometer. At the end of the day and — if we believe what we both claim to believe — into eternity, we are sisters first, through our shared faith in Christ. Our primary identity as Christians must be as children of God first. Period. Full stop.
Jesus says in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The love that Jesus talks about here is a pretty high standard — the way that Jesus loves us is through humbly giving his life for us. Loving others this way will require a death too.
In Stephanie’s and my case, it meant a death to an identity rooted in politics first. This was and is not an easy thing to embrace. Stephanie and I don’t agree with each other on some big issues (although we do agree on others). But the deeper into this faith that I go, I see that when my identity becomes my politics or my nationality (or even work or relationships, but that’s another issue), I am not living out who I was made to be.
This identity as a beloved child of God extends past ideological differences in the world, to doctrinal differences in the church. I hate to be yet another critic (because it seems that this is what Christians do so much of late), but we often eat each other alive over differences — differences that are certainly legitimate.
This is not to say that political or doctrinal differences can easily be pushed aside or don’t matter. Of course they do. But when we love as Christ did, through humility and sacrifice, it’s amazing how charitable we can be to those who disagree with us. That kind of love that saw us clearly — all of our brokenness and flaws, all of the things about us that fall so woefully short of the Divine — hopes for the best. That kind of love hopes that those different beliefs come from the desire to know and please God. To paraphrase Paul, it doesn’t matter how right we are, if we are not speaking or working out of love, our words are just noise.
I am — we are — made to be beloved children of God first. Period. Full stop. We can be children of God who happen to Democrat or Republican, Calvinist or Arminian, Catholic or Protestant, and so on, but we must first be children. The world will know that we are God’s children by one measure, the greatest of them all: that we love one another.
Juliet Vedral is Press Secretary for Sojourners.
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