Reflection: Can we bridge the political divide--in church?

One of the most interesting parts of this past state election, at least in my mind, is the map the Boston Globe put together that breaks down how each town voted.  As I look at it, I am struck, as a lifetime resident of Massachusetts, by just how divided our state is politically.  Popular belief would hold that Massachusetts is a solidly "blue" state in presidential elections, but this closer look reveals a much more diverse, much more divided public.  Can I really have grown up one town away from people on opposite ends of the political spectrum?  Well, yes, the map would seem to say.

When we overlay a map of our diocese on this red-blue political landscape, one is immediately confronted with the fact that we have at least as many churches in red towns as blue towns. Meaning that we, as an Episcopal Church, provided we aren't entirely self-segregated along ideological political lines, are a mixed body; our neighbor in the pew may just have voted for a Democratic governor.  Or a Republican one.  They may have voted to increase taxes in order to help the environment or to limit paid sick leave for workers to save small businesses in expenses.  You can't know for sure.  But chances are, that person kneeling next to you at Communion may have voted a position opposite to your own.

Given that fact, that we are a "purple" church, perhaps this time of exultation or exasperation is the perfect opportunity to start talking politics in church.  Not advocating a political party or platform or demonizing those of alternative view points, but seeing if we, as neighbors joined in the sisterhood and brotherhood of Christ, might be able to build understanding and reconciliation upon that common bond.  Might we be able to bridge the ever-widening gap between Democrats and Republicans that is preventing our country from functional governance, if we start in our very own church?  For if we, as a single albeit mixed body, cannot have the kind of productive conversations that are grounded in love and deep listening, how can we ever expect our broader society to do so?

Luckily we have a great opportunity for this practice coming up on Saturday, Nov. 8 when, at our annual Diocesan Convention, our mixed body will be on full display.  We will debate budgets and divestment and have elections of our own, topics which carry in them strong spiritual but also political feelings.  Might we be able to model for our congregations and for our society how people with different opinions may hold each other in love, based upon their shared beliefs?  Might we use an election that split our state in half as motivation for reconciliation, wholeness and unity?  Might we be brave enough to call a halt to our political trench warfare and work together in prayerful fellowship for the glory of God's kingdom and the betterment of God's Church?  In the name of Christ, I pray.

--Noah Van Niel, postulant for Holy Orders, Diocese of Massachusetts

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