DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Great Question of Our Time

Written by: on May 24, 2018

Haidt asks  THE question of our time. Why are good people divided by politics and religion? Here are some of my thoughts. 

I have many European friends who say politics and religion have the same purpose, they both want to control the individual. From their perspective, they want nothing to do with either. They want to be able to choose their own way without interference from any organization either religious or political.  At the core of their life choices and therefore their moral compass are their experences, their emotional responses to those experience and even their intuitive response to those experences.

Most who belong to an Evangelical church in the United States would not hold to that same tenant.  However, consider that Haidt argues that we are born with the desire to want to do what is right. Also, consider that it is frequently our experiences and not reason that shapes views on what is right and what is not. In other words, “We’re born to be righteous, but we have to learn what, exactly, people like us should be righteous about.” [1]  Consequently, people can be quick to choose sides and quick to form opinions that are not based on reason but on experience, which leads to reaction instead of acting thoughtfully and rationally. This is not a secular vs Christian condition, it is the human condition. 

It’s interesting, “we’re really good at holding others accountable for their actions, and we’re really skilled at navigatiing through a world in which others hold us accountable for our own.” But we are not so good at holding ourselves accountable for our own actions and reactions. [2] In light of this circumstance, people react to emotion and physical stimilus more than they do reason. In fact, people often do not respond to reason until, because of the circumstances, they are forced to reason. Even then, they can second-guess their reasoning over their emotion and intuition. However, this might not apply when people are interacting with other people. [3] 

Haidt applies this thesis to the polictial spectrum of left, right, conservitive and liberal. However, the thesis can be applied to other situations where opinions, culture and world views differ. Which is most of the world. The church is not immune.

Though the church can be divided along polical lines, the church has long been divided along structural and theological lines. Regrettably, the polical lines that divide the church seem to be getting more and more ingrained in Christian discourse.

Honestly, I try my best to stay out of the public political fray because I do not believe that it advances the Kingdom of God—for which I have dedicated my life. I have taken some redicule for this stance with some of my friends saying, being in the middle is the most dangerous spot on the highway. Go left or go right but you can’t walk down the middle of the road and survive. This is indicitive of the political divide among even some of my close colleagues and friends.

Getting back to my Europe experience, my time there has influenced everything about me. It has shaped the way I see the world, and it has affected my view of the danger of mixing politics and religion. From that point of view, I regard political influence in and on the church to be unholy and even detrimental to the Kingdom of God.  Many, many disagree. And, if one chooses to call that walking down the middle of the polical highway then so be it. 

One thing I have noticed however; it seems that the more stark the political divide among the church, the more the structural and theological lines become blurred or even “forgiven.” For example, there was a time when the Evangelical church and the Catholic church seemed to be in diametrical opisition to each other, in their structure, in their theology, and in their political views. It appears that the tension has been lessening. Many things have attribute to this lessening of tension. One in particular my be what is precieved as a general attack on conservitive values and conservitive views of, for example, marriage and family values. The common sturggle has made a once less-than-friendly association, more friendly and even fraturnal.

At this point in my ministry and life, I have little time left for the division along political lines. As long are there are people in this world who are unreached, who are hungry, without clothing, medical care, clean water, heat in the winter and shelter from the storm, there is no time for drawing lines in the sand politically.  Haidt states that “people are trying harder to look right than to be right. [4] I don’t want to be right, I don’t even want to look right. I want to do what is right. That means different things to different people, for me it means that I will walk humbly, love mercy and do justly, in that order. That’s not policial, that’s just plain Christian. 

 

  1. Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York: Random House, 2012, 31. 
  2. Ibid., 87. 
  3. Ibid., 80.
  4. Ibid., 89.

About the Author

Jim Sabella

12 responses to “The Great Question of Our Time”

  1. Lynda Gittens says:

    Good post Jim,

    “for me it means that I will walk humbly, love mercy and do justly, in that order. That’s not policial, that’s just plain Christian.”
    I love this comment. Many things if they do good that is sufficient. But it does not work alone that please God. This journey is rough and we need faith to sustain.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks, Lynda. You’re right. It’s a tough journey. It’s even tougher if we’re going it alone without faith.

  2. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    “I don’t want to be right, I don’t even want to look right. I want to do what is right. That means different things to different people, for me it means that I will walk humbly, love mercy and do justly, in that order. That’s not political, that’s just plain Christian.”
    I see Jim written all over that statement; it clearly speaks to who you are.
    I’d be curious how you’d answer the moral foundations survey Haidt created at Yourmorals.org. It’s fascinating, and helped me realize I (and most of us, probably) don’t fit into neat little categories.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Katy, well…I took the test. Not only do I not fit into any one category, I don’t fit in the category most people might think I should. 🙂 What an interesting world! Thanks, Katy.

  3. Mary Walker says:

    Jim, Steve and I are right behind you on that road. I wish it could be different – I wish Christians would unite on the important things.
    I go to Pro-life rallies when I can. One year a group from our church wouldn’t go because it was being organized by a Catholic priest. That just blew my mind. I went. I told my friends that the babies didn’t care what political or religious groups we belonged to.
    Your experiences in Europe have given you such great insights. Thanks for sharing so openly.

  4. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Jim thank you for your candor. Dealing with politics and religion especially in our current society is tough. However, every where you turn it is there. It is impossible to turn a blind eye to it. It has so many direct impacts to the problems and issues that ail our country- homelessness, poverty, racial injustice, inequality in education, disparity of wealth, etc. We as Christian have to be intention in these areas in order to foster change. 🙂

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Christal, you’re right, the division between politics and religion is blurred. It is everywhere. I certainly don’t shy away from engaging in political discourse and activity. It’s a part of our right at United States citizens. I don’t take that right lightly. But I am also, a citizen of the Kingdom of God. And in that context, I try my best not to divide brothers and sisters in Christ along political lines, by the votes they cast or any other lines for that matter. That is what I mean by trying to stay out of the political fray. I have recently heard more and more people saying that you can’t be a Christian if you are on this side or that side. I have trouble getting my head around that. I want to stay away from those labels in the church as I do every other label that people use to divide. I just don’t see the advantage to any of it. Thanks, Christal.

  5. Jim,
    I second Katy’s statement about hearing you all through this post and especially the closing statement.

    What’s really interesting to me is how we have gotten to this place where our theological and ecclesiastical differences are minimized because of political agreement.

    For me it all – or at least a lot of it – comes back to our willingness to see people as ‘other’ and therefore bad or wrong or heretics or heathen, etc. In the sense that so many were already willing to create or legitimize those differences as essential and separating, it really isn’t surprising that the placement of the walls can change (for lack of a better analogy), because for many where the walls are is much less important than the walls themselves.

    [I just deleted 500 word of an example because I decided it wasn’t going to be helpful – especially publicly…..but trust me, it was amazing. 🙂

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks, Chip. As I mentioned to Christal, it is difficult for me to get my head around the idea of needing to divide brothers and sisters in Christ by their policial views or positions. It honestly makes me feel sad. It now seems that we give the label Christian, not based on peoples profession of faith, but based on their profession of political affiliation. I hear more and more people ask, how can you be a Christian if you express this or that political view. As if a political view is what makes one a Christian. Sure would have liked to read the 500 words you cut out. I’m sure they were amazing.

  6. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Thanks, Jim for your post. Ironically, it’s people like you that I want to represent me in politics. They are concerned with meeting social needs versus their own personal needs and building their character instead of building their reputation. Your post got me to dreaming…

    As a social worker, I resonate with your desire to do the right thing instead of getting lost in politics and fighting about what is the right way to think. Yet, I am so grateful for the good politicians who advocate for the laws, policies, and aide for me to do the social justice and the freedom to administer God’s love while doing it. It seems we have become so separated as Christians and struggle to take Christ into whatever arena we are called into. I have to believe there are good Christian politicians who are trying to walk humbly, loving mercy, and living justly, and I would like to serve alongside of them. As believers, we are all, in our own way, pastors, evangelists, and one in the body of Christ. What would it look like to have us all come together more? Less fighting and condemnation and more collaboration and exhortation of each other’s personal calling, wherever we may be? To be missionaries of love in the country, work, or community God has called each of us to be in. And as you so beautifully and simply say, “…walk humbly, love mercy and do justly, in that order.” Am I talking about heaven, or can we get more of this on earth?
    Thank you for your thought-provoking post. I really appreciated it.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thank you, Jenn. I appreciate your insightful response. As I read the various responses to my post and also other’s posts, I can see that my experience living in Europe for so long has shaped my view of the world, politics and what it means to be a Christian. Honestly, I feel a bit out of sync. Political engagement is critical and is the right of all United States citizens. I’ve just not been persuaded yet that the political arena is the place to solve the deep social issues and challenges that we face in the United States and around the world. I have the hope that if the church did what God purposed it to do, we would not have to turn to the power of government and policial movements. However, I think that the church has acquiesced its divine directive to meet the physical, social and spiritual needs of this world to a lesser power and in turn has lost much of its standing in the world today. We have swapped power for power and find ourselves still wanting. You and Jake are one of the leaders in our world who both know God the power of God and practice what you preach. That in itself is a powerful mix. You guys are world-changers. Thank you, Jenn.

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