Does 2020 Feel Polarizing? A Perspective on Christian Unity

I remember when the emails started rolling in from leaders in late summer. “I’m not sure what to do about my small group gatherings this fall. We have people all over the map! Some want to wear masks, some don’t want to come if they have to wear a mask. Some are only comfortable meeting online, some say they can’t stand another Zoom meeting. Help! What do I do?”

Chances are, our Small Group Leaders are not the only ones facing these kinds of tensions. If it’s not masks/no masks or online vs. in person, you might be encountering other polarizing conversations: which political issues/character issues should determine your vote, the Christian’s role in bringing about justice, which kinds of justice are most important. Heck – I recently witnessed full-throttle fights over a photo of a pro athlete grilling a steak! 

It can sometimes feel like our world is a delicate minefield of disagreements waiting to explode right now. 

As a Christian, I’m encouraged by this: disagreements, even strong ones inside the church, are absolutely 100% expected by God. Seriously, they are! The New Testament is chock full of instructions about how to disagree as believers, which tells us something beautiful and freeing.

The church is supposed to be a place where people of varying convictions and opinions mix. In the New Testament church, believers faced disagreements on what to eat or not eat, what days were holy days, and how to give thanks (Rom. 14). Churches disputed over who should care for widows (Acts 6) and addressed cliques that were forming within the body (1 Cor. 1).

In 2020, here’s what I think it means. I think the church can be a place where some people vote for Trump and some people vote for Biden; where some people have a role in standing up for anti-racism, some have a role in supporting the police and some help bring about other forms of justice; where, in the pandemic world of 2020, some worship online and some are more comfortable in person, some want to wear masks and some don’t. 

The church is supposed to be a place where the variety and diversity of Christ-imaging humans is not hidden or unacknowledged, but is in full view on display. We are all welcome in the family of God.

So what do we do with the polarization? What do our Small Group Leaders do when they have members who are all over the map on mask-wearing and comfort levels for gathering? What do you do when you see a family member’s political post on Facebook that really irks you and violates a conviction you hold? What do you do when a friend invites you to a march, but you feel called elsewhere?

Jesus’ words to his bride, the Church, are both comforting and clear: “Walk…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

I love that last phrase: eager to maintain unity. You know what’s different about the church? It’s that the majority of the disagreements we may have are minuscule in comparison to the deep, vast, solid foundation upon which we agree. The very premise upon which we gather as the body of Christ is that we agree on this: that the love of our God, evidenced in the person of Jesus, is so vast and so deep and so life-altering, that we cannot help but turn to the believer next to us, differing convictions and all, and say: “I will love you. I will serve you. God has done so much for me, how could I not possibly do the same for you?”

2020 has plenty of room for polarization, to be sure, and as we dodge the minefields of potential disagreements and we occasionally misstep and blow something up, as we are apt to do, my hope and my prayer is this: that we, as believers, will continue to gaze at Jesus every day and soak in his compassion, mercy, grace and love for us. And that we, filled and motivated by that love, will turn to the believer (and non-believer) next to us, and instead of cancelling one another, we extend grace, love and forbearance in the eager pursuit of unity in the Spirit. 

The church will never be absent of disagreement – it’s not supposed to be! – and perhaps that’s because God’s plan all along was for us to find a way, rooted and grounded in Christ’s love, to love each other anyway. May God get the glory for how we love one another and pursue unity in the church, even and especially in 2020, a year of polarization. 

Valerie Bouchard has been attending Faith since 2010 and came on staff in 2015 as the Communication and Connection Director. She is passionate about helping people love Jesus more in their everyday lives and especially loves serving alongside gifted leaders and creatives at Faith.

Outside of Faith, you’ll find her hiking with her golden retriever, Kai, coaching CrossFit classes or planning her next travel adventure.