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Living With Our Deepest Differences

Written By Tom Nelson

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]If there is anything that has been validated in this past election season, it is how deeply divided we are as a nation. Our differences are not primarily centered in economic or foreign policy matters, as important as they may be, but rather embedded in the fundamentally diverging ways we see reality. At almost every level of society, a progressive secularity is clashing with a conservative religiosity. In his recently released book, Confident Pluralism, St. Louis University law professor John Inazu captures well our fundamental societal differences. He writes,

“We lack agreement about the purpose of our country, the nature of the common good, and the meaning of human flourishing.” (p. 15)

Christian cultural observer Os Guinness points out how our deep differences present a serious challenge to the American experiment. “The challenge of living with deep differences is calling into question not only freedom and justice but America’s very identity—and this is a time when living with our deepest differences has become one of the world’s greatest issues, one that cries out for new and urgent solutions on a wider scale.” (The Case For Civility, p. 5)

As American citizens, it is increasingly evident that there are deep differences among us. What does this mean for all of us? What does it mean particularly for those who are followers of Jesus? How might we wisely navigate the turbulent cultural waters and politically charged rhetoric of our cultural moment? Let me suggest a few thoughts for your prayerful consideration.

First, I believe wise spiritual discernment is needed. The evil one is at work perpetuating a fierce spiritual battle in our world. This invisible war deceives, divides, and destroys, heinously wreaking havoc on individuals, institutions, and nations. Local churches are not immune to the evil one’s fury. We must guard against spiritual deception, foster unity, love one another, and hold fast to biblical orthodoxy. Even if it is costly, the church must avoid cultural accommodation and maintain its prophetic witness.

Second, we need to renew our gospel witness. The gospel has the power to transform human hearts, foster societal flourishing, and shape cultures. The good news of the gospel is what can bring true hope to our needy city, divided nation, and world. With a humble spirit, let us proclaim the gospel boldly to our friends, classmates, and coworkers.

Third, we are called to love our neighbors who are fellow image-bearers of God, even though many see the world very differently. Our commitment to seek the flourishing of others, particularly the most vulnerable in our city and our society, has never been more important. Let’s enthusiastically embrace common grace for the common good.

Fourth, we need to exemplify civility in both our language and behavior. Civility does not require agreement, advocacy, consensus, or suspension of criticism. Civility is not passivity, but it is a posture we assume when we disagree productively with others, respect their sincerity and decency, and refuse to demonize them.

The days in which we live are filled with sizeable challenges, as well as remarkable opportunities. How we deal with others who differ with us may matter more than we realize. For the glory of God and our gospel witness, may we, as apprentices of Jesus, live well in the midst of our deepest differences.



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1 Comment

  1. Chris Iliff

    Hi Tom, Linda and I had just returned from Haiti the day before the election and had had a blessed relief from news about all candidates. I wrote this to my children and a few close friends. It is very much in sync with your thoughts, which I enjoyed reading.

    My response to the US Presidential election, November 9, 2016

    I did not listen to the returns on TV or radio last night but the result was not a total surprise as two of our children texted or called my wife several times for what I think was a sanity check. This morning, despite my pledge to myself to keep fasting from radio and TV news, I listened for a few minutes to an NPR “analysis” of how everyone in the media could have been wrong. The irony of pundits commenting on the complete failure of punditry seemed lost on them. Back to my fast.

    Since I cannot control the outcome of elections or influence the winning candidates, the question I must ask myself is how I should respond to the results and how do I conduct myself within my community in a manner that is glorifying to God and helpful to my neighbor. Here is my current answer to that question.

    1.I will remain civil. Civility is in short supply. I will not encourage incivility by listening to it. I will walk away. I will turn it off. If I can influence a friend, a co-worker, a family member, I will encourage civility and cease participation in conversations that turn uncivil.

    2.I will remember my faith tells me I am not in control but God is. It is God who judges the nations and their leaders. I cast my vote and did what I thought best. Now I must leave it to God to sort it out.

    3.I can and will pray for our leaders. They need God’s influence and I believe that prayer changes things. Only God is wise enough to sort out the complex issues that confront our leaders and I must hope He will impart this wisdom to the ones He has put in power.

    4.I will refrain from fruitless speculation. Asking “how could…”, “what if….” “can you believe…” and questions like them is an endless spiral.

    5.I will refrain from disparagement of either candidate. Everyone knows their weaknesses. Re-hashing their faults won’t help anyone and has the potential for offending their supporters.

    6.I will remember that our country is amazingly resilient. We have benefited from great leadership, often only recognized in retrospect. We have survived incredible ineptitude, malfeasance, and corruption. In most areas, life for most citizens continues to get better generation over generation despite poor political leadership and will do so in the future. Every generation faces challenges regarding those left behind by changing circumstances. I should offer help and encouragement to the poor and not despair over transitory conditions.

    7.I will roll up my sleeves and work harder to create a better community. I will be a better employee. I will be a better informed citizen. I will give more of my time and money to good causes, people, and institutions.

    8.I will not engage with idiots.

    9.I will chill out more often.


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