The Election is Over: Long Live the King!
The morning after an election can be a difficult time for Christians, no matter who is elected. Inevitably, there will be some who are elated, others who are dejected, and if Facebook or Twitter are any sort of barometer, the relation between the two is not exactly a model of Christian unity. Locked in the echo chambers of our fragmented "tailored-for-me" society, we too easily tend to assume that brothers and sisters in Christ share our partisan loyalties, and thus become shocked--shocked!--when we hear a fellow Christian who seems to disagree with us. It turns out that what seems a straightforward relationship between our Christian confession and our political leanings is not so straightforward after all. And our inclination is to then call into question our sister or brother's Christian faith! There is, of course, another option on the table here, which is to perhaps reconsider the supposedly straightforward overlap between our Christian confession and particular partisan loyalities. It doesn't take too much imagination to realize this case of political division within the body of Christ is analogous to the "party lines" that often separate us when it comes to matters of faith & science, creation & evolution. And addressing such divisions is exactly why The Colossian Forum was launched. While we don't often articulate this, in fact The Colossian Forum is called The Colossian Forum because we believe Paul's letter to the Christians in Colossae diagnoses a situation similar to our own. The factions and divisions that beset the church in Colossae were a result of Christians allowing secondary matters to trump the primary conviction that all things hold together in Christ. You might say their problem was disordered allegiance: they had let their allegiances to particular parties and factions--which emphasized certain "positions" on matters of secondary concern--to effectively trump their common and core allegiance to the risen Christ who was to "have first place in everything" (Col. 1:18). Instead of "holding fast to the head," the Colossian Christians were clinging more tightly to partisan identities (Col. 2:8-23). Into this situation, Paul wrote his letter, admonishing the Christians in Colossae to find their center--their primary allegiance--in the One who is "before all things" and in Whom all things hold together (Col. 1:17). That's the admonition--and invitation--that The Colossian Forum wants to bring to the contemporary church in North America. And it's a timely word when our partisan loyalities--whether political, or positions on origins--threaten to trump our common confession in Christ. I had opportunity to be reminded of this on election night this past week. On November 6, 2012, the day of the presidential election, I was at St. Andrew's Church in Mount Pleasant, SC. I had been invited to speak on the theme of the church and the sacraments at the Ridley Institute, their marvelous venture to equip the body of Christ through sustained theological reflection in the local church. The invitation came a long time ago, and as we were a couple of months out it dawned on me: they had scheduled this for the night of the election! I emailed Rob Sturdy, associate pastor and overseer of the Ridley Institute, to see if this had perhaps been an oversight. "Did you realize," I asked, "that you've asked me to come to speak on the night of the election?" "Yes," he replied, "it shouldn't be a problem." OK, I said, a bit intrigued. On the evening of the election, as polls were closing and first returns would begin to stream in, I was amazed: here were 200 parishioners at church on election night, eager to learn about ecclesiology, baptism, and the Lord's Supper. What kind of place is this?, I asked myself. Rob then stood up to introduce me, but first began with this announcement: "I know it's election night, and I have some very important news that you'll all be interested to hear: Jesus is still the risen King!" Brilliant. And true. And just the kind of centering confession the body of Christ needs to hear in fractious times. My lecture, as I said, was on the sacraments. Following St. Augustine, I emphasized that the sacraments are really the "civics" of the City of God; they are the school of charity for citizens of the heavenly City. This is why The Colossian Forum is committed to the centrality of worship as that practice which trains us to keep the ultimate ultimate, and the penultimate secondary. It is in worship that we are re-centered in our primary allegiance to Christ, which should trump all secondary, partisan loyalties. In the disorienting animosity that can follow an election, it is good to be reminded that all things--even nations--hold together in him.