In the second chapter of Ephesians, Paul writes about the "dividing wall of hostility." He is talking mainly about the division between the Jews and Gentiles within the new Christian church. But it is a phrase equally applicable to the political climate of our nation these days -- there is a definitely a dividing wall of hostility.
I don't like the wall. But I am not surprised by the wall. Dividing walls of hostility are common enough features on the human landscape.
When Paul writes his letter to the Ephesians, he takes for granted that the wall is there. The wall is a given. What is exciting to Paul -- the good news he wants to share -- is that Christ has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.
We create the walls. Christ rips them down. Drags us all beyond the walls to the throne of God -- together.
So what bothers me about the walls of hostility that are popping up these days is not so much the simple fact that they exist. What bothers me is the way some people are trying to use their own narrow concepts of God to build up those walls. Even to the point of claiming that God is expressing divine judgment on the political parties based on the weather during their conventions.
People on both sides of the wall talk a lot about God; in fact, they rarely stop talking long enough to listen. People use the name of Jesus to obscure the issues and build up the walls of hostility. But Christ came to tear down the walls. To bring peace to those who were far away and peace to those who were near.
In the midst of the wall-building that is going on all around, those of us who claim to be followers of Christ should be about the divine work of reconciling people, of tearing down the walls of hostility. And If we don't have the strength to tear them down, at least we could try to install a few windows.
Tearing down the walls does not mean that we can't question someone's theology. It does not mean that we have to be politically neutral.
So what does it mean? For starters, I would encourage us all to use and promote three important biblical guidelines as we engage in political discussions during the upcoming months.
First, remember to speak the truth in love. This is the advice that Paul gives to the Ephesians a little later on in the letter (4:15). He doesn't say, "Just tell everyone whatever they want to hear." He doesn't say, "Shove your ideas down their throats." To maintain the unity of the body of Christ, we must speak the truth. In love. If love for the other is behind and within all that we say, the walls will not go up.
The second guideline is from Matthew 5:37: Simply let your "yes" be "yes" and your "no" be "no." What if the candidates heeded that in their speeches and political ads and upcoming debates? I know, not likely. We cannot make the politicians behave well. But we can behave well. We can simply be honest about what we think and why we think it. No name-calling. No half-truths. No changing our message to fit the audience. Let our yes be yes. Let our no be no.
Finally, we should not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). Christians should continue to meet together for praise and worship of God -- even more, says the author of Hebrews, as we see the Day approaching. (Granted, the writer probably wasn't thinking about the Election Day -- but still...) I encourage you to consider joining the Election Day Communion movement. It is one concrete way to bring our focus back to Christ in the midst of the political divisions.
This work of tearing down walls is not easy. It is difficult to speak the truth in love, especially when feelings run high. It is difficult to let our yes be yes and our no be no, especially when the people around us are calling names and playing rhetorical games. It is difficult to continue meeting together when the people we are meeting with are so wrong about so many things.
It is difficult. But through the power of the Spirit, by the grace of God, it is not impossible. I believe that these biblical guidelines will help us participate in the work of Christ -- the work of tearing down the dividing walls of hostility. It is hard, messy, frustrating work. But we can find hope in the promise from Ephesians 2:14:"Christ himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility."
This post is adapted from a sermon I preached before the last Presidential election. What is it the writer of Ecclesiastes says about nothing new under the sun?