Sorting Ourselves Against One Another

By Graham Glover

I spend a lot of time on Capitol Hill these days. Sometimes I interact with Members of Congress, other times their Staffers. A lot of time I just watch. But no matter who I’m talking to or what I’m observing, the one thing that is blatantly obvious, even to the political outsider, is how divided the people are who make up this place. While our institutions aren’t broken, our people clearly are, and it’s not getting any better.

There are several theories why our politicians and our politics are so divisive these days. Some think our parties have embraced the ideologies extremes (I think this assumption is correct.). Others think our numerous media outlets no longer simply report facts, rather a highly partisan and ideological interpretation of them (Again, I agree.). Some blame the rise and use of social media, which gives individuals the ability to self-select what types of news and interpretation of news they receive (Correct.). Still others highlight the excessive amount of money that flows into our political system and the growing power of political elites (Once again, correct.).

But the one thing that I think most divides us is how we have sorted ourselves against one another. Conservatives live with and among conservatives. Liberals the same. Democrats move to highly Democratic areas of the country. Republicans are no different. It’s quite shocking how quickly this has occurred and how sharp the political and ideological differences are in the places we live. One need only look at a county by county breakdown of the 2016 presidential election to observe this dichotomy. We have literally sorted ourselves away and against those with whom we political disagree. And sadly, I don’t think this phenomenon will change anytime soon. If anything, it’s only going to get worse. And the worse it gets, the more permanently divided our politics will become.

The same is also true, I think, with Christians. In many places we have sorted ourselves to such a degree, that we are growing more divisive against those with whom we theologically disagree. And this is a problem.

By and large, Christians live near and among other Christians. We socialize with those who share our faith (or at least those who have some affiliation or affinity toward Christianity). Within the various subsets of Christendom, we talk with people who agree with us. We are educated by those that typically don’t question our theological presuppositions. And we tend to worship with those who share our understanding of what worship is.

On their own, these things aren’t problematic. It’s certainly good to surround ourselves with those who affirm us in our faith. I do this regularly, as I suspect many of you do as well.

My concern however is that we do these things at the expense of interacting with those with whom we theologically disagree. If, by our estimation, others are wrong, we sort ourselves away from them. And the more we do this, the less inclined we are to ever consider anything they have to say. It’s as if their one error makes anything they suggest, wrong. This is what’s happening on Capitol Hill, and sadly, it’s what’s happening among Christians. We are sorting ourselves away and against those who disagree with us more and more, and in so doing, are finding ourselves more estranged from our neighbor. A neighbor whose theological beliefs should have little to do with how we treat or respect them as a person.

Our politics won’t get fixed until our politicians and our electorate learns to live with and among those who don’t share our political opinions. My fellow Christians, let’s not follow their example.

3 thoughts on “Sorting Ourselves Against One Another

  1. Having an interest in comparative American history, I see much truth in your thoughtful perspective on the current state of politics in our land. However, when we lift up the veneer of our historical past, I dare anyone, any historian, any scholar, any informed insider to the political realm….to identify more than a fractional time period in which American politics was tranquil. The pamphlet writers of the days of Washington and the founding fathers were the fake news artists of their day, just as today’s media, and the political class were divisive and rancorous on their best days, particularly between the southern slaveholding plantation owners vs the northern abolitionists and liberal aristocrats. Lobby groups included wealthy capitalists and shipping tycoons, as well as farmers groups, and land speculators. Throw in the problems of state boundaries, state rights, native Americans, immigrants, foreign relations, contended territorial disputes…….oh what a mixed stew indeed!
    We have to work through the problems of the present as we faced the dysfunction of our past. As for Christians, I believe we need to respect our neighbors and those with whom we disagree about theology and lifestyle, however, we need healthy separation from those who would lead us to accept points of view which are contrary to our faith. If we are true Christians, the world will be offended by us anyway.

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  2. John, fair points. To be clear, I’m not suggesting there was ever time when our politics were tranquil. You’re absolutely right, our history is littered with some rather divisive political times.

    I do though believe that we can do better politically and theologically in engaging those that aren’t like us. This, I think, is at the heart of what it means to befriend our neighbor – even if that neighbor doesn’t think like us. I’m absolutely not calling for compromise of our values, but we shouldn’t sort ourselves away from those that disagree with us like is happening now.

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  3. Good points, Graham, we all need to be engaged in our society, and we must avoid being reclusive and detached. I suppose the trick lies in not being “conformed” to some of the prevailing social views and popular values of our day. We can’t dwell on differences and contend with every person who has a different point of view, but I believe our culture has become less welcoming to Christianity than it once was, and we surely will find greater animosity for following our faith in the years ahead.

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