Stand Down

Stand Down

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Written by: 
Published:
January 28, 2021

In our politics recently there has been much talk of unity. Joe Biden, the newly installed Democratic president, stated that his mission is to unify the country after a level of divisiveness we as a nation have never seen before.[1] Republicans too have made their own calls for unity, believing that to litigate the horrors of the recent past would only further divide our country. I would never call on our government to use the Bible as an example for how to achieve unity as I do not believe that should be the role of the Bible and religion in our politics. But the Bible can be uniquely instructive here. The political divisiveness of our current moment is mirrored in the Christian church at large in America, and by extension the Adventist Church itself. In this very forum we debated the usefulness of the Trump administration for Christians. Trump courted Evangelical Christians explicitly, and they responded in record numbers. He was the President for a certain segment of Christianity, and some Adventists would proudly count themselves in this group. What the storming of the Capitol made clear was that the unruly mob was not just the fringe of Trump’s misguided movement. Many of those rioters were a part of his center, and as such the center of the Republican Party. And for some of those rioters the battle flag of choice was a Christian flag. Therefore, there is a need for unity in Christianity, and in Adventism. In those sectors the counsel of the Bible should hold sway.

The oft-cited biblical example of unity from division is the story of the Jerusalem Council, told in Acts 15. The fledging church argued over what law and traditions the Gentiles had to observe to be counted among their number. There are several lessons that we as followers of Christ could take from these events. Scholars throughout the ages focus (and rightly so) on the social and cultural dynamics, the flexibility of the apostles, and continue to question what that event means for keeping the law today. There is, however, a lesson implicitly stated in the text that is important for us in this moment as we seek to reunify as believers under the banner of Christ. Although it was Paul and Barnabas who went to the Jerusalem Council to argue on behalf of different rules for the Gentiles, the recount of the council debate contains no specific quotes from either of the two men. Instead it was Peter and James who stood up, took responsibility for what went wrong, and advocated for the necessary compromise. In order for unity to occur, those who are wrong must be able to admit that they were so, take responsibility for what occurred and concede. This is true even if they themselves did not take part in the wrongdoing – after all, neither Peter nor James were the ones who went down to the Gentiles and told them they had to be circumcised.[2]

I believe the same must be true for unity to exist in the church today, no matter what the situation. For almost five decades we allowed the power and influence of secular politics to infect and infest this family. The infection did not start with Trump, it just spread under him and boiled up to the surface. Trump was the logical conclusion of decisions made long ago, and we fell victim to those decisions and allowed the ramifications to harm the body of Christ and the sharing of His gospel. There is a need for unity and there is a need for peace. But not the type of negative unity that stifles dissent, or the type of negative peace that leaves the oppressed without justice.[3] In order for real peace or unity to occur, those who found themselves on the wrong side, for whatever reason, must accept responsibility for the division and help find a pathway to peace. In a moment such as the one we occupy now it will be important for us to stand against those who refuse to take responsibility for the bad actions done in their name. Far be it for me to decide for you what all of that means, but consider this – Peter and James did not have signs as obvious as riots and death to let them know that the responsibility for unity fell to them.

 


 

[1] Now certainly I would argue that the Civil War reached this same level and surpassed it. But the divisiveness we saw that caused the storming of the US Capitol this month was unique. Even in the Civil War the Confederacy never marched on Washington.

[2] This was the problem that precipitated the council meeting. Acts 15:1.

[3] While peace is not the main thrust of this piece, I could not help but make the connection between this issue of unity and the difference between negative and positive peace that Dr. Martin Luther King outlined in his book, Why We Can’t Wait.

 

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/jason-hines 

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

 

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