We are divided. Our nation, our communities, our schools, and our churches are all divided. That is not news. We have become a nation of red or blue states and citizens. The divide has driven wedges between friends and family members. Our government is so locked into the red and blue binary mindset that compromise, working for the common good, and so, governance is nearly impossible. Congregations have been torn apart or simply sit in sulking silence unable to find any unity. You are red or you are blue. It is reminiscent of our past when blue and gray divided us
In the church, there has been a recognition that our mission, maybe even our survival, depends upon finding unity, or at least some tolerance that allows us to work for things held in common. To bridge and close gaps, people in the church have begun to use “purple” to signify the need to recognize that blue and red do not tell the whole story. That is true. As with most metaphors or symbols, the nuance and depth of the truth are lost in simplicity.
“Purple” is a way of declaring that unity is important. It is. Purple is a way of calling for dialogue and understanding. Great! Purple invites us to share, talk, and get to know each other. Very good! I can’t help but wonder, however, if simply using a blended color is not also a bit too simplistic to forge any real path to unity from the darkness of our divisions.
It seems to me that when the church talks about being purple, instead of red or blue, we don’t really move beyond the divisive categories that symbolize the problem. To make purple, you need to keep red and blue and blend them. But what if the red and blue binary choice is flawed from the beginning? At least for the church, should we be looking to flawed and failing labels to build unity?
For the church to try to unite people using political identity seems to me to be doomed from the start. Doesn’t the “blending” of purple lead us to ultimately argue over what shade of purple we need? Doesn’t this just cause us to put a finer point on the division by arguing over how much red and how much blue we need?
The unity of the church is not built upon categories derived from human politics. The church’s unity is built upon Christ and the Spirit’s presence among God’s people. To offer hope for a divided nation, communities, families, and church, we need to break free from the human pretension and arrogance that says “conservative” or “liberal” political views will produce anything lasting.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are not to look to anything other than Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” as a source of meaning and direction. (Hebrews 12:2) What the church needs to do to bring unity is to model a way of being that values peace and love over political identities. We must, on the one hand, call out both blue and red ideals that fail to advance the reign of God and support those things that promote the love of neighbor and creation.
Over the past couple of years, our congregation has been labeled “liberal” because we closed during the pandemic and asked people to mask. When we opened up and said that we didn’t need masks, some people labeled us as “conservative.” The truth is that political allegiances had nothing to do with our decisions. The same can be said of starting a food pantry, welcoming LGBTQ+ persons, or housing the homeless. We have done what we have done because of Jesus. No red or blue labels are necessary or needed.
I think that we can be more than purple people who cling to our differences and try to do so with some modicum of tolerance. We can be Jesus people and illumine the world with every color in the spectrum.
Tim Olson – Lead Pastor
Image from jette55 at Pixabay