Keep up the passion, strive for grace

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I am, by almost any measure, passionate in my beliefs.

Many of you, including some who have written me recently, also are passionate in your beliefs.

This passion is a good thing. A republic of free citizens demands for its survival that we form and propound opinions about how our nation should be guided, and that we engage in constructive, mutually respectful discourse on our differences of opinion.

That last part — the constructive, mutually respectful part — is where I see our society falling sadly short these days. And, I will admit, I have erred in this respect from time to time, taking too much pleasure in disagreeing or pointing out what I see as wrong.

We live in a time in which neighbors no longer speak to each other because of Facebook memes. Blood relatives disavow each other over party affiliation. Congregations shatter over political differences. Hatred and division abound, driving us into factions that elevate party and ideology above morality and the common good.

Perhaps the most egregious manifestation of this sectarian close-mindedness is our growing tendency to claim exclusive ownership of Christ and the Gospel.

You almost can’t venture these days into social media — a realm previously reserved for piano-playing cats and vacation pictures — without stumbling across a proclamation that you cannot be both Democrat and Christian, or that if you support Trump your very existence is anathema to the Body of Christ.

It would be bad enough if these claims were left to social media. But, I hear them across our society and in my own community, from both ends of the political spectrum.

These attempts to claim Christ as the prize in our petty political strife are a dark grab bag of theological issues, over the meaning of grace, the unity of the Body of Christ and the supremacy of Gospel over worldly disputes, that go beyond the scope of this column.

For now, suffice to say that none of us have exclusive rights to the Gospel. Christ elevated his message above Caesar. I’m pretty sure it transcends the likes of Trump, Pelosi and our party differences.

We can disagree on many things political, and we can disagree on liturgy and points of doctrine within and between denominations. But none of us, not by party, nationality, race, ideology or creed, own the Body of Christ. God transcends all our trivial worldly differences.

As for those political differences, we all — myself included — may take a lesson from the Gospel and act with a bit more grace toward those with whom we disagree.

We can and should be strong in our beliefs, while acknowledging our neighbors may also want what’s best for our community and our nation, and may legitimately reach very different conclusions about how to get there.

These differences are not new. Our republic is built on the premise that we will disagree. Those disagreements are the energy that drives our system of government — when they are tempered with reason and structure.

But, when we allow our differences to turn into blind, unreasoning hatred we lose sight of our proper duty as citizens: to watch over and maintain control of our government.

We have come to hate each other so much in the name of party, above country and even God, that we excuse and ignore the malfeasance, immorality and dishonesty of those we’ve elected to lead us. We are far more concerned that our officials be strong standard-bearers in the name of ideology than we are with the actual fruits of their words and actions.

Civil discourse and mutually respectful disagreement are essential to the survival of our republic. But, at the end of the day, we as citizens need to be more concerned with keeping our government in line than we are with scoring partisan points.

Be passionate. Stand up for your beliefs. Do not let fear, intimidation or petty criticism prevent you from pursuing what your heart tells you is right. But, let’s strive for grace in dealing with those of opposing views, and keep our attention where it belongs — on strengthening our community and holding all levels of government accountable.

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