It has been disheartening over the past few years and particularly this election season to see people of faith — Black and White, Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals — seemingly lose their minds, sense of decorum and long-standing relationships over politics.
Too many believers have been more concerned about advancing a particular candidate, party or agenda than sharing the Gospel, showing the love of Christ or advancing the kingdom of God.
I realize this is nothing new, but the nastiness of the race between President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden seemed to bring out the worse in even the best of us. And it's only getting worse.
"It seems like every four years every Christian takes their eyes off the ball of kingdom advancement and puts it on the ball of a political process," said the Rev. Jonathan Stockstill, pastor at Bethany Church in Baton Rouge, during a postelection message titled "The Kingdom Moves On."
"I just pray that the kingdom of God, that the body of Christ, starts to wise up to the fact that we cannot be derailed from our kingdom progress and passion every four years. … I follow people on social media. I have conversations with people, and their conversations are not about the lost being saved, or the sick being healed, or churches being planted or the Gospel advancing. It's strictly about politics."
And nothing divides like politics, even in the church, emphasized the Rev. Mike Haman, pastor at Healing Place Church, during his message "A Courageous Church in a Crazy Year."
"One of the biggest challenges that we face as a church is to walk in unity. Don't let the division out there creep into the church," Haman said. "The world has no fix. They have no answers for the strife you see in our country. And I believe that the church has the answer. … A nation divided needs a church united. The division in this country is desperate for the unity that God has promised to give us in the church."
It has been encouraging to hear pastors like Stockstill, Haman and many others call for unity, healing, prayer and reconciliation and to remind us of the sovereignty of God. But sadly, there is and will continue to be some believers and even prominent faith leaders who side with unrighteousness and hate in the name of politics. Some are preaching despair and hopelessness for our nation's future because their candidate didn't win.
"It irritates me that pastors are feeding the flames," said Dana Trahan, pastor of One Life Baptist Church in Denham Springs. "We need to be supportive of things and policies that are friendly to Christians. But, at the end of the day, our first job is to make disciples. … Look at our pulpits, what are we preaching? We need to preach Jesus."
"I'm a firm believer in the sovereignty of God, that whoever sits in the White House is who God ordained to be there," said Checkerz Williams, pastor of Renew Church Baton Rouge. "We vote … and the Scripture's very clear that God raises up kings and places people in authority. So God raised Trump for four years. Now, God's raised up Biden for four or eight years."
"I backed away from a lot of powerful preachers that I had a lot of respect for who said that all Christians ought to vote for Trump. I didn't see it that way," said the 91-year-old Jesse B. Bilberry, the former longtime pastor of the Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church of Baton Rouge. "I'm not Republican and I'm not Democrat, but my daddy used to say to vote for the lesser of two evils."
Part of the problem, Haman said, is that too many of us get our daily devotions from our favorite TV news channel or social media rather than spending that time getting to know God. He compared time spent on social media versus time spent in church.
"Ninety hours of social media versus 90 minutes of church. Who do you think is influencing and disciplining this generation? … If we're going to know God better, then we're going to have to unplug from some of the social technology and we're going to have to put our face right here in this book (Bible)," Haman said.
There's no denying there will be political differences, even for those who believe and study that same book.
"You have to come to grips with the fact that you don't see the world perfectly, and that there are differences and variances in the kingdom of God," Stockstill said, "and the moment you label somebody as not a true Christian or not somebody who's real just because they see something different than you, you've really missed a big point. … We need to be less concerned about how a person voted and more concerned about who they believe and what they're doing with their soul."
Williams warned of the danger of labels, such as calling Trump voters racists. Williams said for some Trump supporters in his multiethnic church, it came down to his policies, such as protecting the unborn and selecting conservative judges, promises they believed he fulfilled.
"People are saying, 'I know he's crass. I know that he's vulgar and prideful and arrogant. But at the end of the day, I'm not voting for the man. I'm voting for the policies,'" Williams said.
Williams said voting for a candidate doesn't mean supporting the whole platform.
"But there are things that are near and dear to their hearts," he said.
"There are some true Democratic policies that I believe don't line up with the Bible. There's some true Republican attitudes and approaches that likewise don't line up with the Bible," Trahan said.
One of those divisive topics is abortion.
"I think that's a great atrocity in this country. That goes back to the core belief of the Imago Dei, that we were made in the image of God," Trahan said. "But that Imago Dei doesn't change. Even if you're a criminal, you're still made in the image of God. Even if you're an illegal alien, you're still made in the image of God. There's a level of respect and basic God-given right you have as the image of God."
"When you look at abortion, you have to look at the whole life," Bilberry said. "I tell some of my White brothers my mother didn't abort me, but I was a Black baby that was treated differently than White babies. That makes a whole lot of difference. We look at the whole life from the cradle to the grave. You also look at how life is treated after you're born."
As we've seen or experienced over the past four years through daily tweets and other rhetoric, Trump seemed to be bigger than politics, especially to his most ardent supporters in White evangelical Protestants.
According to The Associated Press VoteCast, 8 in 10 White evangelical Christian voters supported Trump for reelection, despite accusations against him of being divisive, racist and sympathizing with White supremacists.
"I think certainly think there was an unhealthy marriage between evangelicals and the Trump presidency," Williams said.
The Rev. Dr. Mary Moss, pastor of St. Alma Baptist Church in Lakeland, said it comes down to how believers view God, not Trump. If they view God as moral, just and loving, then they may have issues with those who "take a position of hate."
"Everything is framed around God because we're God's people and God's people has no color. God's spirit, that in itself, brings all of us on the same playing field," Moss said. "I don't see where there's a Black spirit and White spirit or Brown spirit. Even though we have White people, Black people and Brown people, the common denominator is the spirit of God. So he brought us all together. … We think we're walking together and we're not. And President Trump has exposed that in the faith community. That's where it's caused an upheaval in Christian people. All of us who view ourselves as Christians must view ourselves in the landscape of a moral God."
Trahan said Trump sees race and culture as a means to an end with his rhetoric.
"I don't think President Trump has cornered the market," he said. "It's the first time we've seen a sitting president be into all that and push all that."
Evangelicals went all in with their support of Trump, Trahan said.
"We have supported him (Trump) like he is God," said Trahan. "I don't know if we are the reason he has ascended to that status. … For those things (Trump's support of Israel and abortion), I don't think being supportive is a bad thing. The problem arises when we make excuses for the nonbiblical things."
Therein lies the evangelicals' hypocrisy, Trahan said.
"We addressed Bill Clinton immediately as evangelicals on his character," Trahan said. "But all of a sudden, we started making excuses for the character of President Trump. That's hypocritical. We have to own up to that. You can be supportive of his policies, but we got to call out how he put kids in cages. I don't care if (former President Barack Obama) made the cages, you put them in it. … That's not the Christian mindset."
Williams also noted the hypocrisy of some in the Black churches and pastors who called out White preachers for brazenly promoting Trump from the pulpit while doing the same for Biden.
Whatever our differences, it's time for the people of God to show the world our love and spirit of reconciliation as we share the Gospel.
One passage I've heard over the past few weeks and one that I hope we all will keep in mind as we move forward is John 17:20-21: “I am not praying for these alone but also for the future believers who will come to me because of the testimony of these. My prayer for all of them is that they will be of one heart and mind, just as you and I are, Father — that just as you are in me and I am in you, so they will be in us, and the world will believe you sent me."
It is my prayer that believers and faith leaders who called for prayers for President Trump will do the same for President-elect Biden. And our nation.