The themeof the church gathering that asked me to speak on the power and need for unity(stronger together) how we can maintain unity. It was the first Sundayfollowing a national election that by its very nature leaves most peoplewounded while few are elected to take the coveted seats. It was one of the most participatory exercisein the country in that we were electing six leaders. For example, in my ward we were choosing onemember of county assembly out of nineteen contestants. That meant eighteen people who had hoped tobe elected did not get the desired post. . About fifteen million adults had tovote for the president. The elections could be similar to an education systemwhere only a few get to the next level while majority are left struggling inthe layered realm of failure. Competitive elections do not exclude theChristians and so talking about unity was very relevant but very difficultbecause of the sharp polarization. Just like the national examination resultsleave people lonely because they are no longer part of the group that goesahead as they used to be. That makes the interpretation of the results lonelyand one feels guilty as the mind scatters seeking for who to assign blame.Seeking to be united as Jesus requires of his disciples is not a suggestion buta commandment. Is there a problem with what is labelled as negative ethnicity,or lack of ideology, or is there unrealistic expectation?
Democraticelections by their very nature polarize people and bring into the forefundamental beliefs. I am reminded of atalk I heard at the beginning of the year in an international media where alady was talking of disowning her brother because of the presidential candidatehe supported in the last Americanelections. The lady was adamant that she would not forgive her brother. Ifpolitical preferences can make blood thinner than water, what about those whoderive meaning of life from the blood of Jesus?
Since in democratic countries presidential elections come after a numberof years, in Kenya it is every five years, it means the hurtful, fearful emotionswill be repeated. The feelings of being isolated, guilty of making a choicewhose outcome caused others to lose and so be hurt are very confusing. Somepeople feel judged and unsure of what is right. Is it possible to live in both unity and diversity, have differentpreferences of political parties and still be united in Christ?
UNDERSTANDING THE IMPACT OFPOLITICAL POLARIZATION
Conflictover core markers of identity – Part of cultural pride is enhanced bymaking people have a language and social norms that enable them interpretissues around them. Shared norms, beliefs and values make persuasion across lines of political difference betreated as unacceptable as they are viewed with suspicion. Politicalcompetition provides the forum where what is valued is challenged. In a verysubtle way people are made to feel guilty for their preferences. Sometimes whatis labelled as negative ethnicity can be a form of campaign to get peoplesupport what others value. You are made to feel that to be Christian is to dropyour candidate for the speaker’s candidate. In fact if the candidate yousupport is from your ethnic back ground you are made to feel backslidden. It isassumed that a candidate from your tribe cannot be a good candidate. So youmust be choosing the person because of the shared ethic background and that isreferred to as ‘negative ethnicity’ which falls in the category of sin. That is confusing because it a campaign aimedat causing guilt. In the uncertain situation of intensifying competition, thedifferences are reinforced. This increases mistrust, fear as everythingis viewed through the prism of political competition.
Fellowship with those who share the same beliefs –Polarization resulting from political competition is not just about voting orparty preferences but it extends to people seeking to associate with those whoare politically like-minded. WhatsApp groups are formed on basis of those whoshare the same preferences. Political polarization shapes people’s basicexperiences of relationship and that narrows their exposure to diversity of allsorts, choices of friends, media consumption, even to the point that partisanattachments shape "non-political" choices of friends, lovers,neighborhoods, and may even affect where and with whom people choose toworship. That means Christians rarely have any meaningful interaction withother believers because of the sensitivity of political differences.
Decisions based on emotional attachments – Themore volatile the political competition, the more people get emotionallyattached to their political groups. The biased mind-set makes it difficult forpeople to have rational convictions even on issues of the kingdom of God.People get angry at the opposition and make a range of choices well beyond thepolitical realm. Instead of focusing on what Christ commanded his disciples todo, Christians spend time, energy, and opportunities in preservation ofpolitical preferences. Election campaigns and the aftermath is not fun for theChristians because it distracts from the main mission of seeking the kingdom ofGod and his righteousness. The political kingdom takes all the attention andshapes all other choices. While difficult to define emotions, so many questionsare racing in the mind. Could politics be a cover up for deeper issues thatcause polarization where there should be unity? Is the unity that Christ said wasnecessary for the world to know who God is possible , when there ispolarization that cuts right down to people’s basic identity? Might people be seeking to fill their"God-shaped emptiness" with politics rather than God? Might thesevere cultural and political divides be a reflection of a deeper spiritualproblem?
There isneed for theology that enables believers internalize the principles that Christtaught and they transcend political differences and preferences leaving thechurch of Christ healthy, growing and bound by love of God and neighbour.
WHY THE UNITY IS PARAMOUNT FOR A CHRISTIAN
Unity isagreement or being in harmony- Jesus Christ made it clear that unity was whatmade the message of the kingdom of God message have singleness of effect andbelievable. To be held captive by politics in a way that the consistency of thegospel message is lost should make the Christians awake. Unity is not uniformityor conformity. Unity that is an outcome of being subdued using scriptures andpositions of authority is like peace that prophet Jeremiah talked about. They offer superficial treatments for my people'smortal wound. They give assurances of peace when there is no peace (Jeremiah6:14). Unity has to begin with a clear understanding of who one is. AChristian whose identity is derived from cultural identity is unlikely to haveunity with other believers. That is why Christ said to them all: “Whoeverwants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily andfollow me”. (Luke 9:23).
Unity ismanifestation of the Lordship of Christ – Jesus prayer for his disciples is to havethe kind of unity he had with the Father. It is not possible to have unity withother believers when not in unity with Christ. “My prayer is not forthem alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we areone— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you haveloved me” (John 17: 20 – 23).
It iscommanded by Christ –Obedience is basic to discipleship. Jesus commanded his disciples to teachobedience. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizingthem in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 andteaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew28:19-20a). If Christ is not obeyed, then Christ cannot be Lord.
Itcommunicates that we are Christ’s disciples- It is genuine love for one another that releasespeople to be who they are and still loved. People who know the freedomthat Christ lordship brings are able to support different political candidateswithout affecting their love for one another. This is because they are both desirous of God’s will being done on earthas it is in heaven. . That means thelove of God and assurance of his sovereignty gives the inner security. A Christian is confident that whoever Godchooses is okay because whatever he chooses is in the best interest of hischildren. God’s will cannot be withheld because of the corruption of people.That is why loving the other brother whose preferred candidate isdifferent is a command and that means aChristian has to put every effort to love. "Anew command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must loveone another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if youlove one another." (John 13: 34).
BRIDGING SCHISM CREATED BY POLITICAL DIVERGENCES
Is itpossible for people to trust in Jesus alone, reach out to those who have notheard the gospel, and believe the Bible as the final authority in one’s lifebut not vote the same way? There is need to be intentional and have thoughtfulconversations about political differences. Living with differences is part ofthis life. We have gender differences, personality differences, racialdifferences and even ethnic differences, among others. Our differenceswhen acknowledged become a means to bring glory to God. The friction thatwe experience should shape us and cause us to want to listen to the other. Themission that made Christ leave the glory of heaven and live among us is soimportant that we cannot afford to be superficial.
Since weare Christians first and political preferences a distant second, the temptationto be fragmented and get dividedpolitically, but refuse and instead keep in mind that Christ’s call is aboveeverything else. For us to unite, it will require trust in God’sgoodness and sovereignty rather than surrendering to fear to move toward thosewith whom we disagree. It will require face-to-face conversations to clarifyour assumptions and understand each other’s perspectives. It will requirecourage and humility to heal and restore our relationships.
It istime of democratic political elections when every Christian has to choose to beencouraged in the Lord, love the neighbour, forgive those who are insensitive,confess the sin of being too sensitive to encourage friendship. Apostle Paultold the believers in Colossae to set their hearts on things that are abovewhere Christ is. It is in having themind that was in Christ Jesus that we are able to be light of the world.Repentance and forgiveness has to be part of the way of life of a Christian.
That happenswhen we are all listening to one master, Jesus Christ. Just like singers whomay sing very well but if they do not listen and get the key from the samesource, the harmony in their singing is lost. It is possible to know the song,be a willing singer but be out of tune with others. Christians can begenuine and hardworking but not achieving that is expected of them. Might theill feelings about political differences be revealing lack of listening to thesame Master?
“Youwill never be a successful servant of Christ nor ever faithfully work for Himand serve Him until you are assured that you know Him and belong to Him” (Ray Stedman)