I saw a headline the other day which filled me with contempt: “Major evangelical leader says Trump gets a ‘mulligan’ on Stormy Daniels affair.’” Apparently, Christians are willing to overlook the president’s affair with (and subsequent hush-money payment to) a porn star because Trump will “punch back at the bully.”
As I read the article, my heart bubbled with a poisonous mix of loathing and shame. Public figures like this evangelical “leader” are one reason why my non-believing friends view Christians with derision. It confounds me that sincere Christians would willingly sell their souls to support such a morally bankrupt man as Trump. But if I’m really honest, the most troubling emotion I felt was disgust---disgust that I shared the name “Christian” with this evangelical leader (and who knows, perhaps even the president himself).
In these closing verses from John 17, Jesus prays that his followers “may all be one, just as you, Father, and I are one…so the world may believe that you have sent me.” Unity in the church—Christians demonstrating radical, sacrificial love toward one another—is our loudest testimony to the truth of the Gospel. A cursory reading of church history will show that we Christians have a lousy track record of showing this love toward one another. And our lack of charity and unity causes those outside the faith to look on Christians with contempt.
It’s tempting to read these verses from John 17 and resolve to just “do better” at loving fellow Christians. But it is impossible to generate this kind of love toward our brothers and sisters in Christ on our own power. If we want to experience unity in Christ, the first step is to admit that we cannot love one another without God’s help. That’s why in verse 26, Jesus concludes his prayer by asking the Father that we would know God’s love just as Jesus has experienced as God’s son. God loves me, you, and that evangelical leader with the same burning passion with which he loves his own Son. Knowing how little I deserve this kind of love, and yet how certainly Christ has guaranteed it for me, is the starting place for my love of all other people.
But before we embark on the quixotic task of loving all Christians everywhere, maybe the first step is committing to love our own church family. Church is the place where we practice Christian unity by demonstrating charity, humility, and patience in our interactions with one another. I suggest we, individually, commit to a few practices this Lent which would encourage greater unity in our church:
· Seeking to know God’s heart though regular prayer and scripture reading
· Committing to regular Sunday worship attendance—the time each week when our wayward hearts are recalibrated to Christ, and where we are reconciled to one another at his table
· Remembering to practice hospitality to those in the church outside of our immediate circle of friends
Jane Olson is the Director of Children's Ministries at Church of the Advent. She enjoys good food, good wine, and good company.