By reinforcing that true unity will only come as we adhere more and more closely to God’s truth—and, realistically, not fully on this side of glory—a church encourages discussion of what that truth entails for faithful civic engagement, rather than silencing such discussion in the name of unity and thereby enabling moral relativism. This approach encourages the church to speak boldly on issues where God’s truth is clear, or clearly applies.
Lord, please help our church not be divided over politics…
This seems to be a common prayer and sentiment in Protestant churches. It’s a noble aspiration, but if taken to its logical conclusion, it can discourage civic engagement on behalf of God’s truth.
Consider two different interpretations of this exhortation. One: that our congregations would adhere more and more closely to God’s truth, knowing that this is the only path to true unity. Two: that congregants would come to understand and accept that fellow members may vote and think differently on political and cultural matters and place unity above these disagreements.
To the extent that this second meaning is intended or presumed, we are playing with relativistic fire, despite how seemingly obvious and biblical this language might seem on the surface. It is easily construed as implying that one’s political affiliations and beliefs resemble one’s favorite ice cream flavor, that there is no higher, objective truth against which they can be evaluated, or that a church should never be in the business of endorsing moral positions. What follows from this is moral equivalency: who’s to say which party or system of belief has a greater claim to upholding biblical justice? An additional subtext is often that it’s more important that we all get along anyway.
This is fundamentally a Positive World message. When a culture holds a generally positive view of faith, faith-informed perspectives are prevalent and prominent in the public square. As a result, such views tend to be marbled into the platforms of different political parties and worldviews, as the Overton Window is generally favorable to these views. (Consider the once robust cohort of pro-life Democrats.) In this context, it is still dangerous to maintain the fiction of an absolute moral equivalency, but intelligent people can at least debate the merits of various political allegiances. But this is clearly not our present context.
This “unity over division” perspective also evinces a deeper category error. I will take great pains not to relitigate the Great Keller Debate of 2022, but the kind of moral equivalency this perspective fosters is manifested in calls for a biblical justice that transcend Team Red and Team Blue. The category error of this “biblical justice” perspective lies in placing it alongside Team Red Justice and Team Blue Justice as a third, better alternative. Consider what this presupposes: First, that “biblical justice” is not what faithful Christians have been seeking in developing conceptions of justice all along; and second (as a corollary), that “biblical justice” has been epistemically unavailable to these Christians but has somehow now been revealed to this select group of contemporary evangelicals.