Commercials about the candidates running for president and other public offices being so deplorable strike me as ridiculous, but I watch them. I want to understand the larger culture into which they fit.

Individually, they may be absurd and unconvincing. Taken as a whole, however, they show that the only way to “win” in our political system is to create distance from the other. Our national political culture is one of distance.

Therefore, when we disagree on a particular political issue we do so within the larger culture characterized by being for/against, right/left, and with me/against me.

That is exactly what the political world wants so that candidates can clearly set themselves apart from others.

What we long for in the church is the opposite: a community in which those near and far are invited in Christ to come together.

The Apostle Paul described the church as the community where “aliens” and “strangers” become citizens — and where dividing walls of hostility are broken down so that a “new humanity” might be created in Christ (Eph. 2:11-22).

It is more difficult than ever to live into that vision of the church because of the influence of the national political culture on people in the church.

I am finding it a greater challenge to lead in the local congregation and among networked churches in which diversity of opinion and conviction exists.

I serve a congregation in which there is difference of opinion and conviction on same-sex marriage. As pastor, of course, that means my conviction on same-sex marriage aligns with some but not others.

Those with whom my conviction aligns are happy; those with whom I disagree are less happy.

But, can we remain together as a congregation? Or, will those who disagree feel distanced from me and others in the church?

This is where the influence of our national political culture rears its ugly head. You are with me or against me. You are red or blue. You belong or don’t belong.

That is the way of our political culture. It is not the way of the church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I have been speaking to the congregation about an alternative to the pervasive two-party culture.

It is the way of Eph. 4:3 where we make “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

It is the way where we walk in the truth while refusing at the same time to dismiss unity.

I have no problem stating my convictions on the truth of the Scriptures, but I have a real problem with the idea that truth and unity can be separated. I don’t see in the Bible where I get to pick one over the other.

I cannot stand alone in truth and dismiss unity as secondary. Neither can I champion unity at the expense of truth for some mushy sense of togetherness that has no ground.

Somehow, by God’s grace and wisdom, I must lead the congregation to live in the tension of truth and unity. Paul tells us to make “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace because there is one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all …” (Eph. 4:3-6).

The Beloved Community we long for in the local congregation and networks of churches cannot be a community of truth or unity. Biblically, it must be a community of truth and unity. NFJ

By Randy Carter

Randy Carter is pastor of First Baptist Church of Hillsborough, N.C.