The Institute on Religion and Democracy, 10.27.17
By Alan W. Dowd

America, we are constantly told, is divided between red and blue states. Indeed, “divided” is the operative word for the United States in 2017. A record-high 77 percent of Americans believe the nation is divided.

We Christians, of course, live in deep-red states and true-blue states. Some of us are Republicans, some of us are Democrats, some of us are none of the above. So perhaps it’s fitting that the combination of red and blue—purple—is the color associated with royalty. After all, another name for Jesus is “King of Kings.” As “purple people,” we have a duty to try to build bridges across the red-blue divide.

Of course, knowing where we fit in—and how to engage with—the world has always been a challenge for God’s people. That explains why some of God’s people withdraw from the world for fear that the world—with its brokenness and pagan-ness and ugliness—will taint them. But what if God doesn’t want that?

It pays to recall that Joseph served as prime minister of pagan Egypt. As queen of pagan Persia, Esther used her political position to prevent a holocaust. Daniel was appointed ruler over pagan Babylon. Jesus and the disciples weren’t monks cloistered in some mountaintop monastery; they were in the world, often interacting with pagans and politicians. Paul participated in the Roman legal system and spoke to political assemblies.

In fact, Paul calls us “Christ’s ambassadors.” Yes, that means we are living in a foreign land. But it also means this country is our diplomatic posting. This piece of earth matters enough to heaven that God has placed us here to engage our neighbors and nation. As Philip Yancey writes in The Jesus I Never Knew, Christians are dual citizens. “We live in an external kingdom of family and cities and nationhood,” he observes, “while at the same time belonging to the kingdom of God.”

We must never put our nation ahead of our faith, or put our faith in politics. As the psalmist wrote, “Do not put your trust in princes.” If he were writing today, he probably would use the word “politicians.” But we do have a role to play in politics, in government, in our nation, in our world.

The Arena

If we accept that premise, then we can start building those bridges. That work begins inside the Church. John 13 offers some helpful guidance: “All men will know that you are my disciples,” Jesus declared, “if you love one another.”

Remember, Jesus was saying this to people who had very different opinions—political and otherwise. There were zealots who wanted to overthrow Rome by force, a tax collector who collaborated with Rome, fishermen concerned about justice and fairness. And the main thing He asked them to do was love one another. If they didn’t show love for each other, an unbelieving world would have little reason to believe in Jesus.

It’s hard to show love for people with whom we disagree. But it’s even harder to show love for people we don’t even know. So, perhaps it would help to be friends with Christians who don’t share our political views. Ask yourself: Do I have any Christian friends who voted for the other candidate? If not, why not?

We can learn from one another. We can reason together. We can find common ground. We can agree to disagree and maybe even learn to disagree without being disagreeable.

We have plenty of real enemies in this world, and they’re not the folks on the other side of the political aisle. An election is no reason for broken friendships, fractured families or divided congregations. “Evangelicals must not demonize one another as to how we’re thinking through these issues,” observed Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, during a bruising election season that left many of us feeling black and blue.

Neither, in my view, should we demonize those who run for president. Some described the 2016 election as a choice between “the lesser of two evils.” That’s not fair. There’s real evil in the world, and the people who ask for our votes don’t deserve that label. Running for president is a sacrifice too few of our leading figures in business, civil society, and government are willing to make. Those who decide to run sacrifice and risk much. They are “in the arena,” as Theodore Roosevelt put it, “marred by dust and sweat.” That should count for something.

The City

Once we build bridges inside the Church, we can set about the task trying to bridge the red-blue divide outside the Church. In the Beatitudes, Christ points a way beyond divisions and reveals how His people—“purple people”—are to live.

Purple people are poor in spirit. We should not be too proud to help others or accept the help of others, to offer a hand of friendship, to show others in word and deed that we depend on our King—not on Washington or Wall Street.

Purple people mourn for those broken by a broken world. Like our King, we should have compassion for our neighbors—and actions speak louder than words in this regard. Do we help those in need, do we weep for the lost, do we pray for the conversion of those who tear this world apart? Do we pray for our leaders? Scripture calls on us to “seek the welfare of the city where we are exiled, and pray to the Lord on its behalf.” There’s no mention of the leader’s party affiliation.

As he moved into the White House, President John Adams offered a prayer: “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” Although he lived under a brutal pagan regime, Paul implored believers to offer “petitions, prayers and intercession” for “all those in authority.” Both of these men understood that our leaders need our prayers.

In some mysterious way, intercessory prayer works. God uses intercessory prayer to help the one in need—and to change how we see the one in need. It pays to recall that Moses, Mordecai, Peter and Paul were all intercessors. And then there’s Jonah. At the Lord’s prompting, Jonah engaged in a kind of intercessory prayer for Nineveh—albeit less than wholeheartedly—and God changed the heart of Nineveh’s king and saved the city.

Purple people are mighty in their meekness, as Tim Woodruff explains in his book on the Beatitudes, Walk This Way. Being meek has nothing to do with rolling over for the world, but everything to do with “bowing the knee to God.” It is “surrender, abdication and yielded obedience” to our King. It is a recognition that we are not kings, that we don’t know it all, that we don’t control everything. So when people think of us, do they think of yielded obedience to God or something less?

Purple people hunger and thirst for righteousness. We should thirst for real justice—God’s justice—knowing that it will rarely be found in our broken world. “Never look for justice in this world,” as Oswald Chambers wrote, “but never cease to give it.”

Purple people show mercy to the wounded and lost. Mercy is to not receive a punishment we do deserve. We know what it means because our King has been so merciful to us. Do we share that precious, healing gift with family, neighbors, coworkers?

In the same way, we must be like streams of grace for those around us. Grace is to receive a gift we don’t deserve. Our King has showered us with enough grace to share. We share that grace through small, everyday acts of understanding and patience and kindness.

Purple people have pure hearts. We know that our King sees into the heart, where our motives give life to our actions. And we know that motives are weighed by our King. Do we test and check our motives? And do we consider that the motives of those who disagree with us might be good and sound and just—even if the outcomes are not?

Purple people are peacemakers. Do we bring peace or strife to our little corners of the world? Our King wants us to search for common ground, to pray for our enemies, to distinguish ourselves from the world by the love we show.

Purple people must be willing to suffer the consequences of befriending the friendless, of comforting the stranger, of loving the unwanted, of following the King. He never said it would be easy, painless or cost-free. He only said that when we do these things—if we do these things—we will be light for a world darkened by shadows.

Purple people know that “our citizenship is in heaven,” as Paul writes. As a result, our King is not concerned about the letter next to a candidate’s name, about right or left on some political spectrum, but rather about right or wrong on His eternal canvas. And what matters to Him should matter to us.