As Christians, as followers of Jesus, the choice has been made for us. Jesus calls us to be a positive influence—to be light and to be salt. We are called to be peace-makers, not nurturers of ill-will and fomenters of conflict.
When Jesus talks about causing division, he is not talking about deliberating turning people against each other and inciting hatred and strife. He is acknowledging that families and communities will strongly disagree over him and his teaching. Some will accept him and his teaching; others will reject not only him and his teaching but anyone who accepts them. They will persecute those who do. We have seen this happen when Muslims and Hindus embrace the Christian faith.
Christians are called to be in the world but not of the world. This means that we cannot retreat into our own fantasy bubbles on our own social media platforms any more than we can isolate ourselves in our own communities and schools separate from the rest of the world. We are called to be witnesses to Jesus, to represent him and his teaching in the world. We cannot do that if we withdraw from engagement with our fellow human beings.
There is a very real temptation to draw back from engaging the community and its unchurched population at a time when we should be actively engaging them even more than we have in the past. This is attributable to a number of factors. One is the rapid social change that that the United States has been experiencing in the last sixty years. Another factor is the political polarization and the tribalization of US society, which has not left American churches unaffected. Politics has become an idol in many American churches, displacing Jesus and his teaching in the hearts of their clergy and congregations. Rather than treating those who have a different political opinions from themselves as Jesus taught his disciples to treat others, they are treating them in ways that are seriously at odds with his teaching. This has led some observers to conclude that adversarial politics has become America’s new religion.
Adversarial politics has no place in the Christian Church. An issue that divides my community is the appropriateness of a statue of General Robert E. Lee on the courthouse square, erected early in the twentieth century and commemorating Kentucky’s Confederate war dead. Members of the community, faculty and students of the local state university, and the town council has called for its removal. They view it as a symbol of racism, white supremacy, Jim Crow politics, and slavery. The county board and what may be best described as a Southern heritage preservation group have opposed its removal. The latter group is made up largely of people from outside the community and even from outside the state. When those seeking the removal of the statue organized protests supporting its removal, this group organized counter-protests. One of the organizers of these counter-protests is local in so far as he lives in a neighboring county.
I know people on both sides of the issue. They are for most part churchgoing Christians. The protestors seeking the removal of the statue view the counter-protesters as bigots, racists, white supremacists, and worse. On the other hand, the counter-protestors regard the protestors as antifa, anarchists, communists, Marxists, and socialists. Both sides have demonized each other.
What I am seeing is Christians using issues like this one to justify the avoidance of dialogue with their fellow-Christians and their withdrawal onto social media platforms where extremism, hate, conspiracy theories, and the advocacy of violence is rife. It is doubtful that these Christians will be a moderating influence upon these social media platforms. The evidence points to the opposite.