In the Light of Pentecost

Is something Christian because Christians do or say it–or because it is reflective of Christ or the first disciples?

As have many Americans I have been thinking a great deal about the next Presidential election, and the reality that many find either one or both candidates quite polarizing.

Many Christians find the presumed Democratic nominee to be unacceptable because of the values and beliefs she represents; while a great many Christians are equally if not more “put off” by the Republican candidate because of things he has said and done.  This has been particularly the case with some Americans who claim to be, or are labeled by pollsters or pundits to be “evangelical Christians.”  And it is also interesting that each of the last four Presidents (Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama), all of whom claim to be Christian, find one or both of the 2016 candidates unworthy of their endorsement or support.

Because Americans in almost any election tend to be most concerned, or at least initially so, with which candidate we prefer because he or she reflects our values or beliefs, we most often focus on what we like or what we don’t like about the people for whom we might cast our vote.  We also can make a list pretty quickly about why a candidate is unworthy of election to high office.  And for many once our minds are made up, we quit thinking about any opinion other than our own or those who think and believe as we do.  Polarization results.

I am struck with the contrast between this polarization and the twin miracles of Pentecost, when fifty days after Easter the Holy Spirit came upon the hundred or so believers gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem, and they began to speak in languages other than their own about Jesus and “the mighty acts of God.”

From at least that day it has been clear for “those with eyes to see and ears to hear” that God’s will for his church has been to reach out to others by taking them and who they are and their context seriously and with respect.  That is so because the first miracle of Pentecost was that believers in Christ spoke to others who did not believe as they did about Jesus, in the languages of those “non-believers.”  Those first Christian disciples did not in their outreach expect or force those with whom they spoke to become like them and learn their language.  Rather God equipped and inspired those first Christians to speak in the language of the others!

Rather than polarizing, the effect was to respect who those others were, and attempt to meet them at least to a certain extent on their own terms.  Is that not the first miracle of Pentecost?

And the second Pentecost miracle is that those who heard “the mighty acts of God” being proclaimed recognized what was happening and what those first Christian disciples were doing, and those “non-believers” listened to what the disciples were saying.

What difference might it make, if in the light of that first Pentecost we who have the opportunity and responsibility to elect a President in 2016 were to ask not only which candidate might best reflect our own personal values and beliefs; but why someone else would choose to vote for or support the “other” candidate, or maybe either candidate?  Which voters feel that they have not been well-served or heard and heeded by previous candidates or political parties or administrations so that they find a particular candidate and their message appealing in this current election year?  What has it been about Senators Sanders or Cruz, or Governor Kasich, or Secretary Clinton, or Mr. Trump, that has spoken to them or not seemed to speak to or for them?

Would that not be to try and take those fellow American brothers and sisters of ours at least somewhat as seriously as the first disciples of Jesus took those to whom God sent them to share the love of Christ?  Those first Christians did not necessarily share or adopt the beliefs of the non-believers; but neither did they denigrate or dismiss them.  Those first disciples sought to meet their fellow Jews (which could be a racial or a national or a religious designation) “where they were” because understanding and respect were their goal along with outreach and acceptance reflective of Jesus’ own for the diverse men and women that his life and ministry touched.

Would that not at least by one definition of Christian, be an authentic or faithful Christian response?  Might there be good reason to take seriously the position of another that is not our own so as to try and understand what they have found missing in past elections and administrations, to at least ask if there is merit to their beliefs and their values and their needs?   Is it possible that having done so we might be able to recognize a better or more inclusive approach to a situation, issue, or need and perhaps more effectively address it; rather than simply dismiss the other and their thinking, and in so doing increasing or solidifying the polarization?

Which is more Christian?  Is it to demand uniformity with our own viewpoints and beliefs if we are to respect, let alone embrace another person?  Or is it to accept at least some degree of difference between us and another human being made in God’s image and try and recognize that as there might be good reason for you or me to believe and act and vote as we do, so there might be something of value and importance behind their beliefs and actions and votes as well?  Might we end up thinking that “the whole truth” may not rest solely with one candidate or one viewpoint or one set of beliefs in the political arena, any more than Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John by themselves were capable of knowing and revealing and sharing all there was for us to know and think about Jesus?

What would it mean for us to think about someone else in the Christian light of Pentecost?