Neither a Republican Nor a Democratic Church
Editor’s Note: Continuing his sermon series on the Psalms, Mark Dever preached Psalm 83 to his church on Capitol Hill the Sunday following the November 2016 presidential election. We offer his sermon introduction for two reasons: (i) to present an example of how to be sensitive to context in an introduction; (ii) to offer a model of how to address politics in particular in a highly contentious political moment.
Living together as a congregation of this size, we have the experience of miscarriages and births in the same week. Baptisms and funerals, victories and defeats, promotions and firings, all at the same time. How challenging does that make it for us to fulfill what we have vowed before God and each other to do in our church covenant? Just a few of its lines: “We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church; exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require. . . . We will rejoice at each other’s happiness, and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows.”
But how can we learn to do that better, especially with a week like the one we’ve just had?
They say history is a great teacher. I’m not so sure that’s always true. Let me illustrate this by a couple of conversations I’ve had on the street over the years.
The first happened in my hometown, when I was just a boy of probably 13 or 14. A complete stranger, an older man, stopped me on the street. He asked me who I was, and I told him. And then he just went into a couple of minutes of thanking me for my great-grandfather. He said that during the Great Depression, he would never have made it through if it weren’t for my great-grandfather. He explained a little bit, then said “thank you” and went on. He probably wouldn’t have known, but I never met my great-grandfather. He died before I was born.
But that incident gives you a taste for my own history—a white son of an intact family, always lived in the same town, with my Dad’s parents a block to the west of Main Street, and my Mom’s parents living three blocks to the east. I could easily walk from one house to the other, with the church we attended in between. When I was five, we moved out of town, about 10 minutes south from these grandparents, two doors down from my great-grandmother, on a street named after her husband’s family, and the four other houses we could see from our front porch were all built by them. My great-grandfather’s grave was a short bicycle ride away, and one of my teachers in high school had taught my older sister, my mother, and all her brothers, and had begun teaching in the same public high school in the fall when my grandmother had graduated in the spring! I could go on at much greater length, but what I’m telling you is that I have a very particular history which has been great in so many ways, but which has not always proved to be the best teacher. In my world, there were no enemies.
Let me tell you about a second conversation, again on the street, this one years later. I’m walking along with a friend, and he’s telling me his excitement about a girl he had started to date. I could understand that. I was happy for him. And then, he told me his concern that her parents might reject him because he was black. My initial instinct was “that’s ridiculous! He’s a great guy!” and so I listened for a minute, then re-assured him that, since he’d told me that her parents were Christians, there was no way that would happen. Then he told me simply and clearly, that it had happened to him before.
He shared the story. It was eerily similar to his current situation. My confidence that he was wrong had come because I had learned too much, I had universalized too much from my own history. And his history was different. It told him a different story—and I couldn’t deny that. For me, my natural emotional assumption in life is that I have no enemies! But my friend’s experience had been different. He had people in his life who said they shared his Savior, but because their skin color was different, they wouldn’t share their daughter, or their love. Having done nothing wrong, this friend had found, throughout his life, people who acted as his “enemies.” His history taught him different lessons than mine had taught me. But his probably allowed for experiences like mine, where mine had no place for experiences like his. So I needed to supplement the lessons my own history had taught me, with lessons that history had taught others—hard lessons—like the one my good friend had been taught.
Let me get very specific. Some members of our congregation are happy with the results of this last week’s election, some don’t care, and some are scared. It’s our job as a congregation to live out the covenant we’ve taken before the Lord, and to show that the Christ we share is more important to us than the politics we don’t. This church has survived close elections before. It was here when Teddy Roosevelt was elected, and when his cousin Franklin defeated President Hoover. We survived Truman v Dewey, Kennedy v Nixon, and Nixon v Humphrey—all close and contentious elections. I was here when we survived Bush v Gore, and in those days we had had Mr. Gore’s scheduler as our deacon of sound while the Republican Senate Majority leader sat right down there! I pray that we as a congregation can actually see the gospel displayed as we love those who voted differently than us this past Tuesday. And part of that can mean some very difficult conversations directly with those with whom you have some pretty deep political differences. But part of loving them means being willing to hear them out and believe the best.
I know some seem compelled to have more of a Democratic church, or a Republican church, but I think it’s actually our best gospel-strategy to grow as Christians, and to reach Capitol Hill and this District to work hard against identifying our church with opposition to either party. We prayed for Bill Clinton and we prayed for George Bush and we prayed for Barack Obama—and we will now pray for Donald Trump.
If culture is coarsened or some members of our church or community have lives that are made more difficult, we will, as we’ve always done, work to bind up the wounds, and encourage their continued discipleship and witness until the Lord returns or calls us home. We will pray for goodness and justice and right to triumph, but we will harbor no illusions that if Gore or McCain or Hillary Clinton had been elected, then the Fall would have been reversed. In our politics, the victors and the vanquished live in a fallen world, even though they experience the fall differently. Pray that we learn well from listening to each other’s histories, as I’ve tried to learn. And pray that God would give us wisdom in knowing how best to respond to those that we’re wondering if we should regard as our enemies.
All of this, in God’s providence, brings us to our Psalm for this morning, Psalm 83. And we could entitle this sermon, “What to do when you’ve got enemies.” You’ll find the psalm on page 492 in the Bibles provided. Please turn there now.