Polarized. If I were to summarize American culture and politics right now, polarized is the first word that comes to mind. Progressives and conservatives keep moving further apart. Republicans and Democrats can barely shake each other’s hands and listen to each other’s speeches, let alone work together to solve the nation’s problems. On social media, respect and civility are out; sarcasm is in. Debates based on logic and persuasion have given way to name-calling and personal attacks.
Here’s the problem: Nothing grows at the poles. Darkness and extreme temperatures make the North Pole and the South Pole cold and inhospitable. Life doesn’t thrive at the poles. Despite their name, even polar bears struggle to survive at the North Pole, and none of them are found at the South Pole. At the North Pole, drifting ice moves constantly, making it expensive and dangerous for researchers to set up equipment there. At the earth’s other pole, Antarctica provides a more hospitable environment, but unless you’re a penguin, you probably don’t want to make your home there. Life is very difficult at the poles.
How should Christians live in an icy, polarized world? What does it mean to be salt and light in a cultural environment filled with hostility and distrust? To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, can you “hate the world enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing”? Here are five points to consider.
1. Prioritize Christ over culture. Christians shouldn’t be slaves to any human institution or ideology. We are followers of Jesus Christ. His Word sets the agenda. His Spirit sets the pace. Sometimes following Christ means we side with the prevailing culture on particular issues, while other times it means we side with the counterculture to advocate needed change. In every case “we make it our goal to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:9), even if honoring Christ displeases some of our neighbors.
2. Prioritize God’s kingdom over politics. We should go to the polls and vote, but we don’t have to live at the poles of political extremism. Christians should join the debate, participate in the electoral process, and vigorously express our views in discussions of public policy. Some Christians are called to serve in public office. But our ultimate hope will never be found in any political leader or party platform. We “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
3. Prioritize winning souls over winning arguments. The apostle Paul threw himself into the cultural fray. He went to the marketplace, dialogued with philosophers, and debated in synagogues. He preached Christ in public gatherings, prison cells, and private homes. His goal? “So that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Are evangelism and discipleship always top-of-mind as we interact with our neighbors?
4. Prioritize love over selfishness. For a Christian, it’s not “my way or the highway.” Christ is the way, and he leads us to walk the path of unselfish service. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
5. Prioritize action over words. “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Sacrificial love warms hearts like nothing else. In our tense, divided culture, salt and light can melt some polar ice as well.