1 Corinthians 12:20 - 'As it is, there are many parts, but one body.'
It is always tempting, especially as we approach elections, to artificially divide the world into tribes. We tend to imagine ourselves as part of one group, and we compare ourselves with another group. In short, we split the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’. This sort of attitude becomes problematic and often violent when we regard ‘us’ to be good and ‘them’ to be irredeemably bad. When that happens, we become the heroes of our own story and by extension, others necessarily become our enemies.
Christians must resist such a divisive way of looking at humanity, because it never paints an accurate picture, of ourselves or our supposed enemies. People are always more complex, more multi-faceted, more made in the image of God than our simple dualisms are capable of expressing.
What particularly pains me, as I train for ministry in the Church of England, is the way the church often divides itself into tribes. I do this all the time. I assign myself a label, which identifies me with some people and not with others. For the church, usually, the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is a disagreement over a particular point of doctrine. But to encamp ourselves like this ignores one of the most incredible things Christians believe about the church.
We are all one body.
We are not members of a big organisation or one big club. We are one body. Whether we realise it or not, we are so connected to one another that we cannot properly understand ourselves as solitary individuals. The church cannot be divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’. We can only be ‘us’. Attempts to divide us into those who are ‘good’ and ‘bad’, or those who are ‘friends’ and who are ‘enemies’, ultimately, hurt all of us.
Perhaps the same is true of humanity as a whole. When we decide that some things such as our political persuasion, religious belief or nationality are satisfactory boundary markers, we ignore our common humanity. So where we should see a brother or sister, complex and made in the image of God, we instead see an enemy.
In your conversations with others, and perhaps especially on social media, resist the temptation to define others solely with reference to how they differ from you. When possible understand others in the way in which they wish to be understood.
Do not fear relationships with people who are different from you, whether it be somebody from a different denomination, country, or political persuasion. I think sharing a meal with someone is the best way to get to know them. So take a brave step and invite someone to dinner who seems so different, perhaps even someone who is at enmity with you. Pray for the grace to see them as a friend, and not an enemy.
Lord, the world is divided enough without me dividing it up further. Help me to build bridges between people, not erect them. I’m sorry for the egoism which causes me to define others only by how they differ to me. Help me see all of your children as they really are, complex, multi-faceted creatures made in your image, no more broken or put together than myself.
Written by Gareth Banton, a Second Year Ordinand at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, studying theology to become a priest in the Church of England. Sign up to receive weekly devotionals in your inbox every Monday.