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  • Writer's picturesonnyholmes

Being one

Factions were a concern for our Founders. When they met to form this government, and especially when they sought approval from the states for the Constitution of the United States, overcoming the inertia of of their respective interests, personal and as distinct groups as well, was a serious obstacle. Catherine Drinker Bowen wrote about it in her Miracle at Philadelphia (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1966), subtitled The Story of the Constitutional Convention May to September 1787---

Compromise can be an ugly word, signifying a pact with the devil, a chipping off

of the best to suit the worst. Yet in the Constitutional Convention the spirit of

compromise reigned in grace and glory; as Washington presided, it sat on his

shoulder like a dove. Men rise to speak and one sees the struggle with the bias of

birthright, locality, statehood---North against South, East against West, merchant

against planter. One sees them change their minds, fight against pride, and when

the moment comes, admit their error.

Yet, even in June of '87, with the Federal Convention well on it's way, regional

divisions seemed insurmountable.

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and many believe John Jay authored The Federalist Papers to help define the new constitution and hasten it's adoption by the states. Federalists 9 and 10 addressed the issue of factions and the how union under the Constitution could handle the threats posed by such wide differences among the convention delegates and states. Madison supposed that factions were primarily the results of the fallen nature of man and social standing, religion and land ownership being the two prime motivations for division. Yet, the delegates to the Convention and eventually the states were able to set aside their differences for the good of the whole. Our Constitution and the government built on it are the result.

Today, the splintering of the nation is much more severe. Sophisticated moderns eventually abandoned the language of "factions" to identify our unique differences as "special interest groups". And, there are many, as partially illustrated in the map I drew as my image for this post. Interestingly, and perhaps regrettably, the Christian voting block has morphed into a multi-layered roster further sub-divided by theological stances. In the 2004 election Beliefnet used data compiled in the Fourth National Survey on Religion and Politics to introduce a typology of religious influence in the election. They labeled this work The Twelve Tribes of American Politics. For space I will not list or enumerate them. To read the summation you can click here. It's an interesting study.

That was then, and this is now, Today the twelve tribes are even more segmented. The group previously identified as "The Religious Right" is now composed of mainline believers, evangelicals, nominal Christians, convictional Christians, reformed believers, almost reformed believers, anti-reformed believers, traditional churches, contemporary churches, #neverHillary, #neverTrump, #nolesseoftwoevils, #greatergood voters, and some crossover with "The Religious Left" who find common ground on some issues. No wonder we're dealing with a loss of influence in the public square.

Is compromise a solution? Probably not. The same human nature that thrusts Americans into factions has our respective grounds staked out as essentials of faith, those places where we cannot compromise. In some ways we've abandoned Philip Schaff's (a nineteenth century church historian) "watchwords of Christian peacemakers, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity". As a result, the evangelical voice is diminished. What is more, the lines of essentials has shifted, the language has become abrasive, and a certain meanness characterizes the differences. As some have suggested, identifying the essentials today is like nailing jello to the wall. We just can't seem to find any middle ground here.

Jesus prayed for his people in the future to be one (see John 17: 21). When division and strife separated the believers at Corinth Paul wrote---

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you

agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the

same mind and the same judgment. 1 Corinthians 1:10, ESV

To the Galatians he addressed a similar theme, the ideal of oneness---

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and

female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28, ESV

Somehow we must re-visit the essentials of our faith so that with one mind and voice we can influence the governing processes that guide our nation. Perhaps it's time to gather around what Paul offered to the Corinthians---

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:2, ESV

Being one. That is the theology and do-ology of it.

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