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How to Overcome Cultural Division

“When the country is in chaos, everybody has a plan to fix it—but it takes a leader of real understanding to straighten things out.” (Proverbs 28:2, The Message)

You might have heard the phrase, “Love God, love people, nothing else matters.” I’d like to think this was true. It’s so simple. Could this be how we navigate our way through divided times? Keeping it simple, and “keep the main thing the main thing?”

I think this phrase might be a little misleading and prefer to think that, when you love God and love people, everything else matters. It leads more to the line of thinking that whatever we do, we should do it for the Lord. The Message translates it this way, “Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” (Col. 3:17)

Culture is quickly dividing itself into separate camps where people are unwilling to associate with one another.

Whether it be politics, a pandemic, or any other plethora of polarizing topics, our society is increasingly finding ways to associate with those that are like-minded and lob rocks at opposing camps. This is the eventual foment of multiple years of trauma and a deep longing to belong.

While this cultural division may have incredible momentum, I also believe that the kingdom of God invites us to see differently and yearns to guide our thinking. It’s a way of thinking that honors the details of our lives, and the issues that matter to us.

When We Love People, Everything Matters

Politics matters, because it impacts real people. Choose any polarizing topic right now—it matters! How we choose to involve ourselves in these conversations also matters. Some may choose to keep their focus only on loving God and loving people, but to really love we must engage in what matters to them.

Our intellectual credibility is at stake. If we want people to seriously inquire about faith and discover a relationship with Jesus, we must be willing to talk about the issues that matter to others and not simply retreat to only talking about our version of spiritual matters. What we have to remember though, is how we do this is just as important.

According to a recent study, many young people don’t think that faith communities care about the issues that matter to them. They see faith communities as self-focused or given to serving other agendas.

Cherrie Harder, president of the Trinity Forum, recently wrote in a post titled Reviving Intellectual Hospitality, “Understand that extending intellectual hospitality does not require affirmation of the ideas or values of your conversation partners, nor does it obligate you to check your own values or worldview. Listening, asking questions, and seeking to understand the ideas of another affirms the value of that person without endorsing the idea.”

We must demonstrate the issues that matter to people also matter to God, and ultimately to us. It is one of the ways that we show love. Love listens. If we want to seek to overcome cultural division, we must strive to do so with love.

“Hate seeks to live in monologue. Love seeks to live in dialogue. And it is only through love that we are able to redeem and transform the enemy neighbor.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

We Must Be Willing to Listen

If we want to overcome our cultural divisions, we must learn to avoid monologues and really embrace the power of listening. Our culture is longing to be heard right now. I would imagine that you long to be heard as well. We must be willing to set aside our desire to be heard and understood long enough to listen to and understand others.

I came across a fascinating question recently that I think can help us grow in our understanding of others. Pastor Mandy Smith posted this thought-provoking question on her Facebook page: “How many different types of pain are you carrying right now?” It was sobering to see how many people commented that they currently carry between seven and ten different types of pain. I was brought up short to consider how many types of pain I also carry, for myself and others.

It's been said that, “We don’t see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.” We are all seeing the world through the different lenses of pain that we carry. If we want to begin overcoming the cultural divisions in our world, we have to take time to reflect on this, and take time to discover the distinct types of pain that others bear as well. If we can remember that people are seeing the world through their own pain, it can help move us one step closer in our love and concern for others. The polarization that we see growing out of our cultural divisions is really our inability to see ourselves in others. It’s also revealing just how broken people are on all sides of the issues.

I do believe that Jesus cares deeply about the issues that matter to us. He also cares about the way we care for each other. He calls us to be compassionate as he is compassionate. He calls us to love the stranger.

In Luke 22:44 Jesus is described as praying with such fervency that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. Part of his prayer is recorded in John 17:23, “May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”

Does Jesus care if we overcome our differences? I believe Jesus’ heart and the blood that flowed from it reflect a longing for us to strive to love one another and experience the type of unity the world also longs for.

These days, we’re tempted to meet cultural divisions with greater animosity and aggression. We must resist this temptation to let contempt for one another have any space in our hearts; instead seeking to understand one another, meeting them with the fierce love that flows from Christ’s heart.

We Must Not Remain Silent

This does not mean that we remain silent and passive on issues. To do so would simply allow for a monologue. It means that we listen first and take a posture to understand before seeking to be understood. We remain curious.

We endure the aggressive arguments of others and respond with love.

Rather than resorting to using dehumanizing language, we seek to honor those we talk with and those we talk about. We always remain hopeful. We listen with a discerning spirit and take care to never speak with logical fallacies or inconsistencies, and own it if we do. We avoid generalizations, remain humble, and learn our own biases. We resist the urge to oversimplify, and we take seriously Jesus’ command to, “First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

If we are to resist the rising tides of cultural division in our time, we would do well to pray against any spirit of retaliation or use of violence. Let us remember the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who once preached, “Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace. I am convinced that if we succumb to the temptation to use violence in our struggle for freedom, future generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to them will be a never-ending reign of chaos. A Voice, echoing through the corridors of time, says to every intemperate Peter, ‘Put up thy sword.’ History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that failed to follow Christ's command.”

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/WoraweeMeepian 

John Wentz stepped in as the Executive Director of Alpha USA on May 1, 2022, after seven years serving Alpha USA (Executive Vice President of Ministry) and Alpha International (Church Engagement and Training Strategy). With 23 years of pastoral experience, John has impacted many churches, ministry leaders, and college students across the world. He is a gifted communicator, trainer and coach, and has a heart for people from different cultures.

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