Author Allen Hilton reports on a survey done with parents of adult children back in 1960 in his book, “House United: How the Church Can Save the World.”
Among the questions that were asked was this one: “Would you be upset if your child married a child from a political party other than your own?”
Back in 1960, just over 4 percent said they would be upset if one of their children was to do such a thing.
In 2010, a similar survey was done, and the same question was asked. This time, 43 percent of those interviewed said such a decision would upset them.
Eight years ago, nearly half of the adults surveyed said it would make them quite uncomfortable to have to raise a toast to their new son-in-law or daughter-in-law when it meant having to live with their different political orientation.
And one can easily imagine that these numbers have gone up even more over the last eight years.
Such studies are one among many reminders that we live in a time of division. In recent weeks, we have been reminded of that in fresh ways in news from Washington and elsewhere.
All of this is both a challenge and an opportunity for the church. There is a great need for congregations that will respond to this greater division in ways that help to lower the temperature of our debates and to imagine new ways of living and working together despite our differences.
We need congregations to provide leadership at the local level by encouraging folks to work for the common good for all people in whatever ways they can.
We likewise need congregations to bring people together from diverse perspectives and to invite them to work together in mission and service.
And most of all, we need to encourage the practice of reconciliation as a basic value in Christian communities.
I am more and more persuaded that this needs to become a primary point of emphasis in congregations in the years to come.
In addition to long-time staples of local church ministry, including the sharing the good news of the gospel, service to others and advocacy for those in need, I would now add the mission of reconciliation as equally important.
There is a great need for people willing to become peacemakers in the most basic sense of that word. Our calling as believers is to break down dividing walls of hatred and resentment.
This does not mean we should give up working for the things that we are persuaded are close to the heart of God.
We can and must advocate for an ethic based around the love of God and love of neighbors, and that includes all of our neighbors.
But in our current context, one of the ways that needs to happen is by something as simple as listening to one another and speaking the truth in gentleness and in love.
It can be a real challenge at times and, frankly, will take a great deal of practice. But I can think of few more important ways of sharing the gospel, the good news, in these challenging times.