This week we saw the gears of our public life come grinding to a halt once again. We went from ceiling to cliff to sequestermageddon to another ceiling, then on to the next impasse. And our paralysis as a people is not confined to public finance. We seem incapable of moving forward on any front.
America is more ideologically divided than ever. The country as a whole is deeply divided on everything from the nature of wealth creation and the purpose of government even to what marriage is. Red states and blues states, the cultural elite and the street, the city and the sticks: it seems that we inhabit different moral universes and we don’t even share a common language. Michael Barone describes America as two countries that are not even on speaking terms. To echo Alisdair MacIntyre, our politics has become civil war carried on by other means.
America as one country, as a national political community, cannot continue if this divide continues to deepen. Harmony is essential to community. Strife destroys it. As things stand, we can’t move forward in economic growth, border security, world leadership, or anything until we come to greater agreement as neighbors and fellow citizens.
But that harmonious unity is elusive. A political community wants to be one and at rest within itself, a kind of universal friendship. Everyone helps. Everyone trusts and is trustworthy. But social harmony, unlike our present rancor, is also more than that. In The Republic, Socrates concludes that “that city [is] best governed that is most like a single human being,” literally a body politic. It wants to function organically the way a body moves in flowing coordination under the brain’s government, every part taking pleasure in fulfilling its part. But where do you see that?
And yet this is precisely the way Romans 12 describes life in the church, the body of Christ, the Kingdom of God which is God’s new society. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” When Christ has finished his redeeming work in the new creation, our life together will be that perfect harmonious unity. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (I Cor. 12:12, 26).
Of course, that is a marvelous, eschatological reality, God’s sovereign, recreative work at the end of sinful history. But in the meantime, there are ordinary, human means for living in greater peace: strong families, sensible education, free markets, the rule of law, and wise statesmanship at the top. But God also anticipates his final work in his present grace. The love and Spirit of Christ brings His church into to ever greater harmony and unity. As “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13-16), Christians can bring our communities into greater concord by our Christian example and influence. Thus, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9).