"What unites us is far greater than what divides us."
It was John F. Kennedy who first spoke these oft-repeated words in an address to the Canadian Parliament.
Nowhere is this truer than in the church. It's the blood of Jesus Christ—a force greater than any other on this planet—that unites us. Little should be able to divide in the face of that unifying power.
I was blessed to serve on staff at National Community Church for several years where lead pastor Mark Batterson placed a strong emphasis on the unity of the church. We prioritized unity over ecclesiology or theological debates. Our staff consisted of Baptists and Pentecostals, Arminians and Calvinists, men and women, black and white, liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats.
That last one, Republicans and Democrats, is of particular note for a church in the heart of Washington, DC.
As a church, NCC remains decisively and intentionally apolitical. They believe nothing, including political affiliation and ideology, should stand in the way of an encounter with the gospel. And for a church whose attenders and community are heavily involved on Capitol Hill, politics is exactly the sort of thing that could derail an opportunity to meet Jesus.
Many NCCers are employed in some form or fashion in the political realm. Young men and women come from across the country and around the world to shape policy and influence the world for the better. Many work as staff members for senators and congresspersons on Capitol Hill.
Of course, they often have radically different perspectives on how to achieve that better world.
The political rancor that you see on TV, the stuff that the candidates say and the pundits shout, takes an interesting turn in the capital city. On the one hand many DC residents eat, sleep, and breathe politics. They're often responsible for the speeches that those politicians and pundits give. And when you work in that world, your office is usually full of people who agree with you, creating an echo chamber that reinforces whatever belief you hold.
On the other hand, the people on the other side are your colleagues and neighbors. They're your baristas at Starbucks (politics is often less lucrative than you'd think), the other parents in the PTA, and the members of your small group. In cases such as mine, they're your spouse.
And so you live in the tension between the human tendency to demonize those who disagree with your deep seated beliefs and the knowledge that those earnest people who live next door are from the other party.
A Risky New Group
A few years ago Mike Whitford, campus pastor at NCC and former Capitol Hill staffer, started a small group for people who work in politics. He called it For Such a Time, a phrase found in Esther 4:14 explaining that Esther was placed into a position of political influence "for such a time as this."
What made this group different than most of the myriad of gatherings of politicos in DC is that it was built around the good news of Jesus rather than a political party or position, so it wasn't limited to people from one side of the aisle.
Mike eventually passed that group off to Juliana Heerschap and Aaron Welty, two NCCers who were working on Capitol Hill. The group has been very successful. It grew in numbers, multiplied, and even launched a group specifically for summer interns.
But as is often the case with small groups, their success can't fully be measured by statistics. It's the stories that have emerged from the group that speak to the unifying power of the gospel.