A church in Illinois is encouraging its congregants to go out to dinner and engage in friendly conversation with people who may hold opposing political views.
Stateline Church, a nondenominational church in Rockford, kicked off a two-week series called “Thou Shalt Not be a Jerk” last week. The series is designed to instruct Christians on how to rise above the politically polarizing climate that has come to define the United States ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
In a sermon at Stateline Church’s Oct. 11 service, Pastor Gregg Giamalva expressed concern about “the polarization of people over politics.” He lamented that it has become commonplace to “destroy bridges with people, with family members because of this polarization … where we literally reduce people, when it comes to politics, to evil.”
Giamalva unveiled the first half of a list of “commandments” that he thought would help Christians understand “how to engage politics.” The first commandment is “thou shalt engage in politics with proper perspective.”
The pastor argued that many Christians fall into two extremes on the issue of politics: people who want “power” or “an empire” and “will alter their values to get it” and those who remain completely disconnected from politics. While he acknowledged that “politics do matter” because it affects “real people every single day,” he emphasized that it was important to engage in politics “as Jesus would guide us.”
Giamalva’s second commandment is “thou shalt not go to bed with one political party.” After highlighting how people “defend the most abhorrent behavior in someone whose political party (they) align with,” he maintained that “if you call yourself a Christ follower, you are not a Republican. If you call yourself a Christ follower, you are not a Democrat. You are a son of the living God. A daughter of the living God.”
“That is what defines you. That is what gives you your ideology. That should shape how you interact and engage with the world,” he stressed.
“Your values, based upon truly following Jesus, should never shift for any one political party.”
After introducing the third commandment, “thou shalt not be a jerk,” Giamalva urged the audience to live in accordance with the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
As he announced the he fourth commandment, “thou shalt put God’s Kingdom above all,” the pastor asserted that everyone should want to be a part of God’s Kingdom, which is “way better” than earthly kingdoms. He contrasted earthly kingdoms, which “use power to control people and manipulate people” and are characterized by “competition and fighting,” with God’s Kingdom, which “uses its power to empower people and is characterized by “peace and belonging and mercy.”
“If you have the Kingdom of God, then you have all you need. It doesn’t matter who’s president. It doesn’t matter what political party is in control. What matters is that Jesus Christ is still King and He’s still on the throne,” he proclaimed.
“We should not let living in this earthly kingdom … hijack our behaviors and our actions. You should live, love and serve as a representative of God’s Kingdom.”
When explaining his fifth commandment, “thou shalt build bridges,” he urged his congregants to “mix politics and religion over dinner with family or friends” at some point during the week. He encouraged those who did decide to take up his offer to approach political conversations differently: “Instead of trying to figure out what separates us and what divides us and why bridges have been torn down, I want you to see what unifies us and how we can build bridges.”
“You may need to ask for forgiveness with somebody by the way you’ve talked about people of the opposite political party,” he added. He urged people to include someone with a different political perspective in the conversation so that there was an opportunity to “listen and learn and maybe hear why people think the other way.”
“We’re going to give you a gift card to a local restaurant,” he said. “We just want to do something to help our restaurants and help you do this.”
“If Christians lead with love, if in this crazy chaotic time, we … start to actually live and talk about politics different than the culture around us, this is the best evangelism tool that we have,” he said. “If we actually put love into the equation, it will say to a lost world that Jesus is real.”
According to local NBC affiliate WREX, Stateline church collected more than $4,500 in $50 gift cards to local restaurants as part of the effort.