Under God, Divisible: Political conflict deepens rift among Christians

Target 8

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Amy Wigger believes God already decided how many days we have on this earth.

But she also believes in science and protecting the most vulnerable among us.

“I do believe that’s what Jesus commanded us to do: Love God. Love others. Take care of the weakest among us,” she said.

It’s a perspective she says she told to her children’s Christian school when administrators decided against any self-imposed mask mandate prior to the term’s start.

“They didn’t want to upset the majority. I did point out that if they were to be an inclusive school that their job was to protect the least among them. That’s part of being the body of Christ,” recalled Wigger, choking back tears.

HUDSONVILLE MOTHER: FIGHTING MASKS ‘NOT A GREAT WAY’ TO REPRESENT CHRIST

Wigger said her son, Owen, 8, contracted COVID-19 in April and still has a lingering cough. He’s unable to wear a mask.

Owen Wigger and his mother. (Courtesy)

“Owen was born with Down syndrome. He also has autism… and because he’s nonverbal, he’s unable to tell us when he does not feel well. So he’s just at generally higher risk,” she said. “For him to contract COVID again is dangerous from him.”

It was concern over the school’s mask stance, in part, that prompted Mike and Amy Wigger to pull their three children from Christian school and transfer them to Hudsonville Public Schools, though Owen won’t start there until he’s vaccinated.

“It’s us too,” said Amy Wigger, acknowledging she and her husband based their decision on more than the mask conflict.

“Our ideals, our faith, our theology weren’t aligned (with the school’s) anymore… I don’t think once your eyes are open to having a kid like Owen, to the injustice against people with disabilities, that you can close them to injustices against other diverse groups,” she continued. “We want the disability community included, but we don’t want the LGBTQ community included, or we don’t want to talk about racism?”

Additionally, Wigger said, during the 2016 election season, children harassed her kids over the Wiggers’ political beliefs, telling them their parents were voting for “baby murderers.” Mike and Amy Wigger did not hide they wouldn’t be voting for then-candidate Donald Trump.

“We feel like (the community) has gone from reformed to fundamentalism to some degree,” Amy Wigger said. “Not everybody within the community is like that, but the loudest voices are right now. It’s personal liberty. It’s religious liberty… It’s not a great way to represent Jesus Christ by claiming that a mask is violating your religious liberty… That’s not the Jesus we believe in. That’s not what we’re teaching our kids.”

So this year, for the first time in their academic lives, the Wigger children, ages 8, 11 and 13, are attending public school.

The family changed churches, too. They are now attending Alive in Grandville, a newly planted Christian Reformed church that is led by a female pastor and strongly encourages masks.

ROCKFORD MOTHER: COUNTRY NEEDS TO ‘GET BACK TO GOD’

One year earlier and 30 miles northeast of Hudsonville, Chris Crandle was looking for a new spiritual home, too.

But the Rockford mom’s reason was diametrically opposite that of the Wigger family. Crandle’s church had been following federal mask recommendations and she was struggling with it.

“Having a history of abuse and having people force me to wear a mask, that was just a really difficult thing for me,” explained Crandle, standing outside her new church home.

Crandle believes God led her family to GR Church, a nondenominational congregation on Stauffer Avenue SE south of 44th Street in Kentwood. The church, led by Pastor Cody Kuehl, resumed in-person services in June 2020, no masks required.

Crandle discovered GR Church when she was invited to hear conservative activist Charlie Kirk speak there on a Sunday morning in August 2020.

“It was right smack dab in the middle of the pandemic, and I came, and there was not a mask in sight… I literally cried. It felt like freedom. It felt normal. I do believe with everything in me that this whole COVID thing, Satan is working and he is using this as a weapon,” said Crandle, who homeschools her four children and describes herself as a freedom-loving, Bible-believing Christian.

“A Bible is like a pair of glasses we put on,” Crandle explained.

Chris Crandle (left foreground) attends GR Church.

“We view the entire world through the biblical lens, and politics and freedom and how we treat each other, it all falls under Biblical truth,” she continued, saying there’s only one such truth. “With (biblical truth), we want to be able to address what’s happening in our culture, and the church needs to be the forerunner in that. They need to be, not passive, they need to very active.”

Crandle says it’s time for the country to “get back to God,” and churches should be more vocal about politics, not less.

“I think it’s a tactic of the enemy, a tactic of Satan, to say politics does not belong in the church,” offered Crandle, who, like many conservative Christians, says the United States was founded on Christian principles.

ERIC TRUMP: ‘THANKS FOR INVITING US TO YOUR CHURCH’

Churches are 501(c)(3) organizations under the IRS, which means they are tax-exempt and thus restricted from participating in political campaigns.

Five days before the 2020 election, President Trump’s campaign held an “Evangelicals for Trump” rally at ResLife Church’s Grandville campus.

Eric Trump visits ResLife Church in Grandville while campaigning for his father President Donald Trump. (Oct. 29, 2020)

“Guys, we are going to win this thing in five days. I promise you we’re going to win this thing in five days,” Trump’s son, Eric Trump, told the energetic crowd.

“Pastor Al, where’s Pastor Al?” he asked from the stage. “Thank you for inviting us to your church!”

When Target 8 asked Resurrection Life how a Trump rally would not violate the ban on political campaigning, the church’s attorney responded with a letter delivered by email.

“Be advised that the lease agreement for this event was an arms-length transaction in which ResLife Church rented its facilities at fair market value,” Bruce Block, the attorney, wrote. “ResLife Church did not sponsor this event, did not endorse a particular political candidate or party – either before, during, or after the event, nor was ResLife Church responsible for the content espoused at the event.”

Target 8 confirmed through Federal Election Commission records the Trump campaign rented ResLife for a little more than $15,000.

IRS guidelines say a 501(c)(3) organization that makes its building “available for rent to the public” at “standard fees” and on “a first come, first served basis” can rent to political campaigns without violating the ban.

Target 8 asked ResLife’s attorney for a list of other groups that had rented the church’s facility as well as an on-camera interview.

“Be advised that ResLife Chruch has no comment aside from the letter previously sent. Thank you for your interest,” Block wrote in response.

Conservative Republicans are not the only politicians bringing the campaign to church.

In the lead up to Virginia’s hotly contested gubernatorial race, Democrats coordinated “Souls to the Polls” events at Black churches in an effort to bring worshippers to early voting stations. For the first time in the state’s history, Virginia allowed early, in-person, absentee voting on Sundays.

According to the Associated Press, the campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McCauliffe confirmed he had visited more than 60 Black churches. In the final days before the Nov. 2 election, Vice President Kamala Harris released a video in which she praised McAuliffe to more than 300 churches statewide.

ACTIVIST: ‘IF YOU GO TO A WEAK CHURCH, GET OUT OF THERE’

In mid-August, at DeVos Performance Hall in downtown Grand Rapids, the Reawaken America Tour urged hundreds of unmasked believers to find churches that promote faith-based politics.

“If you go to a church that’s weak, get out of there! You’ve got to stand up!” emcee Clay Clark directed the enthusiastic crowd.

“You have a church where the pastor is not preaching the word of God, he’s not into the table-flipping Jesus, aka Jesus, come see us,” continued Clark, an Oklahoma-based entrepreneur, business coach, author and conservative podcaster.

The event, held in towns across the country, is billed as a “health and freedom conference” and features a host of ultra-conservative speakers, including retired Gen. Mike Flynn, also Trump’s first national security advisor; Tennessee Pastor Greg Locke, who has faced criticism for spreading misinformation about COVID-19; and Mike Lindell, the My Pillow Trump surrogate.

The event offers a special deal to attract pastors — half off the ticket price.

Emcee Clay Clark mocked pastors who follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended precautions against COVID-19:

“We just need to watch online and social distance and wear skinny jeans and put up rainbow flags. I just love rainbow flags, and I love skinny jeans and fog machines and quarantines, and Christ is love.”

Clark introduced the event’s hosts, a husband-and-wife pastor team based in metro Grand Rapids.

“Our next speakers made it possible to have this event. So, ladies and gentlemen, please stand on your feet and welcome pastors Philip and Bernadette Smith,” Clark shouted like a ringside announcer.

The Smiths are pastors of Eternal Word Church, which is in the Macy’s wing of Grandville’s RiverTown Crossings mall, next to Old Navy.

‘I have a dream that we will rise up and slay the darkness that is trying to penetrate our country and our world!” Bernadette Smith declared.

“The darkness of abortion. The darkness of critical race theory. The darkness of homosexuality and lesbianism. I had a dream we will rise up and take back the symbol of the rainbow. That is not their symbol!” she announced to a cheering crowd.

She has also appeared in a video on Twitter thanking President Donald Trump for his tax cuts.

Target 8 visited the Smiths’ church at RiverTown Crossings two times, hoping to set up an interview to talk about the merging of politics and faith. Bernadette Smith, who is also the ethnic vice chair of Michigan’s Republican Party, declined our invitation.

PAC: PUBLIC SCHOOLS INDOCTRINATING KIDS AGAINST GOD

Conservative activists aren’t just urging believers to leave what they call weak churches; some are also targeting public schools.

In mid-September, at a church in Holland, a political action committee hosted a free lunch exclusively for pastors.

Ottawa Impact first gained attention when it organized the Georgetown Township Memorial Day Parade and allowed an anti-vaccine group to march in it.

The PAC told the 20 or so pastors who attended the lunch that its mission was to “preserve the conservative Christian heritage of Ottawa County.”

The lunch featured a presentation by Alex Newman, who describes himself on Twitter as a “journalist/author/educator exposing evil.” He urged the pastors to direct parents to pull their kids from public schools, which Newman said are indoctrinating our children against God.

“I normally blame our government schools for the mess we find our nation in today, but since you are all pastors, I’m going to blame pastors. Pastors are the ones who allowed all this to happen,” he said. “The failure to teach biblical truth about education and to reveal to your congregations what’s going on in our public schools has led to this crisis, I think, more than anything else. And we do have a crisis… You’re a shepherd of the people in your congregation. God put you there to shepherd them, to protect them for him. The little ones in your congregation are being devoured by ravenous wolves.”

Randy Buist is a former church pastor who attended Ottawa Impact’s lunch, though not because he agrees with the PAC’s mission. Buist said he has been following Ottawa Impact on social media since it let anti-vaccine demonstrators march in the parade.

Randy Buist, an Ottawa County stay-at-home dad and public school advocate who runs a program called Kenya Matters that supports education and resources for youths in Kenya. (Courtesy)

Buist, who acknowledged conservative evangelicals are not his usual crowd, found Newman’s speech deeply disturbing. The stay-at-home husband and father of two is a strong advocate for public schools.

“I have two children who are products of the local public school and I could not be more proud of them. I could not be more proud of the teachers, the staff, administration. I am wholeheartedly a public school supporter,” Buist told Target 8 after the lunch event. “I mean they directly said, ‘We need to empty the schools,’ and ‘Everything that schools are teaching our kids is indoctrination for evil.’ Those were their words. Not mine… I think that’s really frightening that they actually believe this about our incredible public schools.”

Buist was incredulous that some conservative evangelicals think public schools are against free markets, the family or heterosexual marriage.

“They say, ‘They’re trying to indoctrinate (our kids) into LGBTQ rights and Black Lives Matter,’ and into all of those things that I, as a father, think are important for my children to understand in the greater world in which we live,” he said.

Buist said he plans to share Ottawa Impact’s campaign against public schools with school boards and superintendents.

Two pastors Target 8 interviewed after the lunch seemed to agree with Alex Newman’s assessment.

“Pastors are afraid to face these crucial issues because they’ve just let society creep in and they’ve let secularism creep into the church,” said Kirk Laskowski, an associate pastor at Shekinah Revival Ministries in Holland. “So the church is watered down and weak and powerless.”

Jerry DePoy, lead pastor at The Bible Family Church, pledged to enlighten his congregation about what’s happening.

“We’re not preaching it from the pulpit,” DePoy told Target 8 after the lunch. “You can get so caught up in trying to be popular and please the people, you can forget about our ultimate purpose is to please God. We get into things where we love, we love, we love, but we better get into what we hate, we hate, we hate, too.”

PASTOR: JESUS NOT A ‘SANDAL-WEARING HIPPIE’

When it comes to politics in the pulpit, Cody Kuehl, pastor of GR Church in Grand Rapids, says he’s not the one veering out of his lane.

In August 2020, Kuehl had conservative activist Charlie Kirk speak on a Sunday morning, though Kirk did not talk about Trump.

“There is a concerted and deliberate war on men in our country,” announced Kirk to the congregation.

“Some churches, they say, ‘We are not going to engage on these issues.’ They say it’s not the role of the church to get involved in the public square. I complete disagree,” Kirk continued.

Kuehl had the same thought.

“This is how I would describe my church politically. I’m not being political. I would say that politicians are acting spiritual,” Kuehl explained in an interview with Target 8. “Civil government has entered into my lane. So, therefore, I have to speak about it.”

GR Church, which is nondenominational, resumed in-person services in June 2020, no masks required.

“Once they’ve gotten into our lives telling us what to think, what to wear, where to go, if we can gather or not, that’s where I draw the line, and like, we’re not going to follow that,” Kuehl said.

More Christians are following GR Church these days. Kuehl said his congregation doubled to 500 amid COVID-19, in part because his church was open. But he says it’s also because Christians want pastors to tell them what the Bible says about today’s social issues.

GR Church Pastor Cody Kuehl speaks with Target 8 investigator Susan Samples.

“I think some people think of Jesus as, you know, a long-haired, sandal-wearing hippie from California who just teaches love and peace, right?” he said. “Like, he also walked into the temple and threw tables. I think people have a wrong view of Jesus. Like, it’s all about peace, but not to the point where we sacrifice our moral obligation to the Bible.”

In a sermon 12 days before the 2020 presidential election, Kuehl told his congregation what God might say if he failed to vote for Donald Trump.

“God will look at me and say, ‘You had a choice. You could have chosen this man that I have chosen to end abortion. You had this choice, you had this choice to vote for him, but you didn’t. You neglected to.’ I would hate to be rebuked for doing nothing,” Kuehl told his congregation.

For some conservative Christians, abortion is the single most important issue determining their vote.  

But the biggest issue splitting congregations right now is the battle over LGBTQ ordination and marriage. In October, at its General Synod 2021, the Reformed Church in America approved a separation process through which churches can exit the denomination. The United Methodist Church and the Christian Reformed Church are expected to take up the same issue next year. 

LETTER TO CRC PROPOSED HOSTAGE TAKING, SUICIDE BOMBING

Among the denominations struggling with conflicting politics in the pews — and pulpit — is the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

“I think my biggest concern is that we seem to have lost the ability to disagree with each other in a civil and respectful way,” Colin Watson Sr., executive director of the CRCNA, wrote in an email response to an inquiry from Target 8.

“I’ve seen that wound and tear apart individuals, families, even congregations,” he continued. “I would encourage us all to learn to listen to each other. To remember to see each other as brothers and sisters, even when we disagree. And to remember that we can respect and love one another despite our differences.”

The CRC’s own publication, The Banner, documented the increased vitriol in a February 2021 article headlined, “Mercy and Justice Staff Report Escalating Intimidation.”

“(CRC) executive director Colin Watson Sr. informed the Council of Delegates at its recent meeting that there has been an increase in the number of offensive comments, as well as racist posts, on social media and anonymous letters and postcards, leaving staff concerned for their safety. Some of the communications raised to the level of reporting to the police,” the story in The Banner read in part.

Target 8 obtained a copy of a letter sent to the home of the interim head of the CRCNA Office of Social Justice, which prompted a report to the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department. The letter writer objected to positions taken by the Office of Social Justice, which he called “intellectually shallow.”

The letter’s author, who thought he should lead the OSJ, went on to mention potential ways to promote his concerns and candidacy for the office:

“Some crazy ideas from other protests: ‘Buddhist Barbecue’; Chain myself to the doors at CRC HQ: Do a 1-man picket; Wear a T-shirt like the LGBTQZXyz+++ & hope the Synod Chair lets me speak like he did them; figure out how to submit an appeal to Synod… Then there’s hostage taking, suicide bombing, creating a virus that only attacks CRC office holders…”

In its report on the incident, the sheriff’s department noted that while the letter does refer to hostage taking, suicide bombing and creating a virus, “there is no direct threat to taking these actions.”

When Target 8 contacted the letter’s author, a 64-year-old longtime member of a Christian Reformed Church, the man assured us he meant no harm and said he felt badly the recipients considered it a threat.

The Banner article included a note from the Editor-in-Chief, which illustrated the level of sensitivity surrounding the incident:

“Editor-in-chief’s Note: This story, published Feb. 22 under a different title, was revised on Feb. 23. We regret unintentionally conveying a diminished sense of the seriousness of the situation for staff in our earlier version.”

The original headline read, “Staff of CRC Justice Ministries Feel Threatened.”

In a recent email to Target 8, the CRCNA offered additional evidence of its efforts to promote civility, noting its council of delegates had taken up the issue at three meetings this year, including its October session, at which delegates stated they are “working at understanding how to break ‘the racist walls of hostility.’”

“We, in the CRC, are calling the church and the world back to civility and showing the love of Christ to one another,” Watson Sr. wrote in his recent email to Target 8.

PASTOR: CHURCH HAS DISTORTED JESUS’ MESSAGE

Target 8 asked the CRC how many pastors had left congregations due to disagreements over COVID-19 restrictions or political beliefs, but the denomination has not shared that information.

However, two CRC pastors who separated from their churches in the latter half of 2020 sat down with Target 8 to talk about why they felt compelled to leave.

Both asked Target 8 not to identify the churches from which they separated to minimize any harm.

“I deeply loved the people I served and I was greatly blessed by them. But some large portion of the Church, broadly, had distorted and abandoned the message of Jesus and used it as a weapon to elevate an evil person in order to advance an earthly, materialistic, militaristic, selfish and anti-Jesus approach to humanity,” said Keith Mannes, who gave his final sermon in October 2020 after four years of service to a Christian Reformed Church in Allegan County.

Keith Mannes.

He is now training to be a chaplain.

“I left 31 years of ordained ministry because I saw something about the gospel at stake and I needed to be free to speak that in the world,” explained Mannes, who has given interviews to The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications.

“There’s just what I think to be a hellish infection in the hearts and brains and souls of people who have typically been gentle and peaceful and beautiful,” he continued. “It’s seeped into the bones of the church I love. I don’t know who these people are.”

Vern Swieringa had hoped to retire from the Christian Reformed Church he had pastored for eight years, also in Allegan County.

Instead, Swieringa left after church leadership refused a mask mandate despite his wife’s compromised immune system due to a 2019 bout with pneumonia.

Like Mannes, Swieringa is deeply concerned about what both men view as conservative Christians’ conflation of the Heavenly Kingdom with that of this earth.

Vern Swieringa preaches. (Courtesy)

“I have found a place in my worldview where I can say that I think the Kingdom of Heaven is real and the kingdom of this earth is real. But they are not one and the same, and until you can make that distinction in your heart, you’re going to be confused and conflicted,” he said.

Swieringa, who now leads a Christian Reformed church in a neighboring county, said he spoke to Target 8 because he wanted people to see there are Christians and Christian leaders who do not “align themselves with this political movement.”

Bill Johnson of the Fremont-based American Decency Association says the vast majority of West Michigan’s Christian conservatives and churches are neither hostile nor aggressive.

“In the year 2021, West Michigan still consists of many mature Christian believers who truly love Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and know that they’re cleansed from their sins only through the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus,” Johnson wrote. “Faithful Christian pastors teach the whole counsel of God. That means some sermons will be about how homosexuality is a sin, and others will be about how Christians show love to those who disagree with us. Some sermons will be about feeding the poor, and some will be about ‘He who shall not work, neither shall he eat.’ Some will be about God’s command to Adam to garden, and some will be about his command to guard. And some will be about how all authority on Heaven and Earth has been given to Jesus and to, therefore, go disciple the nations!”

PROFESSOR: WITNESS OF CHURCH AT STAKE

Calvin University history professor and author Kristin Du Mez says what’s at stake amid the contention in some faith communities is the witness of the church.

“What public face are we putting out there? How are we living out the gospel message?” she posed the question in an interview with Target 8.

Kristin Du Mez, a Calvin University history professor and author of the New York Time best-selling book “Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation,” speaks with News 8.

“There are so many stories I’m hearing of people leaving their churches, searching for new spiritual homes,” said Du Mez, the author of New York Times best-selling book, “Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.”

“(Employees) are leaving (religious institutions) either by choice or by force,” Du Mez said. “But it’s really hard, I think, for people to find those new communities, to find places where they can live out their faith authentically.”

Du Mez said many churchgoing Christians are grieving the division, but she sees a silver lining.

“These really critical theological differences,” she said. “What does it mean to follow Christ, what does it mean to live as Christians in this moment? We need to talk about those things.”

Du Mez noted religious leaders have long glossed over conflicting values within congregations, but the drumbeat of discord over the last 20 months has exposed a cultural chasm that’s been festering for decades.

She said many white evangelical Christians, positioned on one side of that gulf, have embraced an ideology dubbed Christian Nationalism.

“(They) believe their particular interpretation of Christianity ought to frame our laws and our society,” she explained. “This is linked to their understanding that God did found America as a distinctly Christian nation and if the country wants to remain in good standing, to be especially blessed by God because we are his chosen nation, then we must be faithful, and we must implement God’s laws and God’s will throughout American society.”

But Du Mez pointed out Christians throughout history have read the same scriptures and come to different conclusions about where the Bible points them politically.

MANY BELIEVED TRUMP WAS ‘GOD’S APPOINTED LEADER FOR THIS MOMENT’

In her book, “Jesus and John Wayne,” Du Mez relies on extensive research to explain why some white evangelical Christians were able to so thoroughly embrace a candidate, and then president, whose behavior critics described as decidedly un-Christ-like.

She said evangelicals’ support of Trump was not a contradiction but an endorsement of what she calls “militant masculinity.” In her book, she described militant masculinity as a decades-old ideology that views Christ not as the Jesus of the Gospels but as a “vengeful warrior Christ.”

“There’s this admiration that (Trump) wasn’t held back by these traditional Christian virtues and precisely for that reason, he was the warrior who would lead that charge. He was God’s appointed leader for this moment,” Du Mez explained.

It’s a moment of great peril in the minds of some conservative Christians.

“There were so many threats coming at evangelicals. This is a moment of demographic decline. The end of white Christian America,” she said, describing how that group views the situation. “We’re embattled. We’re threatened, and at this moment, we need a strong leader.”

Calvin University told Target 8 that while “some Christian readers of Professor Du Mez’s work have applauded it, others have felt discomfort, and some have registered disagreement.”

“Such is the nature of public debate and discourse that we welcome here, even when the subject matter is difficult,” Matt Kucinski, assistant director of media relations at Calvin University, wrote in an email statement.

He said Calvin supports engaging challenging ideas with “mutual respect and civility,” saying that’s what leads to growth.

FORUM: POLITICAL ‘WARFARE’ HARMS CHURCH’S FUTURE

Michael Gulker is president of The Colossian Forum, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that helps churches work through painful conflict, facilitating group discussions and training congregations how to practice loving God and each other while talking through the most contentious disputes.

Gulker says Christians must begin engaging conflict, political or otherwise, as an “act of worship, not warfare.”

“Instead of asking questions like, ‘How could you be a Christian and believe X,’ actually mean the question. Say, ‘I believe you’re a Christian. I believe you long to be faithful. Can you explain to me (your position on this issue?) Because I want to give you the benefit of the doubt. In fact, I’m called to do that,’” Gulker explained in an interview with Target 8. “Simply by creating that space of asking a question, making yourself vulnerable, not only to that other person, but to the spirit between you, the Holy Spirit in your midst, new possibilities can happen rather than the standard moves, which are the FOX, CNN echo chamber split. (The stock positions) aren’t even interesting. They’re not beautiful. They’re not what we’re called to.”

He said faith-based belligerence does not bode well for the church’s future.

“I think there are serious danger signs we need to pay attention to,” he said. “For instance, the next generation is not particularly interested in churches that mimic the political ideology of the day because there’s nothing interesting in it. You can go to your news channel. You don’t have to go to church for that.”

In 2016, the Public Religious Research Institute reported 39% of young adults said they had no religious affiliation. That’s up from 10% in 1986.

In March, Gallup reported Americans’ church membership continued its decline, dropping below 50% for the first time. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belong to a house or worship, according to Gallup. That’s down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.

When Target 8 asked Gulker if church as we know it will survive this culture clash, he said it would, but he added a caveat.

“The church will survive,” he said. “As we’ve known it? I don’t know exactly what form it will take.”

PASTOR TACKLING DIVIDES: CULTURAL HUMILITY IS A BIBLICAL PRINCIPLE

Rev. Dr. Mika Edmondson’s church Koinonia in Nashville, Tennessee. (Courtesy)

Rev. Dr. Mika Edmondson believes intentionally diverse churches are a potent salve to today’s dissension, particularly because they teach cultural humility, which he says is an important biblical principle.

“I think that’s huge right now because we are in a time of intense cultural polarization and racial polarization,” Edmondson said in an interview with Target 8 via Zoom.

Edmondson was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Calvin University. Today, he’s leading a newly planted Presbyterian church in Nashville, Tennessee, called Koinonia.

“That word koinonia actually means commonality,” Edmondson explained via Zoom. “In the Bible, koinonia is a term that can mean commonality, it can mean fellowship, it can mean communion. It’s a reality associated with the power of Christ that unites different kinds of people. It creates common ground among people who otherwise would not have common ground, particularly social common ground.”

Edmondson’s church describes itself as a “diverse covenant community” that intentionally welcomes people of different races, cultures, economic brackets and political beliefs.

“What we are really about at Koinonia is racial empathy and racial justice and racial unity,” he said. “To show that people who society says cannot get along, people who society says cannot have common ground can have common ground and can have unity and work together for justice, care for one another and love one another well.”

For Amy Wigger and Chris Crandle, two churchgoing Christians with opposite political perspectives, the importance of showing compassion to one another cannot be understated.

“We are not one another’s enemies. The enemy is Satan himself… We need to love each other but also speak the truth,” Crandle said.

Wigger said if there’s respect, there is hope.

“I’m hoping that… we’ll get to the point where we can try to understand each other better,” she said. “I hope. I pray. I think we can get there.”

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