Donald Trump is a beloved child of God.
Hillary Clinton has a hope and a future in Christ.
Gary Johnson is loved with an everlasting love.
Jill Stein is created in the image of God.
If any of those statements made you cringe, then it may be time to take your soul into the shop for a tune-up.
Presidential election years are hard on even the most saintly of us. There’s an endless stream of cruel jokes and caricatures to share. It’s easy to get swept up in the name-calling and the belligerent displays and the seemingly righteous indignation.
It’s natural to want our team to win. It’s natural to cheer our team on.
It’s supernatural, on the other hand, to remember that the images that populate our televisions and computer screens are of real people, not team mascots. It’s supernatural to remember that political disagreements do not negate anyone’s humanity.
It’s supernatural to extend grace and mercy to all. In Christ, this is the work to which we are called.
Don’t let anyone deceive you: kindness is hard work. Gentleness is not a sign of weakness. They require a strength that takes a lifetime of practice.
The Apostle Paul wrote this, toward the end of his letter to the Philippians: “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers, whose names are in the book of life.”
Ok, first- can you imagine being Euodia or Syntyche? 2000 years after they contended honorably at Paul’s side for the gospel, and we’re still publicly discussing some argument they had in Philippi! How’s that for a way of making it into the history books? Barnabas makes it in because he was an encourager, Mary Magdalene makes it in as the first witness of the resurrection. Euodia and Syntyche are immortalized as bickerers.
There’s a life lesson in that, I think — sort of an epic version of “if you keep making that face, it’ll freeze that way.” There they are, frozen in argument.
But who were these women, Euodia and Syntyche? These women aren’t mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. From what Paul shares, though, we should regret not having their stories. Paul describes them as fellow contenders, women who have worked side by side with him in preaching the gospel. Euodia and Syntyche were leaders in the early church, probably missionaries, definitely influential enough that their disagreement was of concern to Paul.
Paul’s advice to Euodia and Syntyche is tantalizing, because he leaves out any discussion of their contentions. Which position was Euodia’s, and which was Syntyche’s? I’d like to know, so I could figure out which one I agree with.
Paul doesn’t care about that, though. He skips straight past the problem to the solution: be of the same mind in the Lord, and get some help from a trusted friend.
Be of the same mind? Is he criticizing his fellow contenders for being contentious? How surprising could it really be, that women known for contending would end up in an argument? Should they flip a drachma, to see who has to change her mind?
Well, no, not exactly. Paul is making a particular request of Euodia and Syntyche, but it restates a more general plea that he made earlier: “make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Paul asks all the Philippians, in their relationships with each other, to have the mindset of humility and gentleness with which Christ came to be among us. Paul asks all the Philippians, and then specifically Euodia and Syntyche, to learn to think with the mind of Christ, to learn to look first toward the interests of others.
In other words, there’s no need for Euodia and Syntyche to flip a drachma and see who will win this round. That would miss the point. Paul is not requiring any particular conclusion from these women, when he asks them to be like-minded.
Rather, he’s pleading for a particular quality of process, one that is rooted in being one in spirit and one in mind rather than in placing the priority on bringing your fellow contender around to your point of view.
Humility like this requires trust, right? Because, what if you humbly give someone the place above you, and they give a perfunctory thanks, and then step on your face? If Euodia looks toward Syntyche’s interests, and Syntyche looks toward Syntyche’s interests, what will happen to Euodia’s interests? They’d be forgotten.
So, Euodia has to trust that Syntyche will return her goodwill. Likewise, Syntyche has to trust that Euodia will meet humility with humility, and grace with grace.
Gentleness is what that trust looks like. Gentleness is the first step that the women have to take toward each other.
Gentleness, more than ever, is what our nation needs- and a gentle approach can only flow from a solid inward strength.
Gentleness is strong, and risky at times, but it is not a way to conquer anyone. Gentleness is not a way to surrender, either- it’s not giving in. Gentleness, rather, is a third, centered way of being.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have seven weeks left until the election. Seven long weeks. Seven weeks to practice kindness in a world that calls us to be anything but kind. Seven weeks to contend as gentle warriors, to disagree on policy while respecting the humanity of all.
May the gentle spirit of Christ shine among us, leading us onward in love.
Julie Rudd pastors at Wilmington Friends Meeting. You can learn more about Wilmington Friends Meeting at www.wilmingtonfriendsohio.org or at www.facebook.com/wfmeeting.