Fifty-nine. That’s the number of times the New Testament instructs Christians on how to treat one another.
Be at peace with each other.
Be kind and compassionate.
Live in harmony.
Accept one another just as Christ accepted you.
Love is the bedrock of Christian faith, and kindness is a concept we teach our kids from their first moments of understanding. But these ideas are more easily envisioned than put into practice. Both local congregations and online spaces highlight how many of us have lost touch with caring for one another—especially when we disagree.
Over the past few years, politicians and pundits have fostered growing polarization and racial division, a trend amplified by the American church. Rather than faithfully embodying the “one another” verses, too often the church has embraced, and even fueled, needless divides.
These actions impair the church’s mission and distort its contribution to the world. Only 28 percent of Americans have a favorable view of evangelicals, and even within the faith, political division is one of the primary reasons pastors are considering leaving ministry.
Many Christians are left feeling heartbroken, wondering if anything can be done to reconcile fractured relationships and restore the church’s reputation. Ultimately, the divided American church needs a restored vision for true community—a vision that does not seek to eliminate disagreement but instead fosters unity within diverse congregations.
How Firm a Foundation
Harmony, by definition, can only exist amid differences, and yet half of US Protestant churchgoers say they prefer a politically homogeneous congregation. Many who cling to sameness balk at the call for “unity,” interpreting it as a command to accept all theological interpretations and positions. But unity isn’t erasure or blind acceptance—it’s an effort to love one another as image-bearers of God.
In John 13, Jesus provided a model for harmony as he spoke to his disciples hours before his crucifixion.
“A new command I give you: Love one another,” he began. “As I have loved you, so must you love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” That same evening, Jesus prayed, asking the Father that they “may be one… just as you are in me and I am in you.” This is the vision God has for humanity.
Promoting or accepting polarization is antithetical to the way of Christ because it damages relationships among believers and tarnishes the church’s reputation among those watching from the outside. Actively pursuing unity prioritizes human dignity above personal preferences. It’s a continual commitment to those 59 verses.
“In a time of intense polarization, both inside and outside the church, Christians are called not to run from conflict but to engage it, drawing upon ancient practices of the faith,” says Michael Gulker of The Colossian Forum, an organization that helps church leaders engage culturally divisive topics. “When people gather to pray, study Scripture, and discuss their differences in a setting of worship, conflict becomes not a threat but an opportunity for Christian discipleship.”
Reverend Josh Hayden of First Baptist Church in Ashland, Virginia, wanted to create such opportunities for discipleship as his congregation and the surrounding community faced demographic changes. Struggling to find a way forward that both made necessary changes and cared for the reluctant, Hayden reached out to Arrabon, an organization that helps Christian communities discover how to put reconciliation into practice.
Arrabon worked with church leadership and, eventually, the congregation as a whole to mend generational gaps, improve cultural intelligence, and update the church’s ministries and practices to better meet the needs of the community. Through Arrabon’s training in reconciliation, collaboration on messaging such as sermons and songs, and community resources, the First Baptist congregation learned together how to navigate complex conversations.
As a result, congregants have grown in their relationships with one another and their love for the surrounding community. The church now partners with a neighboring historically Black church in regular joint ministry efforts. “I used to drive through town and think just about my church,” said a parishioner from the neighboring congregation, “but now both churches feel like home.”
While Arrabon’s guidance began with training and education, it led to action in everything from creating liturgies to initiating partnerships with fellow believers. For church leaders who are unsure where to start, looking to the story of First Baptist can serve as a guiding light: If one congregation has low racial diversity but high engagement, church leaders could host a community outreach event with a neighboring ethnic-majority congregation. A church with a strong small group ministry could study a book or video series on racial reconciliation or biblical principles for civil engagement. These initial steps can lead to strong relational bonds through shared experiences that prepare people to do justice in their communities together.
Coming together is always challenging, but meaningful conversation that inspires change is possible—and made more likely through the intentional efforts of church leadership.
In a conflicted and chaotic world, one thing remains true: the only way forward is together. Between the wisdom of The Colossian Forum and the transformative work of Arrabon, it’s easy to see the immense value of Christians engaging conflict as an opportunity for connection rather than division. These are just two of the remarkable organizations brought together by Cross the Lines, a new collaborative of Christian ministries experienced in addressing the most complex divides in our culture. Ministry leaders who begin a journey of communal reconciliation can replace overwhelm with humble confidence through valuable tools from Cross the Lines member organizations.
In view of what’s sure to be another contentious election cycle, Cross the Lines is committed to supporting pastors and Christian leaders who seek to unify their congregations and greater justice to their communities. Cross the Lines brings together ministries engaged in peacemaking, bridge-building, conflict resolution, reconciliation, and racial healing. This collaboration increases awareness around social issues, cultivates fellowship across diversity, and provides practical, spiritually grounded resources and support. As a unified collective, Cross the Lines partner organizations equip pastors to take tangible steps toward practical justice and work toward unity—one loving conversation at a time.