By Jeff Brumley
Kevin Glenn has become quite the buzz in Columbia, Mo., the past couple of weeks for publicly promoting what he says has become a radical concept in American Christianity: That devotion belongs first to God and to political parties, candidates and governments second.
Glenn, senior pastor of Memorial Baptist Church, has been making radio and television appearances with hosts intrigued by the congregation’s participation in the Election Day Communion campaign. It was founded by two Mennonite ministers and an Episcopalian as a way to remind Christians not to lose sight of the Kingdom of God in all the rancor of the political season.
It was launched about three months ago and has grown to more than 800 participating churches, including about 30 Baptists congregations. Glenn’s was the first Baptist congregation to sign onto the effort and is one of at least a half-dozen Cooperative Baptist churches to do so.
“My concern is that there’s a very subtle idolatry that a lot of Baptists and other Christians have fallen into — misidentifying Jesus as a Republican or Jesus as a Democrat,” Glenn said.
That trend, and the resulting animosity it engenders between believers, is what prompted Kevin Gasser and two friends to launch Election Day Communion.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that there is a significant amount of political polarization going on right now, and it trickles into our churches,” said Gasser, pastor of Staunton Mennonite Church in Staunton, Va.
But the Bible is clear that God wants unity among the faithful, Gasser added. In attendance at the Last Supper was one Zealot who wanted to overthrow Rome, a tax collector who collaborated with Rome, two ‘Sons of Thunder’ and one betrayer.
“Such a diverse group, yet Jesus called them to oneness,” Gasser said.
Election Day Communion is designed to do that. Participating congregations around the nation will host communion services Monday or Tuesday as a way to share hymns, prayers and Scripture readings focused on devotion to Christ as the common denominator of faith.
“He comes before party, before candidate and even nation,” Gasser said. “This is about giving primary allegiance to Jesus.”
Gasser said he and his co-founders were surprised how quickly churches registered their intent to participate. The whole campaign was waged with less than $50 to purchase domain names. The rest came through word of mouth and social media.
Participation is free, and registration is merely a way to give participants an idea of the scope of involvement, Gasser said.
As she read about the idea, Scott said her mind went immediately to the heated discussions she’s heard among friends and on the Internet. The church signed up about two months ago to host its service at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
“It’s just such a divisive time, and there are a lot of people feeling like there has to be something more than anger about this process,” she said.
The service will be co-hosted at Colonial Avenue with a neighboring Presbyterian church, whose minister will join Scott and her pastor, John Boyles, in administering communion.
Scott said she hopes the larger community, which is invited to attend, will see that Christians can set aside their political differences to worship God.
“In the public eye, Christianity has taken a bit of a knock during this political season,” Scott said. “So we are inviting all to come and experience the peace that comes through Christ.”
In Columbia, Glenn said his radio and television hosts are often surprised to hear of a Baptist promoting communion as a balm for political divisions.
And there have been critics.
“There have been some who said we are way off base, that we shouldn’t share the table with Democrats,” he said.
But most of the response has been positive.
“Jesus doesn’t belong to any political party,” Glenn said. “That has been lost in American civil religion.”