Christian Liberal: An Oxymoron?

Because the race to the White House is upon us, politics is a more heated subject than ever before. I suspect it will only increase in its momentum as November draws nearer. What does that mean?

Debates. Lots of them.

Not only on the news but also between you and your friends, your family, your coworkers. Everyone says you shouldn’t talk about politics, but in an election year, that’s pretty impossible to do. All those people saying how politics shouldn’t be discussed on Facebook should probably either get over it or get off social media. We expect lots of debating, and, because not everyone has been taught how to have civil discourse or to think critically, we know that lots of those debates are going to get ugly. Drive a wedge between family members. All of that.

Now, for those of you who are a part of the Deep South Evangelical Christian subculture bubble, you know one other thing: political debates between Christians can be the most ugly of them all. Some of the most hateful, condescending political remarks ever directed at me came from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. For example, a couple of months ago, when the Syrian refugee debate hit CoC circles in the form of a Change.org petition asking for Christians to pledge not to show hatred toward Muslims, I made a relatively neutral comment on Facebook about how Christians should have access to the petition so that they can make the decision for themselves on whether or not to sign. Here were a few responses from my loving fellow alumni:

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I sure felt the Christian love that day. Remind me again why more Muslims aren’t converting to Christianity?

It would be one thing if exchanges like this between Christians were rare, if this was an isolated incident that happened only to me. But this isn’t the exception; it’s the norm. Somewhere along the line in the past few decades, an assumption has formed. It goes a little something like this:

  1. If you’re Christian, you must be politically conservative.
  2. If you’re Christian, you must be a Republican.
  3. If you’re Christian and you think anything else, you’re a lost soul. Get out of our community.

“But wait, we’ve never said that!”

I know that’s the reaction many would have to the above statements. But go read a political thread on a Christian Facebook page. Read the comments on a blog post. Strike up a political conversation at church and see what happens. The underlying (or not so underlying) assumption is there.

I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but I’m going to anyway:

Jesus was not a Republican.

In fact, I’m pretty sure He would resist being politically labeled altogether. He told us to obey and respect our governments (Mark 12:17) and to treat those with whom we don’t agree with an additional level of love and kindness. His kingdom was not of this world, and if we’re trying to live like Him as best we can each day, then I’m not so sure we should be letting something as petty as politics drive wedges between us. There is such a thing as agreeing to disagree. It’s an art form I wish a lot more people were good at, including myself.

The thing is, I get it. I was raised in that traditional, ultra-conservative, church-three-times-a-week bubble. For the longest time, I was one of those people who looked at liberals and started muttering Revelation 21:8 under my breath. When someone declared herself a Democrat, she may as well have been coming out of the closet. “Can you believe so-and-so voted for Clinton?” and similar statements were commonplace in my family and friend circles. I was right there with them.

Then I went to grad school and, as per usual of your stereotypical know-it-all, entitled, postmodern Millennials, I started thinking.

People get scared when you start thinking. I once had a relative who even went so far as to say that she thought being too educated was a bad thing because it makes people think critically.

Bash Millennials all you want, but I’m going to defend my generation a little bit here. In studying this postmodern paradigm shift, I’ve come to realize that the values and thought processes of Gen Yers are different than those of older generations, and these differences are often construed as bad. As in, different = bad. And I get it. There’s a huge difference in the way rhetoric and discourse were taught to our parents in the 50s and 60s and how they’re taught to us now, which causes quite a substantial rift in trying to understand each other’s thought processes. Sometimes, my parents and I simply do not understand how or why each other makes the decisions that we do. Especially in politics.

Underlying Assumptions

Let me further explain by talking a little bit about underlying assumptions. When it comes to politics, there are Christians (and not all of them are Baby Boomers, mind you) who operate under the following assumptions:

  1. Christian candidate = automatic best choice for President
  2. Voting for a candidate = agreeing 100% with his/her personal beliefs and values

I appreciate where these thought processes are coming from; statements like these imply that ethics matter. Morals matter. The leader of our country should care about things like ethics and morals. And I agree.

What I don’t necessarily agree with, however, is the assumption that the leader of our country should adhere to my ethics and moral standards.

In an ideal world, do I think it would be awesome to have a devoutly Christian president? Absolutely I do. That would be great…for Christians. But what about the other hundreds of thousands of American citizens who aren’t?

What it comes down to, ultimately, is this: While being a Christian is something that’s important to me, having a President who is fair to all people is even more important. On issues like gay marriage and women’s rights, forcing the entire American population to adhere to a Christian worldview can be discriminatory to groups of people who are already oppressed and marginalized. Jesus did not come along and say, “You shouldn’t have an abortion; therefore, I’m going to physically prevent you from doing it.” No. Jesus gave people free will. Prohibiting gay marriage may not seem discriminatory to you, if you’re a Christian who believes homosexuality is a sin, but let me ask you, how many people do we bring to Christ by denying them the basic human right of marriage? Does that show the love of Christ? How many homosexual couples have you personally converted to Christianity by trying to keep them from getting married?

Food for thought.

I could go on and on here, but what I’m basically trying to say is that being Christian and holding liberal political views are not antithetical. If anything, in my worldview, liberal views are infinitely more concerned with individual citizens’ rights, and especially the poor, the needy, and the marginalized people groups that Jesus intentionally and deliberately ministered to most. My way of living out the Gospel on a daily basis may not look like it does for political conservatives, but different does not always mean worse. My different political approach is a cause for generating healthy, polite, edifying political discourse. It is not cause to hurl insults or attack me personally. This kind of speech is not discourse. It is not Christ-like. It accomplishes nothing. I try my utmost to be respectful when disagreeing with others, and I ask them to do the same for me. I don’t think that’s asking too much for conversations between Christian sisters and brothers.

For me, conservative views on social issues often seem to miss the point. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

Abortion & Planned Parenthood

Conservative stance: Abortion is wrong, period. There is a problem, but the government should not assist in solving it.

Underlying assumption: Women should just stop having sex. That’s the only way to solve the large number of unwanted pregnancies/children in the world without the government getting involved.

My stance: Whether or not premarital sex is wrong is not the issue. It’s not realistic to expect women to stop having sex (nevermind that men are a part of this too, even though they don’t get stigmatized and ostracized, right?). It’s not the women you’re punishing when you ban Planned Parenthood. It’s the unwanted children who then make their way through orphanages, foster care, and, often, jails and prisons.

Gay Marriage

Conservative stance: The Bible says homosexuality is wrong, so we are against gay marriage. Legal recognition of these unions will normalize the gay lifestyle in culture, and that is bad.

Underlying assumption: If Christians think it’s wrong, so should everyone else.

My stance: My personal beliefs on whether or not homosexuality is a sin are not what’s in question here. What we are talking about is the constitutional right to marriage that, up until very recently, was denied to a large group of American citizens solely based on the fact that our “separation” of church and state was not so separate, and church-goers were deciding what constituted a civil union. I can recognize that something isn’t fair even if it goes against my personal religious views.

I could keep listing controversial issues, but you get the idea. I sometimes flip the situation in my head and ask myself: if we had a Muslim president who made it illegal for Christians to get married because it goes against Islam (just go with me here), would I think that was fair? Or constitutional? Of course not! I’d be very offended. This is where I feel like Christians have kind of lost their grasp of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

A (Too?) Christian Nation

Here’s a statement for you to consider, and you may not agree with me, but here goes: It could actually be unethical for me to impose Christianity on others.

Woah. Bold statement. But it’s something I’ve really been thinking about through my MBA ethics courses. Jesus never pushed himself on others. He doesn’t push himself on us. He waits patiently for us to come to him, and even if we don’t, he treats us lovingly. Especially when we don’t come to him, he treats us lovingly. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

So why do we still insist that America should be a “Christian” nation or else? Why is it okay to vote for Ben Carson simply because he’s a Christian—nevermind the fact that he has absolutely no experience in any sort of role that would remotely prepare him for leading a country—but it’s so completely shocking to vote for Bernie Sanders? Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Carson’s a very smart, nice guy. I don’t personally agree with his political views or Christian doctrine, but I can fully acknowledge his respectability in the medical field. Regardless, though, Christians have specific callings, and his calling doesn’t get to be President just because he’s a Christian. (I’m also a smart person and a devout Christian, but that doesn’t make me qualified to run for POTUS.) His calling is clearly medicine.

Folks, when your house is on fire, you call a firefighter. You don’t reason, “Well, last time we called a firefighter, some of the house still burned. What we really need is someone without any fire fighting experience…like a surgeon!”

The logic doesn’t add up.

And that’s because it’s based on that underlying assumption I’ve already mentioned: that being a Christian automatically makes him the best leader. Do I think God can use a Christian in the White House? Absolutely. Do I think He can use a non-Christian? I sure do. Especially if that person is concerned with what is ethical, and just, and fair, and loving, and of the people.

Secondly, and perhaps just as importantly, I want to mention that not all voters adhere to the underlying assumption that you have to agree 100% with a candidate to vote for her or him. If I vote for Hillary Clinton (which I did not), that’s not a public proclamation that I endorse her character. It’s not me aligning myself with her not-so-existent morals. It’s simply me believing that her government experience thus far prepares her best for the role of President. Even with her questionable character as a person, her experience and her political stances on the issues could help our country prosper. I’m not any happier about that than you are, but it’s true.

To Sum Up…

To sum up all of this rambling, here’s the bottom line for my Christian readers out there:

If you’re conservative, great. If you voted for Ben Carson, great. Just make sure you’re still researching, reading up on candidates and policies, and talking to others who will push you and make you think. Be aware that “because he’s a Christian” might not be a good enough answer for some.

And for the love of God and all things good, don’t vote for Trump.

If you are liberal and/or want to vote for someone other than Ben Carson, great. See above. (May I recommend Bernie?)

Most importantly, please stop bashing one another for different political beliefs. Recognize that this is neither loving nor Christ-like. Realize that as strongly as you feel about your personal political and moral views, the person you’re talking to feels that theirs cater toward love, justice, and mercy as much as yours do, if not more so.

Let’s stop the negative discourse, Christians. Let’s start trying to see where each other is coming from and learn from one another.

Let’s be more loving.

sarah

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