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A political rumination (or rant)

Before the freezing rain and ice storm events of yesterday, I toted my four-year old son with me to a local elementary school where I voted in the presidential primary here in Virginia. It was a wonderful experience, in large part because of Virginia’s method of voting. You don’t register for a party when you register to vote here and that leaves the primaries “open” (meaning you can vote in either party’s elections). You are free from party affiliation when you walk in that door and can vote for the candidate to which your prayers, conscience and passions call you.

Of all the places I lived and voted, I like this method best. It brought with it a feeling of freedom from the stereotypes and constraints that others too often place on party affiliation. Now, this is an old and well-worn soapbox for me, so I beg your forgiveness if you’ve heard this before, but I have a lot of trouble with how folks put each other in boxes according to political party—and I find this particularly disturbing among Christians.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve come across variations of the following comment in conversations with folks about other Christians: “If they’re a [insert political party affiliation here], they’re not a Christian.” While most associate this sentiment with the “Religious Right,” I’ve heard it just as often from those affiliated with the Left. Sometimes, the sentiment is voiced harsher, even accompanied by suggestions of where “those people” can go. Sometimes it’s accompanied by self-righteous and condescending head-shaking. Either way, it disturbs me. Why? Because it’s not the political party we belong to but our commitment to walk with Jesus and live in his gift of abundant new life that defines those who follow Jesus.

So, why do folks—who, for the most part, are otherwise committed to Jesus—do this?

There’s most likely a myriad of reasons, but over the years I’ve come to believe that one root cause is the twisting of a worthy motive: seeking ways to live out our faith in the culture around us—and that includes the political and governmental issues around us. In America, Christians have formed political organizations on both the Left and the Right in order to do this in a more structured and cohesive way. But while I laud these efforts, I’ve observed a tendency into which many of us slip: We begin to operate as if our faith and our political party are one and the same. In effect, our political party becomes the “Christian party.”

And that is a big mistake.

In “Meditation on the Third commandment,” C.S. Lewis warns against trying to form a “Christian Party,” pointing out it will be “a minority of the Christians who are themselves a minority of the citizens.” And that breeds another danger. “By the mere act of calling itself the Christian Party it implicitly accuses all Christians who do not join it of apostasy and betrayal,” Lewis writes. “It will be exposed, in an aggravated degree, to that temptation which the Devil spares none of us at any time—the temptation of claiming for our favorite opinions that kind and degree of certainty and authority which really belongs only to our faith. The danger for mistaking our merely natural, though perhaps legitimate, enthusiasms for holy zeal is always great.”

Lewis’ concerns have implications for Christians in America: Christian political organizations also represent only a portion of Christians and experience that strong temptation to speak for all Christians. This kind of approach not only disrupts our living-together in the Kingdom but it also compromises The Message, because inevitably aspects of the gospel that agree with a particular party are emphasized and those that don’t are marginalized or silenced. And that starts to muddy the Light we are called to be in the world as a called out people. It hinders our ability to work with God in bringing the fullness of his Love, Light and Right-ness to those around us.

Now, hear me on this. I fully advocate and passionately encourage folks to be aware of and involved in the political process. Here in America, we too often take for granted our privileges. We can vote. We can gather and organize. We can voice and act on our opinions, passions and hearts without fear of government reprisal. For those who follow Jesus, an environment like this presents some incredible opportunities.

But we must act with care. We must remember who we follow: Jesus. No political party embraces his full gospel and each party marginalizes or silences aspects of it. Sometimes, a candidate of one party will better embrace the gospel than another. Sometimes candidates of all parties will be sorely wanting. We must expect that our faith will at times come to odds with our chosen political party and its leaders, be it Democrat, Republican or another affiliation. And if we choose to be involved in those parties, we can’t be silent about those compromises—even at the cost of votes, elections and influence.

And above all, we must love. We are called above everything else to love God and love others—anything less dims the Light with which we are filled and that we are called to be. That means we can’t box others up according to their political affiliations and leanings. We must work to avoid making our political passions (however legitimate) litmus tests for faith. That doesn’t mean we don’t passionately discuss and debate with each other the issues and passions we hold dear. In fact I think we are called to do so; we must be willing to examine everything about ourselves—including our political passions, leanings and affiliations—honestly and in the light of Jesus and his gospel. But we must handle the differences and disputes among us and with others in that love, for without it our words and passions are nothing more than noisy gibberish—at least, that’s what Paul tells us (1 Cor. 13).

(Image: public domain via Wikipedia)


Ken Brown said…
You're lucky to still have an open primary there, and I agree with the rest of what you say as well. I grew up just assuming that one party was "Christian" and the other evil. It wasn't until I actually went to an event sponsored by that party (I was about 15 ears old) that realized how ridiculous that was. The truth is, while each party does better than the other at some things, neither matches my concerns close enough that I would be eager to call myself a member. No matter how I vote, it always feels like a compromise for the lesser of two evils.
Carmen Andres said…
i must admit, it felt very liberating to not be formally attached to a party. it was one of those moments of shedding, that reinforced my identity as a follower of Jesus.