I lived on a conservative missionary center in Papua New Guinea for 15 years with around 400 American Republicans. I'm sure there were also liberal people there, but they kept quiet when it came to politics. We had no TV, radio or newspapers and slow, expensive Internet (which meant no YouTube); the result was my knowing virtually nothing about American government except what everyone said: Bush was good! Clinton was bad! Sarah Palin was doing the LORD's work! Was Obama the antichrist?
When I moved back to the States for college in 2010, I wasn’t dead-set on my political views, but virtually everyone I knew and loved thought the same way about government, so who was I to disagree? What I thought to be true was that American liberals weren’t Christians — they were atheists and baby-killers who wanted to give people money they didn’t earn. Republicans, on the other hand, loved God, babies and independence. Sounded good to me — I liked all of those things.
Ironically, it wasn’t until I began attending a Wesleyan-Arminian school in Kentucky (Asbury University, if you're curious) that my views were challenged. I met my then-boyfriend, now-husband Luke, who was passionate about racial equality. Having grown up in Alabama, he’d observed the effects of institutionalized racism (he is white). Luke showed me that treating everyone as your equal is essentially the core of the gospel (Mark 12:30-31). Not that I didn't think discrimination was an issue in America, but as a white girl who'd grown up in the jungle, I was far from an expert on the matter.
I then roomed with a Democrat named Katie during my junior year, who won me over with her weird habits (like watching "Nashville" until 5 a.m.) and infectious personality. "Guys, I don't think I've ever met anyone I don't like," she'd say. Katie was a sociology, history and political science triple major in programs full of conservative students. She reminded me that the Democratic Party is more proactive about helping the poor, and wasn’t that what Jesus taught (Luke 14:12-14)? She also pointed out that just because you consider yourself a liberal doesn’t mean you believe everything the party says (abortion, for instance) — it just means you side with them on the majority of issues.
As I progressed through my journalism major, I started seeing more problems with American conservatism: The financial greed and corruptness, the bigoted hatred of anyone who wasn’t like them, that disgusted snort people would do anytime anyone mentioned Obama. It was even rumored that our college town had a KKK chapter. The small amount of racial awareness we had on campus was often met with backlash by students who thought celebrating black culture meant belittling white people. Fox News was the only news station that played on TVs around campus. Matt Bevin visited our school because he knew it’d be a slam dunk for millennial votes. Even the pastor of the church I attended for a few years often said such ignorant and hateful things about Obama on social media that I stopped going there.
I started seeing the hypocrisy in Christians piling guilt and blame on women who've had abortions and simultaneously applauding the military for obliterating entire villages. Neither is right, but why is one shamed and the other lauded? I also realized that you can be pro-life and still see the benefits of Planned Parenthood (*gasp*). Hear me out: Did you know that the organization doesn’t use any government-funded money for abortion? I didn’t, until I stopped believing everything I’d always taken at face value and finding out for myself. Planned Parenthood also uses just 3 percent of its services for abortion. The rest of the nontrivial 97 percent is used for things like giving underprivileged women affordable birth control. Pap smears. STD and cancer testing. If anything, their other services help prevent the need for abortion rather than perpetuate it.
With the parochial atmosphere I was in throughout college, it came as no surprise that after Obama was reelected in 2012, distraught responses from my classmates were all over Facebook. Stuff like, “I’m moving to Canada,” “America is going down the toilet,” “This is the worst thing that has ever happened,” etc. And I couldn’t believe how un-Christlike and childish it sounded. Jesus Himself said to respect authority (Mark 12:17). Why should present-day Christians be any different than those in the New Testament?
I find it fascinating how intertwined Republicanism and Christianity are in the States when, if you look outside our borders, it’s not the case at all. Some of the strongest Christians I know are European, and their political beliefs are nearly antithetical to those of conservatives. My Swedish friend Elin was visiting from Europe a few summers ago, and we went to a diner one night. Everyone else at our table tipped the waiter at the end of the meal, and she was like, “Why are you paying him?” And we explained that waiters get paid crappy salaries, so tipping helps supplement their income. Well, Elin thought that was the dumbest thing she’d ever heard. “Why are they paid so little? Why isn’t it built into their paychecks?” In other words, why doesn't America take better care of its citizens? And I couldn’t give her a good answer.
Even after coming to these realizations, I didn’t just wake up one day and announce, “Hello, yes, I am a Democrat. Please treat me accordingly.” In fact, I think I called myself an Independent for a year or so because I was so sick of how Christians obsessively categorized and judged each other. But I began hammering down where I stood on issues. For instance, why does America have the most shootings per capita of any country in the world? Because it’s easier to buy a gun than a car here, I discovered. So I wrote an editorial for my student newspaper lobbying for stricter gun control. It was met with...mixed reviews.
But I want to clarify that I’m not judging anyone expressly for their political leanings, and hopefully you'll afford me the same courtesy. I know a lot of loving, selfless Christians who are Republicans (my family, for instance, whom I love deeply). These are not the people I'm talking about. It’s just the way we tend to go about our politics — how we disagree to disagree. Especially as believers, it’s imperative we stop judging each other for our political alliances like it determines our spot in heaven. It’s Satan’s ploy to separate the body of Christ and make us turn on each other with things as inconsequential as Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby.
The way I see it, this political stubbornness (on both sides of the aisle) boils down to the entitlement we as Americans feel. We’re one of the biggest and most powerful countries, so our politics are blessed by God. Even in Papua New Guinea, I was surrounded by so many Americans that I was steeped in this conservative concoction until I absorbed their beliefs by osmosis.
If you’re not sure where you are on the political spectrum, that is perfectly fine. Being a moderate is probably better in a lot of ways, and it’s important not to feel pressured (by me or anyone else) into leaning one way or another. But if you’re curious where you stand, here’s a great quiz. Sure, it might piss your parents off a bit if you decide you actually like Hillary Clinton or #FeeltheBern, but that’s O.K. If that’s the height of your rebellion, I’m sure you guys will work through it. And if you have stricter views on gun control and have a family member who is in the military, that doesn’t mean you don’t support them or appreciate their service. My brother was a Marine, for crying out loud, and I’m so proud of him. But that also means I don’t bring up my differing views a lot at home — just because you disagree on some points doesn’t mean you need to continuously point them out.
To be perfectly frank, I'm nervous about the responses this post will get. I don't want to start any arguments on Facebook — I think they're counterintuitive. I feel like any time I bring up politics with Christians, I'm walking on egg shells. But I do think we need to start having conversations. I can picture the liberal half scoffing as they read this, "Yeah, and? Is any of this really so groundbreaking?" while the other half will be convinced that my soul's been forever lost. But in my reading of the New Testament, I've been impacted by Jesus's concern for all life: refugees, orphans, widows, single mothers, the unborn, the homeless. He ate with sinners, forgave adulterers, mingled with lepers. In other words, Jesus wasn't just nice to everyone. He was their friend.
If only we as The Body would stop having tunnel vision about issues we believe are worth our time and widen our scope to include other things Jesus spoke about. "Feed my sheep," He said (John 21:17). Christ also said that loving Him and our neighbors is the whole of the law. It truly baffles me when I see pastors, missionaries and people I respect as Christians spout such hate on social media when we are supposed to be ambassadors for Christ.
So in preparation for this election season, tally up the causes you care about. Do you want lower income families to have access to affordable healthcare? Are you passionate about ending racial discrimination? Think women need paid maternity leave? (Ironically, America and Papua New Guinea are two of the only countries that don't have it). If you agreed with any of these, you may just be more liberal than you thought. And as long as your conclusions are biblical as well as political, I really can’t fault you on where you land.