I don’t recall thinking too much about politics as I was growing up. Apparently though, I was emotionally invested. When President Reagan left office I sobbed hysterically. It wasn’t because I was a Republican. It was because I was an emotional seven-year-old and I felt scared. “He’s the only president I know,” I told my mother between my sobs. I knew nothing of Reagan’s politics or policies. He just seemed like a nice grandpa-type, and what if the next guy was mean?
Today the thought of who might be our next Commander-in-Chief is frightening for a lot of Americans. In the past few months I’ve had more conversations about politics with friends, my husband, and my family than ever before. As a Christian I felt I should give time to reading what the majority of those who identify as Christians believe politically. According to the Pew Study in 2014, 82% of Republicans consider themselves Christians, while 16% of Democrats consider themselves evangelical Christians and 13% identify as mainline Protestants.
Last night I asked my husband a rather simple question: “Why are so many Christians Republicans?” In truth, I know part of the answer or answers. I understand the pull of the Christian Right, and certainly I am highly aware of two very emotional and polarizing social issues; abortion rights and the legalization of gay marriage are polarizing both inside and outside the church. I understand why the Republican Party leaders and candidates talk at length about those two issues, and yet I can’t help but think that the Republican Party doesn’t represent me nor do I believe they’re necessarily representative of Jesus.
Growing up in Southern California and living in an urban area for the last decade of my life, I often find myself relating politically to the left just as often as I do with those on the right. Though I feel rather alone in that, I know there must be a lot of Christians who feel that very same way. While I only know a handful of Christians who consider themselves conservative Republicans, I know many more who consider themselves moderate Republicans. I know a few who consider themselves liberal Democrats. And then there is me, an Independent. While many American Christians feel comfortable giving their name and aligning themselves with a specific political party, which is of course within their rights, I personally do not. Neither party resonates with me. Honestly, what terrifies me more than a new president coming into office is admitting that truth in front a church, a Bible study, or any other group of Christians.
Why am I afraid to that admit that? Well, one, I hate confrontation, and two, when and if I am open about my political views, I fear I will be made to feel ashamed or shunned, or at the very least looked at like I’m crazy. I fear my devotion to Jesus will be challenged because of my political beliefs. I fear that in the current hyper-partisan political landscape I won’t just be disagreed with, but I’ll be demonized. I perceive that I’ll be seen as a better Christian if I align myself with Republicans, and the reality is that some would believe I’d be a better Christian if I identified as a Republican.
But the truth is I won’t be a better Christian. As I’ve watched the debates and read my Facebook feed, blogs, and numerous articles, I can’t help but question some who claim to be followers of Jesus, not because of their political views but because of the way they argue them. What makes me call into question a person’s faith is not their political leaning, but the name calling, the pettiness, the hatefulness, the demonizing, the anger displayed in hideous ways, the violent language, the grasping of rights, the unwillingness to see another’s point of view, and the lack of the fruit of the Spirit seen all too often in this political climate.
If we claim to love Jesus, to follow Jesus, whether we are an Independent, a Democrat, or a Republican, we must fight like Jesus. We must disagree while still loving our neighbor. We must love our enemies, both those real and those perceived. We must pray for them. We must offer respect. We must watch our tongues. For many in this country who do not know Jesus, their current perception of Christianity from observing “Christian” political candidates seeking votes and a title through aggressive language, yelling, and pettiness. However, that is politics, not Christianity, and it is certainly not Jesus. This makes me wonder whether our devotion to our political causes, beliefs, and ideas has trumped our devotion to Jesus. Do we think our right to freedom of expression gives us permission to let go of our calling to be imitators of Christ, to express our beliefs with hateful aggression and personal attacks? If we call ourselves followers of Jesus, we are called to be imitators of Christ. And yet a lot of us aren’t doing a very good job.
When I was a teenager, I asked my mom what political party Jesus would ascribe to. My mom thought for a moment and then said, “Neither.” The reality is that Jesus would have issues with the right and the left. I believe Jesus grieves over every aborted child. I believe Jesus is also greatly grieved by the atrocities of war and the misuse of military power. I believe He would not look kindly on cutting services to children and families that desperately need them, and I believe He would challenge our greed. The Bible doesn’t tell us whether to be a Republican or a Democrat, so perhaps we should stop acting like it does. Let us own our political beliefs as our own political beliefs, perhaps inspired by our culture, our education, our families, our histories, and our personal opinions as well as our faith. And, if we’re willing to be honest, perhaps we can admit that those former things lead us just as heavily politically one way or another as our religious beliefs do.
So who is Jesus for—the Independents, the Republicans, or the Democrats? He is not for a political party at all and yet He is for all of us individually. Jesus is for the oppressed and the marginalized. He is for those in the United States just as He is for those around the world, every nationality and every culture. As Christians we are to be examples of His love and heart for humanity. We are to be the imitators of Christ’s character. His words are to be on our tongues and written on our hearts. Thus our lives should be full of the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Our character should demonstrate these attributes at all times—even when we discuss, agree, or disagree politically. If those attributes are not absent, then perhaps we have a deeper issue than politics.