Yup. I am going to talk about politics. Believe it or not.
Most people don’t actually know my political beliefs. Frankly I don’t discuss them much. (More on that in a bit). I think some people may stereotypically assume what my beliefs are considering it is a well known fact that I am a Christian pastor from the south. But the truth is…my political beliefs are somewhat dynamic. Much like my Christian faith, I consider myself on a political journey as well. This means, like anything else that is growing, there have been subtle shifts in my thinking and beliefs in both areas over the course of my life. That being said I wanted to use my Personal Files blog this week to share a little about my journey and where I am today. If politics just makes you angry…now would be a good time to check out. 🙂
Growing up, I suppose I was a Republican. Other than that one time as a kid I thought I was a Walter Mondale guy until someone corrected me and let me know he was a Democrat and I shouldn’t do that. I think I just thought he spoke well…and I thought Presidents should speak well. Inevitably that must changed though when I supported George W Bush…but I digress.
Early on, I was a Republican simply because everyone else I knew was a Republican and it seemed to be the right thing to do. I grew up in an ultra-Conservative part of the country and it was instilled in me at an early age. When I became a Christian, it seemed only logical to remain a conservative as all of the other Christians I was around at the time were pretty die hard Republicans too. As I grew older and began to think a little more about lining my beliefs up it still seemed as though out of the two parties I knew of, the Republican Party seemed to be more in line with a lot of the values I held close as a Christian. So the GOP was home for me for quite some time. I joined right in with everyone around me and I can vividly remember listening daily to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck on my hour-long commute to work. I could argue all of the good conservative talking points and I did…regularly!
But now at the age of 37, I can honestly say… I’m not a Republican anymore. (Probably just lost a lot of friends). Actually, I don’t think I can properly describe myself as belonging to any political party. If I had to box myself in, maybe at this point I am a Libertarian (I dig some of Ron Paul’s non-interventionist ideas). But mostly, I guess I am just an independent. What happened? How did Brandon fall off the wagon? Well I think I can sum it up with just a few statements but please remember….these are simply reflections on my own personal journey and certainly not meant to be prescriptive for anyone else. I am not making grand, sweeping statements about how every Christian should believe and operate in the political realm…simply explaining where I am. You can feel free to disagree with me and that’s cool. We can still be friends, I promise. So here’s what happened:
1- I began to become keenly aware that political systems are man-made systems. To my limited knowledge, Democrats and Republicans are never mentioned in the Bible. I do not get the impression from reading the Bible that God is really that overly concerned with what political party we are aligned with. Since political parties are man-made systems…then for me that means a couple of things. First, God is not under the flag of either party. Jesus isn’t a Democrat, Republican or Libertarian. As I got older and travelled outside of my little sub-culture, guess what happened? I met Christians who were also Democrats. I know, scary right? These people were just as committed to the faith as I considered myself to be. They were kind, humble and gentle…and were members of a different political party. Not all Christians are Republican! Not only did I begin to realize that God and His people were not defined by political party but I also realized that since these parties were man-made, it also meant they were not and never would be perfect. Both parties have many pros and cons when it comes to lining up with my Christian beliefs. For instance, the Democratic platform of pro-choice (I understand not all Democrats believe this…but certainly more than the other side) I find detestable because of my beliefs in the sanctity of human life. But on the flip side, the Democratic party often shows more compassion for the poor and social injustice than what I see from the Republican side (I understand not all Republicans believe this way…but certainly more than the other side) and to me that was just as detestable. Sometimes the Democrats seem way too comfortable with governmental intrusion into the lives of its citizens for my taste. Sometimes the anger, bitter rhetoric I hear from the Republican side leaves a bad taste in my mouth too. Either way you slice it for me, both parties are man-made flawed institutions and neither have the corner market on God and the Christian faith. These thoughts began to have subtle effects on my political engagement. They have not led me to abandon political systems all together…but to try and keep them in their proper perspective. I simply don’t want my Christian faith to be defined by either party.
2- The other major influence for me is directly tied to the mission I believe God has given all of His people. As I grew in the knowledge that God was more into building His kingdom than political kingdoms it led me to focus more on being missional with my faith. The Great Commission- as Christians have come to call it- leads me to do all that is within my power to build bridges with others for the sake of the gospel. I feel the weight of responsibility to be the one who takes the initiative to develop relationships with others outside the faith and to show them love and grace. The things is, the more I solidified myself into political ideology and the more passionate I became about those ideas…the more I tended to simply alienate people that I was called to reach with the gospel. I seemed to spend more of my time and energy into trying to convert people to a party than in loving them into the kingdom. Sure it got me accolades and “atta boys” from the home team but it certainly had nothing to do with the ministry of reconciliation. The motivation mostly came from a selfish need to be “right” than a loving motivation to see God magnified. I had an “aha” moment that absolutely wrecked me and changed my heart when I realized in mid-conversation with someone about politics, I referred to a certain figurehead of an opposing political party as as an “idiot” and everyone that voted for him a “moron”. It was almost like God slapped me (I am sure He has considered it before)! I didn’t even personally know the guy. (Much less all of the people who voted for him). Sure I had seen him on TV, but I had never sat down with him and talked with him. Honestly, most of what I knew about him and his politics had been told to me by other people on radio shows or TV (and I am sure that was completely unbiased). I had never stopped to even consider he was a REAL person. My politics had allowed me to treat him as an opponent that simply needed defeating or ridiculing. Why? To validate myself? I couldn’t help but think that if I was allowed to meet him and have dinner with him, his wife and children…I bet I would think differently about him. Heaven forbid…I might even like the guy! God loved this guy too. He was a special creation just as much as I was. How dark was my heart that I could treat him as anything less just because I may have disagreed with his ideas? It was a little scary to me that my political ideology could literally snuff out the love for other people in my heart.
I could probably say much more, but this post has become a little lengthy and probably only a handful of people are even still with me at this point.That’s ok. In a nutshell these were the major contributing factors for where I am right now on this issue. Do I have political beliefs? Sure I do. But we would have to be pretty good friends for you to get them out of me. I rarely put them out there anymore in normal conversation or social media. You can accuse me of not having deep convictions but that wouldn’t be true. I have quite a few actually…but I have certain convictions that tend to override most others. I am convicted that I am here on this earth to reconcile relationships, not divide people. I am here to love them for the sake of the gospel not trash them for the sake of winning an argument. I am convicted that God loves Barack Obama and John Boehner just as much as He loves me and I should treat them and their political adherents with dignity and grace. I am convicted that immersing myself in the polarizing, political rhetoric of the day would be counter-productive to the mission I have been given by my true King. I am also convicted that I am still learning how to do this, as I am broken and flawed myself, and I am continually in need of the same grace I should be extending to others. That’s where I am today.