For three decades the Religious Right wing of the Republican Party has managed to take over and control the narrative regarding Christian values, family values, and moral arguments in general, in our politics and in many cases, our churches. The stereotype automatically attributed to Christians, especially Evangelicals, that you must be a Republican has been firmly settled in place, even though the assumption ignores the millions of Americans who identify with both the Christian faith and the Democratic Party or a more Progressive worldview. When the media and pundits talk about the “faith voter,” the “Christian vote” or “Evangelicals” they are almost always talking about one specific segment of the Christian world – the Religious Right, conservative Christians, and “pro-life” Evangelicals. However, there is a fast-growing population segment in our spiritual and political culture that is fast becoming much more than a subculture. The Donald Trump candidacy has sealed this truth: The Religious Right does not hold the megaphone in representation of all Christians in America any longer.
Christian Democrats and Progressives are a viable and growing part of the Body of Christ and the voting bloc – however, they have been overlooked until now. We are all over the country; in churches, in social justice and non-profit organizations, but until now we have had our voice drowned out by the Religious Right that so-often carries the media voice for the Christian perspective. However, I believe by the time this election is over we will see Christian Democrats, Progressives and moderates show themselves to be a bigger voting bloc than the Christian Right…and I suppose we have Donald Trump to thank for this. Because there are so many politically moderate Christians who were on the fence about their political affiliation and are now unable to justify their faith and vote for Trump, we are much closer to bridging the Progressive gap.
So what is the “Progressive gap”? It started with the moral majority during the Reagan administration, but I personally first recognized it in 2004 during the George W. Bush and John Kerry election. This was the first election in which I was old enough to be really aware of the cultural impact of the Religious Right. I would hear “the Christian response” to policy issues and the overall election talked about on all the news shows, and it was continually surprising (and maddening!) to me because it certainly wasn’t my “Christian response.” It didn’t line up with the lessons I had learned growing up in a ministry family of pastors, and it was not in line with the Bible I had been reading and taught my whole life, nor did it align with my spirit, or in my heart. I began to wonder where all the other Christians who were not Far-Right conservatives were hiding, and in online searches I found no Christian Democrats, Progressives, Liberals, or even Independents. So in 2006 I started my own blog for Christians who were also Democrats – this was my effort to close the gap and the beginning of Christian Democrats of America. I soon found out that this issue, this giant chasm, this gap in our culture, was more widespread, recognized and far-reaching than I had ever imagined.
I found out that people, even in my own community, had left the church in droves because of “church peer-pressure.” In case you were not already aware, bullying and peer-pressure has been rampant like a virus (or as Galatians 5:9 says, like a yeast through the dough…) in what is supposed to be God’s House. I found there were thousands of disenfranchised believers who unfortunately knew that admitting you were a Democrat, a Liberal or Progressive in the Christian realm was truly comparable to a “coming out of the closet” type of declaration which could have them literally thrown out of their own church! One after another, I began to hear from people who walked away from their church because of discrimination, this church peer-pressure and religious-bullying. Of course, this is not the case in every church in America, and it is important to point this out and remember it. However, the issue is indeed so widespread and relevant, that we now see actual statistical data showing the decline in church-attendance and participation…an issue I believe is directly affected by the gap.
I have heard stories that are truly unimaginable and so completely against the Word of God that they sometimes literally make my stomach turn. One dear couple who attended my church relayed the story of how, at their last church, someone had actually removed an Obama bumper-sticker off their car during church service! They were not invited to groups, were continually gossiped about, and were basically pushed out of the church they loved, simply because of their political stance. In fact, still on almost a daily basis, I get an email, post on Facebook or tweet from someone who has no local church because they are a Democrat or Liberal. Either they experienced the kind of first-hand bullying and peer-pressure as the example above, or they cannot find a church that does not focus their preaching and message on Republican talking-points. Over the course of the Obama presidency, many have recounted that it has been especially heated in the rhetoric over President Obama himself. “I don’t want to hear another anti-Obama sermon,” has been a regular cry from people searching for a church they can join where the focus is back on Jesus, where it belongs. Of course now these are fast-becoming anti-Hillary Clinton sermons.
In the same way, I get stories of people who have been disowned by friends and family for standing up for their beliefs. Sometimes it happens simply because a person has shared posts from the CDA Facebook page. They are unfriended and told by fellow believers that they are no longer considered Christians. Obviously these folks have forgotten the inundation of scripture from Genesis to Revelation on judging others! I can feel their pain and I know it breaks God’s heart. Thus, Christian Democrats has become much more than a political and social justice movement, but also serves as a kind of support group and fellowship place for those in the gap.
But now in 2016, more than any other time since I have been building this community, the heated rhetoric coming from the Religious Right segment of the Republican Party has taken a very dark turn. The Trump candidacy has heightened the verbal abuse by “trolls” on our Christians Democrats of America and Christians for Hillary social media platforms to new heights this election cycle, and it is not only because we are a pro-Democrats organization. Paul Eder, PhD, a Lead Consultant and behavioral scientist for The Center for Organizational Excellence, Inc. and one of the founders of the popular Facebook page Political Ticker, had this to say about the interaction on their pro-centrist page: “Often there is polarization in a way that makes our heads spin. People literally think Trump is Hitler reincarnated and Hillary is demon-possessed. It’s hard to address the middle ground there. In a recent post, we asked if people could set aside political preferences to name JUST ONE thing they liked about the other candidate – and we got varying colorful responses essentially saying ‘That person has no redeeming qualities or positions.’ This is maddening because it’s seemingly irrational hatred with a foundation of uninformed opinions.” When centrist sites that are not favoring either side in the political debate get this kind of backlash, the gap is even more obvious. And like I stated above, Dr. Eder also confirms families and communities are torn apart because of the hateful rhetoric: “There is extreme passion (without facts) on both sides of the spectrum. I can definitely see it tearing families apart, and we’ve seen commentators say they’ve shunned family.”
Wouldn’t it be great if Christians, instead of encouraging and widening the gap, could embrace our Christ-given role as peacemakers to mend and bridge the gap? Build bridges instead of walls? We’ve been building walls around our churches for years, and it does not fulfill any of Christ’s calling for the church. Jesus opened the doors wide – that was His ministry. He shocked His disciples and the religious elite by who He chose to spend time with, to teach, to love. He tore apart the existing system of religious strongholds and oppression and declared freedom and acceptance. He said to those standing in judgment against the woman caught in adultery, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone! (John 8:7)” He called the religious establishment, “white washed tombs” and “sons of the devil” because they were a stumbling block to the people. They were standing in the way of those who would seek Him and His Father God, putting burdens on people and carrying out their religious duties without love and without kindness (Matthew 23). Without love, we are nothing, and without love, a church is nothing.
Recently I’ve been receiving a lot of inquiries from long-time conservative-leaning Christians who cannot any longer, in good conscience, support the Trump-led Republican Party. They have been told for so long that you cannot be a Christian and a Democrat, and have even been told that there is something sinful about voting Democrat. This is why it has understandably become a brave declaration to say “I’m with her.” I want to assure these believers now that many of the values espoused by the Democratic Party are in line with our values as Christians – taking care of the poor, compassion, showing mercy, welcoming the stranger, and even human rights issues. Christian Democrats of America welcomes you – and you are not alone. We don’t need another Religious Right on the Left, but what we do need is to bridge the gap between Christian and faith Democrats and break the professed Republican monopoly and stronghold on the Christian narrative. No political party “owns” Christianity. We Progressives have every much of a right to talk about how our faith and the Bible informs our values and how our values inform our vote as any conservative Christian does.
And this brings me to the final gap I want to discuss – the gap between God’s Word, Christian values, and the Religious Right. I want to make it clear that I am not talking about individuals who are Christians and choose to vote for Donald Trump with all good intentions. I have no right to stand in judgment of anyone for their personal political choices and there are, of course, plenty of good Christian people who love others and practice their faith with integrity and also vote Republican. What I am talking about are those Christian and Evangelicals leaders and pastors who are wrongly using their authority to advise people that as a Christian they must vote for Trump and that it is basically a sin to vote for Hillary Clinton. The “Jerry Falwell Jr., Ben Carson and Pat Robertson segment” of the Religious Right has made it clear they have used “Christian moral values” for convenience and the hypocrisy is now glaringly obvious. They implore us to forgive Trump of his past and believe wholeheartedly in his professed repentance, yet continue to accuse and bear false witness against Hillary Clinton, their sister in Christ. So here we have a double standard and now know that this segment of the Religious Right does not care about things like Christian/family values. It is actually unclear what morals do matter to them. However, if you ask them they will tell you it is stopping women from having abortions and stopping gay people from being married. Clearly there is no foundation left to stand after this election for the Religious Right.
Remember when God destroyed Sodom? He left an ash heap of what was once a giant, great city, and this was why: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:49).” The final straw for Sodom only came after becoming unconcerned with the needs of the poor and vulnerable and instead giving great riches to the wealthy, along with a total breakdown of the moral code. Despite all you have heard, it was not about a gay lifestyle – it was about violence, and complete perversity and immorality. Up until this election, the Religious Right has continued to profess a very strong moral message – one of a unified message against sexual promiscuity, strong families (of the heterosexual kind of course), etc. However, they also neglected the poor and those in need and instead put their fight into creating bigger tax cuts for the wealthy. But in a disunited front this election, they have now exposed the truth of what many critics had accused all along: that they are only about Republican Party loyalty, not actual Christian values. They choose divorce and multiple affairs, racism and bigotry, sexual assault and sexism, over a woman who stayed in her marriage after infidelity and mended it. They choose someone who speaks with promiscuity and insulting vulgarity rather than a life-long Methodist who has only conducted herself with grace in this election. They are their own undoing…and maybe this was the hand of God.
I believe there is a chance that by the time we reach the next election cycle, the Religious Right will exist in only scattered fragments. There will be various outlier sects throughout the country, no longer existing in any cohesive platform. Trump’s candidacy has not only created a Civil War within the GOP, but a complete breakdown of all credibility for the Religious Right. The Religious Right will have become the equivalent of the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.
You might say at this point I have created an all-out assault on the Religious Right that is just as vitriolic as the decades of assault against millions of Christians who are Democrats or Progressives. But this is not the case. Instead, my point is that this entire structure of “us against them,” “Blue Christians against Red Christians,” family against family, brother against sister, must be broken down. We have gotten to a point where, like Sodom, we need the whole system to burn down so that from the ashes we can rise up stronger together as Christian Democrats, Christian Republicans, Christian Independents and unaffiliated people of faith and build the kind of house Jesus wanted us to build. As He cried out before the crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:20-23).” Whether you are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or Socialist, Green or Independent, Jesus said that humanity would know He loved them and loved us, and was with us because of our unity! This was how He spent His final moments crying out to God before being taken prisoner. This was extremely important to Him and so should be important to us all.
So what happens to the gap from here? Christian Republicans should be very concerned and care about the fact that there is a large segment of believers who feel disenfranchised. So please, welcomethem! Do what Jesus said, instead of a what a Far-Right religious leader may say.
Both Christian Democrats and Republicans should begin the bridging of the gap by saying:
“We may not agree on everything but I know you love the Lord as much as I do and I know He loves you as much as He loves me.”
“I would love to work with you to achieve our mutual goals and be about God’s business of reaching out to the least of these and to this earth with His love.”
“We may have different approaches, but I respect your beliefs. And I accept you as a truly viable and important part of the Body of Christ.”
“After this election is over, whatever the outcome, I want to work with you, fellowship and worship with you.”
“I am going to focus on the plank in my own eye instead of the speck in yours.”
“Let us focus on the most important commandments and how to best fulfill those together – how can we love God and others best?”
Be a bridge for the gap, not a wall. Mend the gap. Stand in the gap. Who will join me?
Tell me on Twitter if you will stand in the gap with hashtag #ProgressiveGap – @Christinaof9. Also tweet to and follow Christian Democrats and Christians for Hillary – @ChristianDems, @Christians4Hillary.
Christina Forrester is the Founder and Director of Christian Democrats of America and the #Christians4Hillary movement, an accomplished singer, songwriter and musician with a focus on social justice, Huffington Post contributor and a digital marketing consultant.