I come from a long line of Christians. I grew up in what, in most ways, was a pretty traditional evangelical Protestant household. My mother and father grew up 400 miles apart but in the same denomination. They met, by chance, at a private Christian college run by that denomination. Both my maternal and paternal grandfathers were Bible scholars and Sunday school teachers. My parents were the main leaders of our church youth group for several decades, volunteering countless hours of their time in selfless service. You probably think you have a pretty solid picture of the nature of my family’s politics, too, I’ll bet. I’ll bet you are wrong.
I come from a long line of Democrats.
Was that a gasp I heard?
Both sets of grandparents were Democrats. My dad’s dad actually worked for the Democratic party for years at the county and state level in Tennessee. My parents are Democrats as well. The story of my family doesn’t fit the mold, does it?
It took me a long time to come to grips with all of this. Although I was active in church my whole childhood through high school, I strayed away from the it for most of my 20s.
Eventually, I found my way back. By that time, I was much more politically aware and I had fully subscribed to the idea that Christianity and Conservatism went hand in hand. I bought into that so much that I actually began to have concerns about my own family’s politics and faith.
How could someone be a Christian and vote for Democrats? My grandparents…my parents…how could they?
I lived with that inner-conflict for several years. At times, it really bothered me. I was caught up in the game. At this point in my life, I hadn’t discovered just what a stranglehold the far-right evangelical leadership had taken on the Christian/political narrative. I hadn’t yet figured out that the Republican party relied on Christians to think the way I was thinking at the time.
Then, slowly, life experiences began to change me.
Over the last decade, I have moved several steps to the left on the political spectrum. While there are still issues that keep me in touch with my friends on the right, I have embraced a more liberal perspective of late than I would have ever predicted 10-15 years ago. Over the last year, I have pretty openly addressed this process through my blog. I can tell you, the decision to reveal these thoughts publicly was not an easy one. You see, Christians in my position feel great pressure to toe the Conservative line. I know there are millions like me who are afraid to speak out in support of any cause that isn’t politically conservative. I know there are people reading this right now who are nodding their heads in agreement. Many in my family have lived their entire lives under this strange conflict. Most of the time, it’s far enough below the surface of every day life that it is easily forgotten or ignored. But in times of great political strife, such as we’ve all experienced in the last year, it is front and center pretty much every day. It’s not fun.
So, how can someone be a Christian and vote for Democrats?
Well, one could do what I decided to do. I made the shift from considering myself a Conservative Christian to becoming a Constitutional Christian. That is to say, in matters of government and politics, I try to let the Constitution of the United States guide my choices. After much prayerful soul searching, I came to the realization that I can keep my Christian principals separate from politics, just as the Constitution does. What does this look like in practice, you ask?
As an example, there is likely no political issue that influences the Christian vote more than abortion. How can a Christian vote for a pro-choice candidate? The answer is by separating the concepts of sins and laws. I don’t know anyone who is “pro-abortion.” I personally abhor the concept of abortion for the sake of convenience. I would go out of my way to counsel any woman with an unwanted pregnancy to consider all other options before abortion. But after all efforts in that vein have been exhausted, that woman’s decision is between her and God, just like any of my actions and yours. There is a long list of things that are sins but are not illegal. Some Christians seem to be willing to accept most things on that list (gluttony, envy, lying, lust, etc.) but cherry pick a few items as somehow being different (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) I have decided that isn’t my battle to fight.
My understanding of the Constitution is that it offers equal rights to all. That means all. That should be an easy concept for Christians to understand. God’s grace is offered to all. Yet, the further right you go on the political spectrum, you will find Christians who are not willing to extend the equal rights to all. Take the struggle for gay rights, for instance. I grant you, I may not be right on the right side of this. Perhaps, as a Christian, I should be actively trying to stop equal rights for the LGBQT community. But the older I get, the more I have decided that if I am going to be wrong, I will choose to err on the side of love.
Abortion and gay rights are just two examples of issues that divide us. The ban on taking in refugees from certain Muslim nations is the hot issue of the moment. Black Lives Matter/White Privilege debates continue to be another. The list goes on and on but my decision remains the same. If I am going to be wrong, I will choose to err on the side of love.
All of these divisive issues seem to flare up daily now since we are under a self-proclaimed “law and order administration.” Law and order are certainly necessary for a smooth running society but love and empathy must not be buried in the process. There simply must be a balance.
If I claim to be a Christian, I am claiming to be a follower of Christ. What was his example? It seems to me that the people Jesus had the biggest problem with were the “law and order” leaders of his day. Nobody frustrated or angered Jesus like the Pharisees. When I think about the Pharisees, love doesn’t come to mind. I’m not a theologian but I think one of the main messages of Jesus was that Christians shouldn’t be like the Pharisees.
It has taken me many years to come full circle. I have finally come to peace with the fact that I can be a Constitutional Christian. I don’t have have to give up my personal principals in order to allow others theirs. God’s grace covers sins. The Constitution covers rights.
If I’m wrong, I’ll err on the side of love.