Why I Am a Christian Independent

Why I Am a Christian Independent November 5, 2012

Fellow Patheos blogger Ellen Painter Dollar got some huge traffic last month when her post, “Why I Am a Christian Democrat” went viral. I appreciate Ellen’s apologia for being both a Christian and a registered Democrat. Like her, it’s neither scandalous nor revolutionary for a Christian from my background to vote for Democrats. Both the church of my youth and my current faith community are full of folks who vote both ways — though I suspect that my current co-parishioners generally lean left.

Nevertheless, I think that Ellen has made a mistake. In general, I don’t think that Christians should register with political parties.

As I’m sure even Ellen would agree, as would my Republican friends, a Christian’s allegiance to any human institution (including the church) must be subservient to our allegiance to Christ.

But beyond that obvious point, I think that it is imperative that Christians not be straight-party ticket voters. I think that’s a huge mistake. As I revealed in my votes last week, I’m voting for both Republicans and Democrats. I’m leaning Democratic in my votes this year as I did four years ago because I think that the Republican Party is, with notable exceptions, too extreme both socially and fiscally.

But both parties are entirely beholden to millionaires, billionaires, lobbyists, and corporations. For that reason alone, Christians should avoid registering as a “member” of a political party.

Unfortunately, if a Christian runs for political office, s/he has no choice but to take on full membership of a party. That’s part and parcel of our system at the present moment, what moral philosophers call the Theory of Dirty Hands. Here I disagree with retreatists, like Stanley Hauerwas, who urge Christians not to run for political office. I think Christians should run, and to run you have to claim party affiliation.

However, for those of us who aren’t running, I think that we should maintain our independence as voters as much as possible.

Happy voting tomorrow!

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  • I’d like to see you work through your reasoning a bit more. I want to agree with your conclusion (and I am myself an independent), but I think your logic is rather thin. Things I’d like you to consider:

    – What’s the difference between a politician and a non-politician declaring for a party (not just as regards the results, but insofar as the morality of party membership?
    – What about party membership in a non-corporate party, such as the Greens or Libertarians?
    – What if one’s moral priorities cause one to regard a “straight-party ticket” as the best course of action? Should one throw a bone to an opposing party simply as a symbolic gesture?
    – Is there a difference between voting along a party line and registering as a party member?
    – How is the moral calculus changed by the external trappings of voting law (e.g., in some states one cannot vote for a partisan candidate in a Primary unless one is a party member)?

    • For now, I’ll just respond to your first question: As a politician, the price of admission is affiliation with a party. There’s no way around it. Those of us in the citizenry, however, can maintain independence.

      • Sorry to come down hard on you, but I still find the argument pretty far from robust. “Because you can” is not a reason, much less a mandate for why others ought to follow suit.

  • Sven

    If and when I register for a political party, it is for the sole purpose of voting in their Primaries in a year where I think the Primary vote is important. Otherwise, I see no reason to. I am not currently registered for any party.

    • Fortunately, in Minnesota one does not have to register with a party to vote in the primaries or to caucus with them. Christians should work toward this for all states.

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  • Also, you may be interested in engaging with someone arguing the opposite, such as Jonathan Bernstein’s “Vote for a party, not a politician“.


    “Americans often like to believe that individuals are all on their own, but in fact when it comes to politics we usually act, and unless we have unusual resources only act effectively, as part of groups. Those groups tend to be affiliated with one or the other of our major political parties. And those parties, and the politicians that they elect, know it – and so elected officials tend to be especially responsive to the groups within their electoral coalition. So, for example, knowing that Barack Obama was a Democrat and that as organized groups gays and lesbians are aligned with the Democrats turned out to be a far better predicter of Obama’s position on marriage than, for example, what he actually said on the campaign trail in 2008.”

  • Jim Armstrong

    I’ve never considered registering with a party as equating to some sort of allegiance. I never felt that sort of conflict, nor an obligation (or practice) to vote straight tickets. On the other hand, I do get to help choose candidates in the primaries that more closely align with my sensibilities about governance as nuanced (sometimes strongly – if that isn’t a contradiction) by my understandings as a Christian. I did in fact change parties years ago as I found increasing discord between my (then) political party’s espousals and my evolving faith walk.

  • Tracy

    In my state if you aren’t registered, you can’t vote in a primary, so that provided a clear and practial reason to register.

    Also, I doubt Christians are the only ones who refuse to pledge allegiance to a party. When I registered, I did not promise complete fidelity to that party — neither did I promise to vote for any candidate the party offered. Furthermore, nobody asked me to. I’m not hearing a lot of “My party, right or wrong” rhetoric among my friends, Christians or otherwise. And we don’t vote for perfect candidates. We know that.

    I’ve only once voted for a member of the other political party — and I did so not because I’m proud to claim territory “above all the partisanship” but because there was only one time a candidate of the other party had opinions closer to mine. I’ve also voted for a third party candidate once or twice. I’m not sure what point it proves for me to vary my vote, unless I truly believe in the fitness of one candidate over another. But I’ve picked up a weird sort of Christian pride about registering as an independent, or being able to claim a mixed voting recrod. Honestly, I don’t get it. If belonging doesn’t mean utter fidelity, then independence, by itself, doesn’t seem to mean much.

  • Pax

    I agree Tony. Not long ago I was very partisan. I found myself honing my religious beliefs to serve the party orthodoxy, when I should have been trying to change my party to better reflect my Christ-instilled values. So, I’ve grown, and some political things went down that just made my previous positions untenable. I can’t ever see myself “joining” the other party, so an “Independent” political identity it is. Though, I have changed my official registration four times in the past two years so that I could vote in various primaries.

    It sure does make election season a lot less enjoyable, but I also feel more sober.

  • Craig

    I don’t see a cogent argument here. Just what is it that people think membership, or registration, with a political party means?

    • Pax

      He uses the word “member” with the quotes and later talks about “full membership”. I don’t think he’s excluding registering for practical reasons, but rather tying one’s identity to party registration, voting almost exclusively for one party, party activism, etc.

      • Craig

        If you live in a deeply red state and you vote exclusively for Democrats, you’ll likely still be voting for people who are to the right of the Republicans where Tony lives.

        Self-identifying as a Democrat often just means identifying as one who is registered with the Democratic party, or as one who generally supports the party in opposition to the alternative in our two-party system. It’s uncontroversial to say that citizens, Christians or otherwise, shouldn’t worship either party, or attribute infallibility or sainthood to either party.

  • I also am an Independent, and I like to listen to what family and friends on both sides of the issues have to say. That makes it harder than just choosing one party because it means I actually have to give it some thought. I don’t think I could ever be a politician, and while I don’t necessarily think Christians should stay out of politics, I do appreciate more those who can work with the opposite party.

  • Buck Eschaton

    I’ve been looking for a Christian Jubilee party, no luck yet. I’ll probably vote Green. Reps/Dems are at war against the American middle and lower classes.

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