Red State / Blue State

Since when did Christianity become synonymous with the Republican Party?

In my lifetime, the most devout president was Jimmy Carter and he was a Democrat.  From Georgia no less.  He was at one time the state’s governor and got elected on a platform of civil rights, affirmative action, and anti-segregation.  This progressive-thinking president was also the same man who “prayed several times a day, and professed that Jesus was the driving force of his life.”[1] He still teaches Sunday School at his home church in Plains, GA and serves as a deacon.  A devout Baptist, he split from the Southern Baptist Convention because their doctrines did not match with his Christian beliefs and he worked to form a coalition of other Baptists and Baptist leaders who felt the same way including President Clinton.  Did I mention he was a Democrat?  Yet over the years, the Republican Party has become equated with Christian beliefs.  When people hear the word Christian, they picture in their mind someone who is an anti-immigrant, climate-denying, conspiracy theorist who is at best willfully ignorant of the racial injustice in our society. What is worse is we have allowed that to happen.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican, we cannot afford to allow any political party to claim us as their own.  If our faith means something to us, it has to be above partisan politics.  The choices we make in life should adhere to a higher calling.  One that represents love, justice, mercy, forgiveness, and diversity. 

But like Hester Prynne, wearing a cross around your neck is like wearing a scarlet letter. 

In the Bay Area, being called a Christian is like being called an adulterer.  I spent a Sunday last year with our youth and in talking to them one of them mentioned how hard it is to admit to being Christian.  People make fun of you, jeer or sneer at you, and look down at you as some kind of misguided miscreant.  Being Christian is something we should be able to share without first having to explain you’re not one of “those” Christians.  Whoever, “those” Christians are.  I know people both Republicans and Democrats who are wonderful examples of what it means to be Christian.  I also know members of both political parties who claim to be Christian but act and believe in ideas that are far from Christ’s teachings.  The ones who are models of Christianity, are also the type of people who put people above party and God above all.  When you already believe you are not the one in charge and whatever power you possess trifles in comparison with the one who created the universe, it gives you the freedom to choose according to your conscience rather than out of fear or human greed or pride or self-righteousness. 

The term “evangelical Christian” has been corrupted.

The Atlantic ran an article back in 2015 that said depending on how you define “evangelical Christian” anywhere from 7% to 47% of Americans would qualify.  A definition that widespread doesn’t seem to be a good definition at all, but the media tends to use it to describe any politically conservative Christian as “evangelical” and discards moderate-leaning conservatives or anyone who would be considered politically progressive.  But why?  Do people believe you can’t be a person of faith and still have progressive ideas?  Because if that’s the case, Jesus would not be an “evangelical Christian.” Jesus told his followers to let go of the idea of an eye for an eye and embrace love and forgiveness instead.  Jesus told his followers not to discriminate against others just because society said they were outcast but instead to welcome them and embrace them into the fold.  When his disciples told him the people were hungry, he didn’t send them away.  Instead he asked the disciples to feed them all.  He didn’t charge them money or ask for a donation, he just gave it away for free.  He called out the religious leaders of the time for adhering to the letter of the law and not its spirit.  And he spent time not with those who would serve his agenda, but with those who needed him the most.  Jesus was a radical with progressive ideas and it got him killed.  But he was certainly a Christian. 

Cassie’s grandparents (pictured here with Emma) have always been an inspiration of what it means to be Christian.

We need to reclaim what it means to be an “evangelical Christian.”

We can’t afford to let the media or politicians or anyone else rob us of the true meaning of those words – one who proclaims Christ as Lord and Savior.  We are not some voting block to be swayed or manipulated but people who believe in love as the overarching theme of all of creation.  Love created us.  Love sacrificed for us.  And love holds us together.  That should be what defines us.  Everyone agrees that church has become irrelevant to a large percentage of Americans.  The number of people affiliated with a church has been in decline for a long time and the number of people who actually come to worship has been shrinking too. Part of the problem is this perception of us as judgmental, hypocritical, and too involved in politics.[2]  One young man said, “…twenty years ago, when I was looking at evangelical Christianity from the inside, it seemed like a movement bursting with energy to spread good news to people.  Looking at it from the outside today, this message seems to have been lost in exchange for an aggressive political strategy that demonizes segments of society.”[3]  If all you knew of Christianity is what you see through the eyes of the media, what would you see?  Those of us on the inside know that the church is filled with people both good and bad.  We know that even within the church there are those who are far from Christ and those who are close.  But we also know that most of us are trying.  That we want to be better than we are.  That’s the message of love and hope that needs to get out into the world.  People are constantly testing us, to see if we will live up to the high ideals that Christ taught us and we have to do what we can to make sure we live by those ideals.  It was the same for Jesus as we hear in this passage. 

13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax[b] to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him.

Jesus seems to be stuck in a Kobayashi Maru.

If you saw Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, you know this is a classic “no-win” situation for Jesus.  Should he tell them to pay the tax, the Pharisees can discredit him by claiming he is saying that Rome has greater authority than God!  But if he tells them to ignore the tax, the Pharisees can rat on him to the Roman government that Jesus is inciting people to defy the law.  Either way he loses.  But then Jesus pulls a WOPR.  Like the supercomputer from the movie WarGames, he realizes that the only way to win is not to play the game.[4]  He tells them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  And with that, he not only escapes their trap but elevates his argument by reminding them we answer to a higher calling.  That while we are obligated to live by the rules of our society, we have a greater responsibility to live our lives as children of God. 

Joe Biden says this year’s presidential election is a Battle for the Soul of the Nation.

And it may very well be.  It seems we are at an inflection point, one of those critical junctures in history that can lead us one way or another.  As you consider what to do when casting your vote, I hope to encourage you to do three things.  One, vote.  No matter who you decide to support or what propositions you vote for or what local elected officials get your checkmark on that ballot, please vote.  Your voice does make a difference.  People are frustrated with the electoral system, and sometimes feel like their vote doesn’t count, but it does in more ways than one.  And there’s more at stake than just any one race.  Two, sign this online petition asking the media to stop labeling political conservative Christians under one banner.  If we can convince the media to stop lumping us together, maybe we have a chance to show those outside our walls that we are more than just some monolithic belief system.  And three, cast your ballot for the people and ideas who most exhibit our values as Christians.  We’ll talk about that more through the month of October after World Communion Sunday, but in your deliberations, consider not just any one topic when you vote but all of them.  Consider the quality of the person you hope to lead us.  Consider the life they’ve led.  Consider if they exhibit love of neighbor or if they denigrate those around them.  Consider if supporting that person or idea will advance love, hope, and light in the world or if it will lead us deeper into isolationism, fear, and hate.  For Christ himself said, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”  Let us not forfeit our soul but hold onto it and all we hold dear.  My hope and prayer is that we can reclaim what it means to be Christian.  That we are known not by the things we oppose but by the things we believe in.  And that as Christians, we put our faith first.  We let God by our guide.  I’m reminded once more of President Carter who said he was greatly influenced by something he heard in a sermon as a young man.  The pastor said, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”[5]


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Carter#Religion

[2] UnChristian by David Kinnaman, p.34.

[3] UnChristian by David Kinnaman, p. 166.

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No-win_situation

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Carter#Religion

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