My faith and our politics: The morning after the State of the Union

One Christian’s Response to the State of the Union

If you look through my twitter feed there are two moments each year that are prolific in posts. The first is our regional judicatory meetings for my denomination (known in the ELCA as Synod Assembly). The second is the state of the union.

I love politics. I love it like people love sports. As a middle-schooler I watched the McLaughlin Group on Sundays after church with my youth pastor. If there was a fantasy draft for elected officials, I’d sign up. And when folks really start talking politics and policies with me, they see my fanaticism.

Policies and Faith

My evaluation of political action is a deeply spiritual practice for me. In this way I am not all that different than right-wing, evangelical Christians. It is just that the morality I choose to stand on has less to do with bathrooms and bakeries and more to do with what Jesus said: care for the poor, liberation for the oppressed, freedom for the bound, love for the stranger.

I don’t care about my legislators’ motivations. They could come from a strong, evangelical background or be an atheist. They could be Muslim or a lip-service Episcopalian. I don’t measure the policies of the government from a statement of faith. This isn’t creedal.

I care deeply about the implications of my legislators’ actions. If a policy harms the vulnerable, that is an anathema to my faith. If a decision makes the world more dangerous, more violent, then I must resist it.

I pay attention because these things affect lives. Government actions impact both individuals and communities’ ability to thrive.

God is not a Republican… Or a Democrat

A few years back Sojourners promoted the catchphrase God is not a Republican… Or a Democrat. I like this because it is a faith-based group saying no party can lay claim to moral or religious authority. Like Jesus said, “No one is good but God.”

The real question then becomes what are the central tenants of faith that are used to measure a particular policy? Here are my core values:

  • Blessed are the Peacemakers – which means I don’t support the war economy, preemptive strikes, or inaction on gun violence in our country.
  • God made humankind in God’s own image – which means I want to see equal protection under the law, especially for individuals that have been marginalized
  • The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt – which calls for compassionate immigration policies and declares that no ones’ personhood is illegal
  • The is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free nor is there male and female – stating that civil rights and human rights define how we shape society
  • Whenever you did for the least of these you did for me – which calls for both action and compassion for the hungry, the thirsty, those in poverty, those incarcerated

With these at the center, few policies line up. Obama engaged in more drone strikes than any other president and continued to operate from a militaristic viewpoint. Obama deported more people in his last year of office than Trump did in his first.

It is true that Democrats tend to be closer to the center of my faith, but they by no means hold the moral high ground. When only given two options I’ll take the compromise that does less harm.

But I don’t actually believe there are only two options. I believe there are always an options greater than party, powers and principalities. My hope doesn’t come from a house bill, a senate motion, a presidential signature, or a supreme court ruling. My hope comes from a God that cares enough about our lives that God put on flesh and blood and lived among us in our broken and messy world. The way of Jesus is always bolder and better than any party stance.

People and Parties

What gets tricky for me is that people I love and care about have a very different view on politics than I do. Perhaps they have a separation of church and state in their hearts. “My faith dictates my actions, my political views dictate my voting and support.” I can understand that position. Even when we share a value of care for people in poverty, someone else might say we can’t legislate compassion. That a law won’t end homelessness, only the hearts of humanity can change that reality.

I’ve always had conservatives in my life – in my family, in the congregations I serve, in my communities. I don’t hide my differing political beliefs; sometimes my boldness creates wedges rather than bridges.

I think part of this is because I see political parties as powers and principalities, something bigger than an individual. Our struggle is not against the individual legislators, or someone who’s political belief is different than ours. The rulers, powers, and spiritual forces operate within systems that go beyond the will of any one person. Democrats who wanted a clean DACA couldn’t get it negotiated because the party needed to appear more moderate. Republicans that wanted to fund CHIP couldn’t make it happen because it was a bargaining chip for the other goals of the party.

I can agree or disagree with anyone’s political view. Just as I can agree or disagree with someone’s faith. I am still called to love my neighbor – conservative or liberal, socialist or libertarian. My love for my siblings isn’t defined by our political ideology…or their religious ideology. For me, though, both are defined by my core ideology which is love God and love neighbor.

Truth in Love

If my political analysis sounds like division rather than unity, I can accept that criticism. There were times when Jesus said I came to bring not peace but the sword. When lives are on the line, I cannot be silent. Inhumane deportations and lack of refugee action put people at risk because of gang violence and war rooted in the polices of the USA. Gun violence puts our schools, churches, and entertainment spaces in danger The dissolving of civil rights divisions within the Department of Justice puts communities of color at risk.

These are attacks against structures, parties, and policies. I still love folks that disagree on these policies. Sometimes I love them because I know them, we are knit together in community. Sometimes I love them even though I see them as enemies to the values I hold dear. I can hold in tension both the love and the criticism. But for the sake of the gospel I cannot compromise on my deeply held values.