When I left home to go to college right out of high school, two words could have easily summed up my political views: indifferent and parrot. I didn’t actually care about the issues, but if asked I would recite a script of conservativism. It was charming. I was raised in a very conservative household and the only news source to which I had ever really been exposed was Fox News. Hearing Rush Limbaugh on the radio was just how it was. I didn’t know any different. (This was, of course, before social media or even the internet was the monster that it is today.)
I certainly didn’t want to oppose the thoughts I’d been taught to think because that would have made me a left-wing loony. And they were, as every decent person knew, the WORST kind of loonies.
And so, I adopted the I-hate-politics-and-all-forms-of-debate ideology.
I now ask myself why. Why did I shut it all out instead of embracing the ideals to which I had so frequently been exposed. I don’t think it was so much a reaction to the values themselves as it was a reaction to the way in which those values were presented to me. Not only was everything black and white and oversimplified, but it was so aggressive. It was so negative. It was so….hypocritical.
The same people who taught me to “walk a mile in another person’s shoes” couldn’t stop talking about how idiotic anyone who disagreed with them was. The same lovely people who were teaching me on Sunday mornings that “God is Love” and how we are commanded to love our neighbor and pray for those who persecute us were spouting off horrible things about large groups of people who did not see eye to eye with them on worldly things. The same people who badmouthed the leader of our country for eight years because a (D) was listed after his name on the ballot repeated, as if a broken record, “Bush is our president. You don’t have to like him but you do have to respect him,” for the next eight. Only to return to the badmouthing for another eight years after that.
At some point in the midst of all of this, my young mind said, “No. That’s enough.”
It took several years of mulling things over in my mind to fully understand what that voice in my mind was saying. I didn’t want to be disagreeing with my friends and family. I didn’t want to think that these people whom I loved and respected had it all wrong somewhere. I wasn’t willing to believe that yet.
I enrolled at a small private university in west Texas. As soon as my first semester, I began to analyze the way I saw the world. I had a biology professor who taught me science in a way I had never learned it. For the very first time, I was presented with the idea that maybe Creationism and Evolution were not mutually exclusive (I was 19 y’all. NINETEEN and no one had ever presented me with that idea). For the first time, I saw that there was not religion in one column and science in another. I listened to him teach for a semester and found myself compelled, learning, and also respectfully disagreeing.
It was the first time that I used my brain and everything that I had studied to say, even if it was only in my mind, “Yes, I see where you’re coming from. But this is what I believe to be the truth,” to someone older and more studied than me.
But you know what? The fact that I disagreed with parts of what I was being taught did not make me feel anger or disdain. It made me want to study more. I wanted to find out why he thought one way and I thought another, even though we agreed on so much. I wanted to understand the concept fully before coming to any conclusions. I never personally spoke to the professor, I don’t think (I still greatly hated debate and confrontation) but in my study I was able to grow. And I found that that alone was enough to inspire me to do more.
The next notable course in my philosophical life was three semesters later. It was in, what else, a philosophy course. He was perhaps the best professor I had in my college career. The class was called 20th Century Thought. I was enraptured in a way I had never been in a class (and never would be again). He taught me to think critically like no standardized test or AP exam ever had. We did very little actual work in the class, but my hand cramped up every day from furious note taking. We read Ortega’s The Revolt of the Masses and 1984 over the course of the semester and I found myself very grateful that I had never read 1984 before. His annotation of George Orwell’s iconic novel changed the way I read books.
The thing that stuck with me the most was this passage on language and the simplification thereof:
“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other words? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take ‘good,’ for instance. If you have a word like ‘good,’ what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well–better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of ‘good,’ what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like ‘excellent’ and ‘splendid’ and all the rest of them? ‘Plusgood’ covers the meaning, or ‘doubleplusgood’ if you want something stronger still…In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words–in reality, only one word. Don’t you see the beauty of that, Winston? It was B.B.’s idea originally, of course,’ he added as an afterthought.”
There a hundred more quotes from 1984 that resonate now as much as ever, but since this essay is about my personal philosophical journey and not a discussion on the staying power of 1984, I shall move on. (Here are some of those quotes, though.)
I had always believed in the power of words. But this passage and it’s implications spoke to me. Words are tossed around a lot, especially in politics, and especially on social media. And they have power. I don’t think anyone doubts this, of course, but I am always conscious of word choice. I pay attention to my own and I pay attention to the way is used by others, both by individuals and by the media. I will disregard a media outlet on a dime if their word choice is manipulative. And don’t get me started on clickbait. UUGHHHHHH. I digress.
Moving on. It was after that semester that I changed schools. I began attending a state university. It had nothing to do with Christian verses public and everything to do with the degree and course options in my chosen field. The lower price tag every semester was just a bonus.
A residual effect was the types of people I was exposed to. I began working a full time job and really being exposed to people whose ideologies differed greatly from my own. It was eye opening. Again, for the first time ever I was having discussions about sensitive topics and by some miracle, no one shouted. No one called anyone else idiotic. No one needlessly slammed entire groups of people.
And I saw, in those months, the disconnect my mind was seeing between what I had been taught as a child in church vs. politics. I saw what had bugged me even as a kid. I saw and I understood. And I was amazed. You know why? Because there shouldn’t be a disconnect.
I know, right? It’s nothing crazy. But it was beginning to click in my head. The things I believe about how we should treat each other come from Jesus. That’s how I was raised. And yet, it isn’t always the example I saw. That part confused me.
So to find answers, I continued to study.
My most useful tool was people. Talking, discussing beliefs and thoughts and politics in a calm and rational environment like I had never experienced. I studied the Bible. I dug into the words of Jesus and Paul. I studied the works of other beliefs, too, because I wanted to know. I wanted to know the what and the why of other philosophies.
Walking in their shoes. I wanted to do that.
I also began to study history. In high school, I’d had an amazing AP US History teacher my junior year. It was the last time, however, that I could remember enjoying history. For a long time I largely ignored it, skating by on the tidbits I remembered from grade school. But I was beginning to realize that wasn’t good enough. See, I was also raised in a very patriotic household. I loved that, too. And I still consider myself patriotic. I freakin’ love America. It’s founding ideals are so beautiful that we still have trouble living up to them. I mean, “All men are created equal,” and “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? Sounds pretty grand, doesn’t it?
It also, contrary to semi-popular belief, does not necessarily line up with “Christian values.” Social equality is an amazing in this life, but the Bible does not call for social equality. There is the foundational difference between Christian and American values.
Part of my confusion about conflicting ideals arose from the fact that when talking about political and social issues, Christians will inadvertently place their American ideals above their religious ones. Especially in the climate of us vs. them. We are getting blinded by our freedoms and our rights and the Constitution, and the way it was “back in the day,” and forgetting to stop and think if maybe Christ calls us to care for something else above our worldly rights and freedoms.
In fact, we are called to be slaves to Christ (Eph 6:6; 1 Peter 2:16). And slaves? Well, they don’t have rights.
Besides, having the right to do something doesn’t mean we should do it. In 1 Corinthians 10:23, Paul says exactly this. “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.”
Don’t get me wrong; freedom is such a great part of being an American. And the people should fight for their rights. But we can take a stand for freedom while also recognizing that, as Christians, this world is not our home. Ultimately what matters is how we treat others, and not how easily we can acquire firearms.
The more I studied, the more I befriended those who were unlike me, the more I began to see through this discrepancy. I began to wonder, I mean really wonder in a concrete, narrative form, what Jesus would do in ______ situation. And I could not, in good conscience, align him with the vast examples I’d been given.
I left for college mentally unbound to a political party because I hated politics. I was in my third year of college when I made the informed, conscious decision to remain independent from a party because I could not see love or truth from any of them. I am proudly Independent. This is where lots of people say something like, “I’m a Republican/Democrat but I don’t agree with a lot of what they say.”
Then why under the heavens would you be associated with them?
George Washington (you remember him, right? I’m pretty sure we can all agree he was a wise fellow) said in his Farewell Address in 1796 regarding political parties:
“It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”
(The emphasis there is mine.)
So my question is this: Why support a party you don’t agree with? And if your answer is “to be against the other guys,” stop. Just don’t. You’re part of the problem.
See, I could never reconcile my understanding of how I was taught to treat others and the volatile “us vs. them” that our political and social climate has boiled down to. People that I love and respect have not been immune to that poisonous line of thinking. And it completely broke the way I faced the world for many years. Something somewhere wasn’t right. I just hadn’t experienced enough to put my finger on it.
These learning experiences were followed by something new. After several years of meeting people very different from me, I fell into a group of young people who were–or had at recently been–international missionaries. These were largely people who had been brought up Christians and spent months or years “going into the world.” In some ways, it was totally new for me. In others, very familiar. We had mostly grown up singing the same songs, going to church camp, and also trying to find out how the Gospel fit into the same space as American politics, into the same space as the modern Church.
I listened to countless stories of life abroad and culture shock and mission work and how all these amazing experiences changed each individual person. These people were not the same Christians I was used to. And it, once again, was redefining how I understood the Gospel.
I began attending their house church and found that studying with these people was enlightening and fulfilling in a way I hadn’t had in a long time. I met my future husband in this amazing group of people. One of the reasons I fell in love with him was that he helped me grow and learn simply because he is a die-hard optimist. He believes the best in people. And I’d had a noticeable lack of optimism in my life.
Soon after we got married, we packed up and moved from our little apartment in Texas to a cute little house in Albuquerque, NM. I was going to live outside of the Bible belt for the first time in my life. I was going to live in a blue state (cue horrified gasp). In some ways, it wasn’t so different. In some ways, it was utterly unfamiliar. Working in the service industry in a tourist-heavy area, I met all sorts of people. Most of them raging liberals (and I say that with all my love) and proud of it. The greatest part of my time there was finding out how similar we were in so many respects. None of them (okay….very few of them) were idiots. I, once again, had discussions and debates with educated, interesting people. And not once did anyone raise their voice in direct anger. No one threw around hapless insults. I studied people and I learned more and more.
The reason for this behavior was not hard to see. That is, the ability for good people to say horrible things about others. When you make people into objects by lumping them into a faceless group or label, then it’s easy to say things about them that you would probably never say to their face.
The Internet and social media has fostered this attitude. When people can hide behind their keyboards or monitors, then they become astoundingly right and perfect in all things. The technology is like liquor, wiping away all inhibition and good judgement.
I know that none of that is news to anyone. It happens every day on every social site. But sometimes some of us need the reminder. It becomes deceptively easy, even for those with sense and reason, to accidently be “right,” rude, and riotous.
The problem is this: just being aware that people are people isn’t enough. It takes constant reminders for me, I know. Every time I begin to feel anger boiling up inside of me while online, I stop and remind myself that this person is a person, not an emotionless profile. They have reasons for their beliefs. They might be misguided, they might be misinformed, or they might just have different priorities than I do. That’s fine.
We don’t have to agree.
It’s just some Internet stranger.
And that’s okay.
It’s kind of cathartic, remembering that I don’t have to make sure everyone on the Internet shares my views. What kind of lame world would that be, anyway? I’ve seen a meme that says something like, “Isn’t it amazing how you can disagree with something on the Internet and just keep strolling?” Cracks me up every time.
All of this is great, isn’t it? By the time I’d moved back to Texas from Albuquerque I felt as if the last eight years had been the most philosophically important years of my life. I had straightened out all the confusing contradictions I’d felt earlier in my life and for the first time, felt I had a true social and political identity.
But more importantly, all of that stemmed from my deeply-rooted religious identity.
There’s a paradoxical quality to those identities. At least for me. And the reason for that bears some introduction.
I am, first and foremost, a Christian. I am, secondly, an American. Those two parts of me overlap in some places and are starkly independent in others.
Why? Because I believe wholeheartedly in the separation of church and state. And not just because of the first amendment of the United States Constitution. But because of Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.
Our phrase “separation of church and state” doesn’t actually come from the first amendment. It is often credited to a letter penned by Thomas Jefferson.
“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
This is important for so many reasons (the sentiment, not the origin). And people tend to forget that. Often times Christians like to have a victim complex over the loss of Christian rituals in the public sector and feel as if it’s oppression when that is not, in fact, the case. I always tried to think about the other way around: if I was living in a country that claimed it had freedom of religion and yet in public schools (where religion should, according to the Constitution, not be present) I was daily made to participate in, say, Buddhist practices or Muslim practices or any other religion of which I am not a part, I would be rather put-off about it. It makes sense, then, that demanding that non-Christian students in public schools be subjected to prayer or scripture reading or Creationism teaching is unfair–nay, Unconstitutional.
Just because you believe something does not mean you have the ability to force others to do it, believe it, or participate in it. In fact, that is harmful to the Gospel.
Don’t believe me?
Let’s ask Paul what he thinks.
“For what have I to do with judging outsiders?…God judges those outside.” 1 Corinthians 5:12, 13
It is not for us to apply our expectations to the world. It is not for us to apply our expectations to the world. They do not follow the same rules. They do not follow the same rules.
Don’t believe Paul? How about the red-letter mam himself.
“To you had been given the secret of the Kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything is in parables.” Mark 4:11
Context is everything as always. Here, Jesus goes on to say that in order to see and perceive, to hear and understand, they most first turn and receive forgiveness. So, in order to understand Jesus’ commands, they must first be brought into the Church. *hint*hint* This is where we come in. The going into all the world and preaching the Gospel and all that. Also, the loving.
We. Are. Commanded. To. Love.
Loving the unlovable, loving our enemy, loving when loving sucks, when it’s hard, when no one else will. We do. That’s our M.O. Right? It’s supposed to be.
Matthew 22:37-39 (i.e. the Greatest Commandment. Love.)
John 13:34-35 (People will know you are of Christ because you LOVE.)
Matthew 5:44-45 (Love your enemies. It’s hard. Do it anyway.)
Paul gets in on the action, too:
Romans 12:8 (loving others fulfills the law)
Ephesians 3:17-19 (because you are rooted and grounded in love, you can know the goodness of Christ. This is great beside it isn’t even a command. This is an assumption because OF COURSE you, as a part of the Church, overflow with love.)
There are so many more. So many. And you know that. Of course you know that. So WHY AREN’T WE, THE CHURCH, SHOWING THE WORLD HOW MUCH WE CAN LOVE?
What are we afraid of?
Do I need to remind you of this one?
1 John 4:18. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
Oh yeah, and that pesky verse that follows it:
(20) If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen?
See…the thing is, American politics doesn’t make us exempt from these commands. It sickens me some of the things I see on social media posted by people who claim to be of Christ. The one who speaks loudly and wrongfully casts a mark on all of us.
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” [Philippians 2:14-15]
“Be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace…that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.” [2 Peter 3, 14-17 (my summary)]
As I said, not exempt. And thinking so only serves to tear down the power of the Church (who should be marked only by their great capacity to love and serve). I am firstly a sister in Christ. I said that before. And I followed it with another very important statement.
I am secondly an American.
These two are separate, and yet the same. If you can’t grasp that, then I can only assume you’ve never spent much time trying to wrap your mind around the Trinity.
See, my political choices are shaped by my faith. And my faith calls me a.) to love and b.) to apply my laws for living only to those within the Church.
America is of this world. It just is. No star-spangled banner is going to be flying in heaven. If it is, it will be flying alongside the multitudes of other flags from all nations ever. But it will be no more or less important to the New Heaven and the New Earth than a stone on the road. And since America is of this world and governed by the rules and men of this world, I have to realize that sometimes the Constitution and the Bible won’t see eye to eye.
And that’s fine.
The Bible governs the Church, not America. It never has.
But what about the Christian ideals on which America was founded?
Sigh. Here we go. (Buckle up.)
“We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition… In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States.”
– George Washington, letter to the members of the New Church in Baltimore, January 27, 1793
“The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history…It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven…it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.”
– John Adams, “A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” 1787-1788
“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is error alone that needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.”
– Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Horatio Spofford, 1814
“Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814
“Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history.”
– James Madison; Monopolies, Perpetuities, Corporations, Ecclesiastical Endowments
“When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obligated to call for help of the civil power, it’s a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”
– Benjamin Franklin, letter to Richard Price, October 9, 1780
“The Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”
– 1797 Treaty of Tripoli signed by John Adams
There are more. But I’m tired.
So. As I was saying. America. Of the world. I think if you could go back and tell the founding fathers that America was going to be a Christian nation, they’d laugh you right out of the hall, out of the colonies, and right back to 2016 where your diluted mind belongs.
So since I am an American, I hold pretty steadfast to the Constitution, its amendments, and all the great things it says. [Say, for example, the closing of Article VI: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Or…maybe…the 14th Amendment: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”]
Call me crazy but isn’t “holding steadfast to the text aka the source material aka the way it used to be” a pretty decent summary of conservativism? Yeah. Okay. That one’s debatable. I don’t care, honestly. It’s just a label. A misused label, often times, but I digress.
I cannot, in good conscience, read our guiding documents, look into the eyes of my fellow citizens, believe with my whole heart the teachings of Jesus and say for even one second that every human being does not deserve equal rights under the law. I also cannot give the government the power to legislate black and white rules on extremely complex matters. I also cannot deny help to those who need it.
As a Christian, I am not commanded to babysit the government and make sure it does what is morally right. I am commanded as follows:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves…For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good…Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” -Romans 13:1-7 abridged
This is what we are told. This. Submit to authorities.
I will need to read this to myself every day, I think, starting next year. Because I believe it’s true and I don’t want to forget that.
There have been many a corrupt governments in the last 2000 years. There have been many fallen governments.
And it’s okay to continue forward with trepidation. But don’t be afraid. Really. What have we to fear?
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
– Hebrews 13:6
(Geez. I know. Another quote.)
So, after all of my observation and study, it comes down to this:
I am on this Earth to LOVE better than anyone. And since I am consumed with love, I cannot fear. And since I cannot fear, I can trust that the governing forces of this world (aka the Constitution) have it together. And since this Land is governed by the Constitution, which as an American I submit to in the matters of this world, I am obligated to follow its directives while also placing people and my love for them above my rights and freedoms. And since I submit to the directives of the Constitution and the ideals of America, I believe “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.” And since I believe that, I know that sometimes the correct answers for society under the Constitution are not the same as the things I believe to be morally right. But I also know that it doesn’t matter because I am not called to judge the world, but to go out into it, proclaim the Gospel, and, above all things, to love.