A question I get asked whenever people find out that I lean politically left (surprise, guys!) is how it is that I can be, politically, a Democrat and also be a Biblical literalist Christian. Candidly, it’s a tricky position to balance. And it’s only made more difficult by the fact more than 90% of my social life is through and within a very conservative church. This is the kind of church where, while politics are not preached from the pulpit, political examples are favoured methods of supplementing a sermon. Good ones and bad ones. But it’s also the kind of church where there seem to be very definite right and wrong answers to many questions of this nature, even when the political contents are not addressed in Scripture.
I love my church. Dearly. But it’s not perfect, and its members would be the first to tell you that. Probably many of them don’t know that I often feel uncomfortable there for reasons that are unrelated to sin issues in my life, and that’s not their fault. I have, for most of this election cycle, been fairly silent on the political quagmire that has resulted from this primary cycle. But it hasn’t been because I haven’t been paying attention. Rather, it’s because instead of arriving out of this process with clear stances I wish to present, I’ve been left, as have many of you, in a state of resignation. The question is not whether “this is the best we can do,” on either side of the aisle. The issue is the broken state of American politics.
I majored in political science in undergrad, and because of that, I know a bit more about the inner workings—and failings—of the American political system than the average American. The funny thing is, this has been seeming less and less true as of late. One great thing about the rise of Donald Trump has been that knowledge that seemed firmly planted in wonk territory—like the fact a gridlocked Congress is probably the main reason recent presidents, namely President Obama, have used more presidential executive actions—is becoming more and more generally known. If anything can testify to the brokenness of the Republican party, it’s the looming nomination of Trump. This is a guy who isn’t even really a Republican. He’s just co-opted the platform, which is wonk speak for taking it over.
But I have nothing left to add to that conversation that hasn’t already been said. I know that the people who read my blog are thinking individuals, and I’ve heard from many of you already about responses you’re considering in light of what seems to be an impossible choice. Because it is. I know, too, that most readers of this blog are Christians. So how do we go about making a godly choice in light of the darkness that’s confronting us?
I can’t claim I know the answer to that. I do know, though, that one response I’m hearing a lot is that many people are planning on sitting this election out. While I am planning a post on that subject, I can’t speak to anyone’s conscience. If you’ve been convicted not to vote, who am I to question it? What do know is this: I have not been convicted that way. Whether I will be in the future is another ball game, but for now, I haven’t been. But there has never been a better moment in recent history for me to “come out,” so to speak, as a leftist Biblical literalist Christian. Because for the first time in my memory, the public discourse of Christianity is no longer dominated by a right-wing agenda. It’s not dominated by any agenda, except possibly, “hold on to your hats.”
I did not start out as leftist. I was actually a very strong conservative for a long time. What happened over time, though, was I started contending with some uncomfortable realities that forced me to re-evaluate my positions on a lot of world issues. One of them was the use of the military. Another was the history of race relations in this country. More still were the moral issues related to economic inequality. A fourth one was my pro-life stance. That one is perhaps the trickiest: I became, and remain, firmly in favour of gun control because of it, because, all “protection” arguments aside, I find it difficult to call myself pro-life and also support the widespread proliferation of a device that is literally designed to kill.
There is nothing neat or tidy about politics in this country. It’s easy to pigeonhole someone like me as “politically correct” or a “bleeding heart liberal” because of many of my stances, and also because of the way I frequently choose to discuss politics when I do discuss them. But other stances have confounded many of my leftist friends: I mentioned being pro-life, for example. I also believe homosexuality is a sin, though the civic institution of gay marriage is a slightly different bird.
But the biggest one for me is probably the most difficult of them all. I spent a lot of time this morning thinking about my chosen field of study, environmental resources. I’ve been drawn to the environment, and to its protection, for even longer than I’ve been drawn to politics. In this case, though, I was also thinking about the symptoms of sin in the world: not just in the evil human beings are capable of inflicting on one another, but side effects that affect the natural world as well. For example, what does the gigantic pile of trash in the upper Pacific—which is larger than the state of Alaska—say about us as humans? What do things like the Berkeley Acid Pit or the near-extinction of black rhinos say about our caretaking of the earth? Or, heck, let’s just go all the way: what does global warming—and the fact that so many people still deny that it’s happening at human hands—say about our willingness to accept responsibility? And are these not fundamental sin issues at their cores: laziness, greed, denial of responsibility?
I hate economic or business-related justifications of these things, because they miss the point completely. Whether or not modern prosperity was possible without seriously damaging the earth is also beside the point, because I’m not talking about modern prosperity: I’m talking about sin. Sin has an amazing proliferation of consequences that I think we’re only just beginning to understand. And we’re only doing so now because the consequences of not acknowledging them are beginning to outweigh the benefits of putting them off. Is responding to climate change a sin issue? I can’t answer that. But I can answer this question as it pertains to partisanship: just as we the people of the earth are largely too complacent with our poor caretaking of the earth, we the people of the United States have become far too complacent with the broken nature of the system we created.
If all of these issues seem incredibly unrelated to each other, they’re not. The very checks and balances that have made our Constitution so lasting have also made it very difficult to resolve the kinds of issues that have tied the hands first of Congress and now the Supreme Court. And crazier still, I think that was by design: the Constitution was never supposed to solve our problems. We were supposed to solve them, by working together. Broken systems are one of many symptoms of sin in the world—the desire and tendency of people to defer responsibility to others makes it easy to blame a system when the real problem is selfishness. Congress isn’t gridlocked because of Democrats or Republicans. It’s gridlocked because people who identify as one or the other don’t want to work together; it’s gridlocked, in other words, because of grown-up children, and we as Christians have no excuse to be that way when we’ve been called to maturity in Christ.
This is a dark time in American politics, but it’s one that’s a long time coming. Donald Trump is the impending Republican nominee because he identified poignant sources of people’s frustration and exploited them for his own personal gain. He brought out the worst in people, the things they felt like they could never admit but always believed. He made the sinful desires of people’s hearts socially acceptable. That’s all. He didn’t break the party. And I think he might, inadvertently, be one of the best things that has happened to the Republican Party in decades – by forcing them to contend with uncomfortable truths.