I’m a white man by birth and a Christian by heritage. I’m also a Democrat (technically unaffiliated, but only as an escape hatch). What’s more, I believe that I’m a Democrat because of my Christian heritage and beliefs, not in spite of them. It’s clear to me that the left side of America’s political divide most closely (albeit imperfectly) embodies the ideals of Judeo-Christian morality.
I feel a need to justify myself in this. As the first person in my family (and possibly in the state of Utah) to openly cross the political divide, I’ve left a lot of unanswered questions among the proud, red swarms of colleagues and friends I used to caucus with. So I’ll give you the rundown. If you’re not the religious type, feel free to skip the next few paragraphs.
When I read the Bible, I sometimes feel uncomfortable about the words Jesus spoke and the way he behaved. I believe him to be the person referred to as “the Lord” in the Old Testament, which presents an uncomfortable paradox: the same man who turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt, burned down Sodom and Gomorrah, gave his blessing to several wars, referred to a woman pleading for help as a “dog”, and condemned hypocrisy above all else also preached that we should love our enemies, bless those that curse us, do good to those that hate us, and pray for those that despise and persecute us. The above is Biblical fact and I don’t think I’m the first believer to struggle with it.
This wouldn’t be a problem if Christ were only a distant God like those of the Greco-Roman tradition — a powerful being motivated by lust and avarice, whose favor must be gained through detached acts of sacrifice and ritual. But a Christian, by definition, is someone who doesn’t just want Jesus to favor him or her, but who wants to be like Jesus. Christians try to emulate God in a literal way.
This leaves a few options: should we do as Christ instructed, turning the other cheek and showing kindness to our enemies, or should we do as Christ did, which seems to involve some amount of fighting, pillaging and burning? Or, putting physical violence aside, should we verbally attack and shun those who don’t share our beliefs?
The conclusion I’ve come to is this: being like Christ and trying to be him, while commonly confused, are different. For example, if I were to admire the President and want to be like him, I wouldn’t start by issuing presidential pardons, organizing military attacks, or writing laws. I would study his character, learn about his motivations, surround myself with his influences and interests, and set goals to help me become the sort of person that he is. I treat my relationship with Christ the same way. I try to understand his character first and his actions second. If we take his words as the single source of truth about his inner self, two things become clear: first of all, that he occupies a different position and holds a different authority than any of us do; and second, that his actions, even the most violent, are motivated by love and concern for all people. Even then, there are things that don’t compute — I ascribe these to mistranslations, incomplete descriptions and culturally-opaque circumstances — but this gets me far enough to be at peace with the whole issue.
You may have your own conclusions. But I believe that the way to follow Christ is to be kind to others, especially those whom we view as “sinners.” And if we were more careful about his injunction to “judge not,” we would rarely use the term “sinners” to begin with.
The “Morality” Party
My moral compass — and this is the basis of it — is the root of my politics. So my line of reasoning begs the question: which political party is less judgmental and more inclusive? Which political party is most opposed to all forms of violence? Which political party strives to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and shelter the homeless? Which political party sees all human beings (male and female, black and white, poor and rich) as equals? I can’t judge large swaths of the American population by who they are in private (because I don’t know). So I have only their words to go by. And Democrats, by and large, speak far more positively and respectfully of all people, regardless of religion, sex, sexual orientation, social status, country of origin, or personal history.
Both parties speak aggressively and unkindly about each other. This is sad and I want it to stop (despite having done my fair share of it). But my faith in humanity prevents me from shunning politics altogether, so I essentially have two choices: Republican and Democrat.
Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t think we should all adopt the same exact set of beliefs. I do believe there should be two choices (or more), and this is where the politics get murky.
When it comes to economics, I don’t know if lowering taxes or increasing spending is a better way to create jobs and help the poor. I’ve benefited from both in my lifetime. I don’t believe that the poor are starving because of laziness or stupidity — I’ve met too many of them to believe that. I do believe that we should measure our country’s greatness by how we treat the destitute and the oppressed, but I don’t know the best way to implement welfare and education programs — or if they’re even our best options.
When it comes to abortion, I don’t know exactly what the law should dictate. I think the pro-life and pro-choice people are both essential to the creation of ethical laws. I don’t believe that birth should be the legal boundary between abortion and infanticide, but I don’t know where the boundary should be. I do believe that some abortions — specifically in cases of rape, incest, or imminent threat to the mother’s life — are completely ethical, and most others should be avoided. But I’m reluctant to trust any written law to do a better job than a woman, her conscience and her doctor at determining when an abortion is necessary. Laws, by their very nature, tend to be administered in a way that’s either far overreaching (e.g. the Patriot Act) or far too lax (e.g. sexual assault laws) and I am bothered by the damage they may cause when two lives are at stake.
When it comes to gun control, I don’t know where to find the right balance of second-amendment rights and concern for human life. I don’t think all guns should be outlawed, but it’s clearly too easy for felons and extremists (of any creed and color) to get them. I think we should do something about the painfully absurd number of mass shootings in our country, but (after some persuasion) I believe that our steps in that direction should be bipartisan and well-measured.
When it comes to international affairs, I don’t know whether our foreign alliances, especially with Eastern nations, are more of a blessing or a curse. I believe that we’ll get further by holding hands than butting heads, but our relationships with the Middle East, Russia and China have never been that simple. Additionally, I don’t know whether interventionist policies do more good than harm. I’ve heard strong arguments on both sides.
Strong, two-sided debates are healthy and valuable. But only on certain topics — those I’ve mentioned and a few others. So many issues in the limelight today (racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, and LGBT-phobia, for example) really ought to be no-brainers, simple matters of respect and human decency. We shouldn’t have to argue about them at all. What I mean is, the differences between the two parties should be moderate and primarily policy-based.
Leaving the Outliers Out
So what about those who believe in (or are responsible for) any form of non-consensual sexual intimacy? What about those who oppose refugee resettlement? What about those who believe that a “complying” person of color has never been shot by a police officer? What about those who believe all illegal immigrants should be deported al inmediato? What about those who believe that sex is always correctly assigned at birth and homosexuality is a criminal activity?
What about them, indeed.
If you do not talk about and treat women as equals, human beings, and a powerful force for good, there should be no political party for you in the United States. You should feel as though you don’t belong. You should know that your opinion is invalid. You should try to be a better person.
If you do not feel intense compassion for refugees driven from their homes by horrific violence, if you are unwilling to let them live and heal and grow in the same neighborhood as you, there should be no political party for you.
If your heart does not break for those dead because of violence committed by uniformed peacekeepers in our country, there should be no party for you.
If you do not respect the work, dignity and family values of immigrants (regardless of legal status), there should be no party for you.
If you cannot appreciate the contributions and strengths of those who are different from you—if you cannot even tolerate their existence, their lifestyle—there should be no party for you.
If you want the oppression and inequality of past decades to continue unchallenged, there should be no party for you. You should know that your fear and hatred aren’t welcome, and though we will fight for your right to speak freely, you should know that you are incorrect and inhumane. You should know that your egotism will never be dignified by our country’s representatives. You should know that you have no advantage in the eyes of the law.
The New Republicans
So where does this leave the Republican party? On higher ground, I hope. We should all have the privilege of feeling that our political affiliation can change at any time, from Democrat to Republican to Green to Libertarian to Socialist, without leaving our morality in the dust. As new facts and arguments arise, our feelings on complex topics — economics, military force, education, class equality, welfare, public services — should be able to change without offending our loyalty to values like decency and inclusiveness. We shouldn’t care more about a party than about each other.
Underlying all this is a bit of admiration for the opposition. I want the Republican party to be reflective of the Republicans I know personally. They are good-hearted, charming, honest people with high personal standards. They are industrious. They are loyal. They are protective. They are well-read and intelligent. They are fiercely patriotic. They are my parents, my mentors and my friends.
I am not better or smarter than they are. There are strong, effective compromises to be found between us. It’s becoming more and more apparent that the only way to move forward is together.
I just want them to leave a few things behind. Once we ground both parties in humanity and mutual respect, then — and only then — can our country become great.