faith & politics: my journey

imagine that?   for years, honestly, i acted like i was 100% sure that God was a republican (a great quote i was reminded of this week by anne lamott:   “we can be pretty certain we’ve created God in our own image if he hates all the same people we do.” thanks, jonathan)  oh, how that was me!  please, anyone i have harmed or offended with my one-mindedness in years-past, forgive me.  trust me, i have already made my share of amends.

i confess, for a pretty long season i was weirdly entrenched in the typical christian system where faith & politics are all mixed up in the strangest of ways.    the past few years have been such a great and free-ing transition for me, where i finally am in the midst of all kinds of people instead of just ones who think and believe and vote just like me.   oddly, looking back, it never occurred to me how insulated we had become when it came to what we believed about God & politics & family values.  we just mimicked the people we were around, and part of it just “fit” with where and how we were living at the time.   my husband was a naval-academy-grad-US-navy-jet-pilot and there weren’t  too many democrats in that crowd during those days.   add in attendance at a conservative evangelical church for “young families” and you have all the mixin’s for good republicans.

a little background on how we got there:  his family immigrated here legally years ago and are still very dedicated republicans.  my family on the silveira side (that’s my maiden name) are dyed-in-the-wool democrats (they’ve never voted for a republican in their lives).  i had “change the world” genes in me and wanted to go to cal berkeley until a weird turn of events landed me a scholarship at pepperdine university (my mom was a single mom, and it was an amazing life-changing opportunity for me).  my freshman year at pepperdine one of my professors asked for a show of hands to see who was a democrat and who was republican.  me and one other guy were the only 2 democrats in a room of 40+ republican 18-20 year olds!

but slowly i became evangelicalized.  by the time i met jose i had 3 years at a conservative school and was drawn to the good evangelical boundaries and rules because i desperately needed some of them in my life.   in many ways, it saved me.  jose’s strong political convictions won me over and not too long into our marriage i “officially” became a republican.  i remember the day i got my voter registration card in the mail.   i became a good-so-cal-christian-republican-woman and during our early parenting years i used to coordinate letter writing campaigns with the other officer’s wives to our congressmen about family values issues while our babies played in the other room (yes, this was really me, it’s embarrassing to say out loud but it’s just the truth of where i was at the time).  i remember our bible study cried when bill clinton got elected (oh, just admit it if you did, too, it will make me feel better).

but like lots of us good evangelicals, things started to shift several years ago. what we once took part & parcel we began to question. jose went to law school on a social justice scholarship and his world started rockin’ and rollin’….his politics, his faith began to morph.  i started asking better questions, had more doubts about what i had saddled up with and why.   we started to discover we weren’t alone.   lots of conversations over dinner with friends started revealing the same questions.

last week a few of us from the refuge went to hear jim wallis who was in town promoting his new book the great awakening about the changing landscape of religion & politics.    according to a barna poll of 16-29 year old christians (from sojourners february 2008 issue):

50% perceive christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical and too political.

33% say christianity is old fashioned and out of touch with reality.

80% say “anti-homosexual” is a phrase that describes christianity.

and unfortunately, for me, some of the christian-republican things got all wrapped up with each other.  why have i left being part of the evangelical right?  frankly i just got tired of the same old mail coming into my mailbox each week about the abortion issue and homosexuality.   i got tired of the meanness and judgemental spirit, the “us” and “them.”  because of some of the things i believe, i became one of “them.”   i still believe in some of the things conservatives stand for, but i believe there are bigger fish to fry than just these two issues and taxes (i know many other conservatives do too). but let’s face it:  these past few years poverty and global warming are finally on the table as moral issues, and i believe we can attribute some of that to a bunch of celebrities who used their clout to get these issues the attention they have deserved.   i am thankful that sojourners has been trying to raise awareness of how unfair it is to lump all christians into the right wing, that there are some of us gravely concerned about oppression and poverty and injustice in the world and don’t necessarily align with the democratic party, either.    i am also grateful i have lovely democrat christian friends and lovely republican christian friends and lovely non-christian democrat friends and lovely non-christian republican friends, too.

regardless of everyone’s loveliness, i have had some decisions to make for myself.  i have been toying with changing my party status to independent for the past few years, but here’s what pushed me over the edge:  the invisible children video.  if there was oil in uganda, i do not believe our government would stand by while thousands of kids flee to hospitals and parks for protection every night.  the money & power b.s. just got the best of me.   right around the same time, i had a distressing conversation with two of my kids about the evangelical christianity political thing.   to be honest, we’ve had at least a 7 year sabbatical from talking much politics in our house. it just hasn’t been at the top of our list in a long time.  plus, our kids are just more grown up now and can engage in honest conversations.   i asked them what they knew about democrats because a couple of the younger ones alluded to something negative about them and it bothered me (they used to go to christian school).  here’s what they heard: “democrats don’t have morals.” oh that did me in (and happily, they are now in public school getting demoralized by all those “public school kids” we used to be so afraid of..)

so here’s what i’ve learned in the past few years:

we have to learn what we believe in apart from the people we hang around.

we are allowed to pick and choose what issues are important to us. we are also allowed to change our minds.  we are allowed to see scripture through different lenses, from new angles we never considered before.  we are allowed to “not know” and to be confused about things we used to be certain about related to God, and politics too. 

we need to be cautious about throwing God’s name around when it comes to politics.  

it is good to have friends who believe all kinds of different things. there is beauty beyond words in diversity of opinion, thoughts and beliefs.

our voices matter.  

i don’t necessarily have to be a republican or a democrat.

i believe it’s my responsibility as a Christ-follower to consider the underdog, the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, the voice-less because the authorities in power probably won’t naturally do it themselves.

so there it is.   my faith & politics all jumbled up in some glorious confusing mess that feels okay for today….

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

8 Comments

  • Yep. I hated all the propaganda the church fed me about the “big two” issues. I hated the “God is a republican” agenda. I hated the “hate” mail – you know the “be sure to vote this way on this issue or God will be angry”. I hated it all.

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  • Good stuff, thanks so much for sharing! I didn’t cry when Clinton was elected, but mostly because I was 9.

    It amuses me (and puzzles me, to be honest) how my two-issue friends at my church are becoming three-issue people, adding “global warming doesn’t exist” to the agenda. We just finished a year long study on a book by Ken Ham and the Answers In Genesis people called “War of the Worldviews” it was at once painful and enlightening. They are very full of hate and violence, and the scary part is I don’t think they realize how violent they sound.

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  • Thanks for sharing your story. It’s liberating when you take God out of your political box and see the bigger picture. My faith became alive again when I stopped labeling God with a political identity. Independent is a worthy identifier. Both sides have their strengths along with weaknesses. Like Erin stated, there is WAAAY more issues we should be concerned with then the “big two” that is shoved down our throats. Its not always black/white or either/or.

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  • erin – yeah, the pulling of the “i know what God feels” card really bugs me!

    jed – thanks for making me feel old! that was the wildest thing, when i watched the inconvenient truth, this thought of people actually saying that “global warming doesn’t exist” – hmmmm

    JP – thanks for stopping by! it is a great faith-energizer – stepping out from the box and having freedom to see the bigger picture. i have found it a little bit scary, though, too. the old way was so predictable and safe.

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  • What I mainly dislike about people who are brain-washed by the church, is that they refuse to think for themselves. I like what you said about seperating what we believe in from the people we hang out with. Going with the flow can really undermine your identity, and it prevents others from knowing and loving the person that you really are.

    I mainly choose to register with a party to influence the primaries and to piss people off. I think I’ve registered with the democrats as an act of rebellion. But I’m pretty over politics as a conversation piece. To me, it’s just not a fun topic to discuss because people get so passionate that they start stepping on one another.

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  • I went back and read this and I agree with a lot of it. I am a christ follower above all else. I am not a christian because I’m a republican. I am voting republiacn this election because the convictions I have because I’m a christian make me agree with McCain more than Obama.

    I do whatever I can to always be loving and merciful rather than critical and focusing on what I don’t agree with in others….

    Just wanted to say that I grew up in liberal very left new jersey — and only when I started reading the Bible during college and after that I found myself and found out what I believed and what I agreed with.

    I think a lot of people judge conservative republicans to be conservative republicans only because they are ignorant or sheltered or are not learned or worldy enough…. and it’s amazing to me how untrue I have found this to be. I like that I’m not ‘worldly’ but I don’t believe myself to be ignorant or at all sheltered – especially because of my background of growing up, up north.

    I really beleive we all want the same solutions – we all strive for the eutopia that will never happen and do our small part in taking small steps to get there…. BUT we all just have different solutions/ thoughts on HOW to get there. but I just wish it wouldn’t divide us so much.

    I don’t beleive one group is more ignorant than the other — I believe we just have different ideas of how to get where we want to go… different experiences & perspectives. 🙂

    A lot of my convictions are from the Bible…. and also the influence of my grandparents who have a lot of knowledge about communism and social systems that I have NO clue about.

    anyway — great entry. thanks 🙂

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  • I’m a “lover” not a “hater”. I believe killing an unborn child out of convenience (and be honest, about 96% of abortions are simply because it’s not convenient for the mother to have a baby at that time) is the most hateful thing a person can do. I vote for who will stand up for the innocent. This doesn’t mean I want to criminalize women who choose to kill their unborn babies. I want to promote a culture where a woman would decide before sex what to do if she gets pregnant. If it’s inconvenient, give it up for adoption. Be loving. As they say in the movie “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, “Be excellent to eachother”.
    Voting pro-death is the opposite.

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