I’ve voted for Republicans.
And I’ve voted for Democrats.
For many people, my bi-partisan approach to voting is an act of treason. A person needs to be loyal to one party. If they’re not, it’s because they’re wishy-washy, unprincipled, unpatriotic, or just a traitor.
Or at least that’s what we’re told.
The same goes for the faith too. Either you’re a Christian or you’re not. Lest you find yourself somehow stuck in between, there are plenty of self-appointed defenders of orthodoxy ready and willing to remind you of the lukewarm Laodicean church in Revelation.
For all the zeal with which we judge the authenticity of each other’s faith, I often wonder if, in fact, our political affiliation is more important to us, more formative to our identity than our faith is.
Now, I know this isn’t true for everyone. Some of us couldn’t care less about politics or political parties. Many more of us will get angry and scream and shout if told our political affiliation defined our identity more than our faith. But while we may claim that Christianity defines out identity, our television viewing habits, the books we read, radio we listen to, conversations we have, and of course our Facebook walls often tell a different story.
For example, if your Facebook wall is anything like mine, and I’m guessing it is, then it’s saturated with political rants, links exposing the “truth” about some controversial issue, cheap shots at the other side of the aisle, and never ending, vitriolic arguments among “friends” in the comment section of another friend’s status. Our Facebook walls are, more often than not, a microcosm of the things we care the most about, the things we’re most interested in, the things we invest the most time in. That is, after all, a big part of the point of Facebook. It gives us, whether we like it or not, a snapshot of who we really are.
Confronted directly with the question of identity, most of us would declare that our Christian faith is is the defining marker of our identity. But Jesus said “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” By which he meant, the things we spent the most time doing, talking about, worrying about, those things (or people) we invest the most in are the things we value the most and those things we value the most, in turn, shape our identity.
In other words, we can go to church every Sunday and sing our hearts out, but if the majority of the rest of our week is spent listening to, watching, reading, and arguing about politics, then our politics and political parties are shaping our identity more than our faith and the church is.
I think if we don’t see this as problematic it’s because some of us, whether implicitly or explicitly, think of our particular party as the Christian party or the party real Christians should support because it most closely, in our opinion, lines up with the Christian faith. The reality, of course, is that for whatever virtues they may have, both parties are plagued with policies that are antithetical to Christianity.
That’s not to say our faith doesn’t, or shouldn’t play a role in our politics. It does. We can pretend otherwise, but our politics derive what we believe. You can’t completely separate the two. But that doesn’t mean our politics and our faith are one and the same, or should I say our politics cannot be a replacement for or even a supplement to our faith.
There are many reasons, but ultimately Jesus gets in the way of our political aspirations.
Chief among the problems with politics becoming the defining mark of our identity is that it reinstitutes the same sorts of divisions Jesus sought to erase. For as Paul so eloquently wrote, in Christ we are now all one, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female.”
I would add to that – “neither Republican nor Democrat.”
When Paul wrote those famous words to the church in Galatia, he was making a critical point about the Christian faith by reminding the church that as Christians they were part of a new kingdom, a new reality in which all the old identity markers that divide, separate, and oppress– cultural, economic, gender – were no longer relevant, no longer binding to how life should be lived. All that matters now is our identity as followers of Christ and living out the gospel of reconciliation he has called us to embody.
Which is why being a “Republican Christian” or “Democratic Christian” is so problematic. Not only do they add a foreign identity marker to who we are called to be, they reinsert the old divisions Christ came to reconcile.
In other words, when we make Republican and Democrat defining marks of our identity we undo the very work of the reconciliation Jesus came to do and which he has called us to continue to do as his hands and feet in the world.
The other major problem with political parties is that they allow us to demonize others, and ultimately excuse ourselves from loving and serving them because “they” are no longer people, they are simply “Democrats” or “Republicans.” When people are reduced to labels they become fair game for character assassination, slander, hateful attacks, and treatment as something less than people made in the image of God.
Ultimately, though we may scream and shout about morality and doing the right thing, it seems to me that many of our political arguments are less about the issue and more about winning. We may believe what we’re arguing for is good or true on some level, but it’s more about winning the argument and keeping or getting our party into power than it is about what might actually benefit society the most.
Which, again, is incredibly problematic for those of us who call ourselves Christians, for as followers of Christ we are called to give up power, not seek after it at all costs. We’re called to serve our neighbors, even if that means voting for the other party so that our neighbors needs are met. And, of course, we’re called to love our enemies, which is makes equating our party with the Christian faith even worse than just a matter of theological discrepancies.
When our political party becomes the party of Christ, then the other party necessarily becomes the anti-Christ party in a very literal way. As a result, we end up framing the other party not just as wrong, but as sinners, as anti-God. When that happens, our political attacks become not just debates, but religious crusades against “evil” and we evangelists for the “truth.”
Now, I am under no illusions that the incestual relationship between political parties and the Christian faith will end anytime soon. Nor am I calling on us to pretend like our faith doesn’t inform our political opinions.
But we can and we must make “Christian” the defining mark of our identity no matter how involved we choose to be in the political process. Or to put a spin on another verse, “He must increase, my political party must decrease.”
If we could find the courage to do that, to keep our focus on following Christ instead of keeping our political party in power, then maybe we as a church could actually use the political system to accomplish something worthwhile. Yes, we will still disagree about what those goals should look like, but if we can at least begin to see those that disagree as our brothers as sisters in Christ, rather than political opponents whose political affiliation necessarily makes them wrong, then at the very least we’ll be one step closer to actually being one Body and maybe, just maybe get a little bit closer to making the world the better place we all want it to be.
All that to say, we can be Christians and vote Republican or be Christians and vote Democrat, but if we allow Republican or Democrat to become the defining mark of our identity, not just in what we claim about ourselves but in what we actually do, then we will need to admit that we prefer division to reconciliation.
That we would rather be in power, than serve others.
And that Caesar is our lord, not Jesus.
Grace and peace,