I want to preface this letter with two caveats. The first is that I hope I’m wrong about what I see coming down the pike. The second is that if I’m right, I pray I will have the courage to live the convictions that I write, because God knows I am a person full of fear.
Dear Evangelical Republicans,
I grew up one of you. I was raised to think conservatively–to support the troops, to protest gay marriage, to fight against the great injustice of higher taxes for the wealthy. But as I’ve pursued a theological education over the last seven years, we’ve grown apart. Much that I once held as self-evident truth from the very hand of God, I now disagree with–and the convictions that do we still share, I hold from a much more nuanced perspective. I’ve learned to live with the disconnect from my youth, and I do my best to respect our differences and look for points of unity rather than conflict.
But this election season, the rift between us has turned into a deep and impassible chasm. I think you know that. It’s hard to miss. But I’m not so sure you know why, and I’m not sure you understand the significance of our dissonance. So I want to explain. See, there are a lot of us, just like me. We grew up with you, but now find ourselves on a different path.
We hate partisan politics. We lean a little bit to the left, but not as much as you probably think. We don’t own guns. We’re drawn to the idea of socialized healthcare. We feel a little bit squirmy singing the national anthem. We don’t think it’s our job to force people to conform to a Christian lifestyle and worldview. We’re always talking about the dark side of American history, and we insist that it matters to the present.
You don’t get it. You think we’ve just been influenced by the liberal media, and that we’re not facing the realities of life. Until this election season, we’ve learned to deal with each other. We normally don’t talk politics, because it’s easier to avoid conflict when we don’t. But this election cycle, your allegiance to your party’s nominee has driven a wedge between us that might be a death knell for any meaningful connection. It’s not a matter of petty political preference or social sensibilities anymore. It’s now a matter of life and death conviction for us, because we are appalled and, frankly, terrified by the prospect of a Republican presidential victory in 2016.
We are appalled and alarmed by the candidate, but we are equally disgusted and terrified by the fact that you’re supporting him. Not simply because we’re economically left-leaning, but because you have thrown in the towel on everything that you told us we should care about. Don’t forget, we grew up with you. We remember where we came from, which is why we feel compelled to call you out on your hypocrisy. See, we still remember a lot of things that you taught us, and we try to live by them. In a very meaningful way, you made us.
For example, you taught us to believe the Bible. You taught us that it was infallible, inerrant, and the only source of absolute, literal truth. Well, because you taught us to hold it so highly, we decided to actually read it. We did some research, and it turns out that the Word of God is not the Word of America. It turns out that what we read there, in the Scriptures that you claim to believe and that you taught us to consider an absolute authority over our lives, doesn’t look like your candidate, your rhetoric, or your politics at all.
We read those Scriptures, and we found out that God isn’t really interested in maintaining the status quo for the politically and economically privileged. In fact, he’s about quite the opposite. We read the Scriptures and found Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Creator, commanding his followers to care for the poor, to love others as we love ourselves. We found out that the God-man laid down his life nonviolently for the sake of others and commanded his followers to do the same. And we thought, “Hey, maybe he meant that.” So we try to structure our lives, and our politics, accordingly. We became social workers. We went to seminary. We work for non-profits. Those of us who make a lot of money give away unreasonable amounts. We live and work in neighborhoods that make you nervous. We put ourselves in harm’s way and it doesn’t make any sense to you.
But it is because we found a Lord that trumps all other would-be lords. A Savior that trumps all other would-be saviors. We found a God who conquers and rules by self-sacrificial love, a love that trumps all hatred and drives out fear. We found an alternative to the notion that any Caesar or any President, any empire or any nation, is the hope of the world. And we found that in the Scripture that you told us to believe.
We don’t know what it is that has addled your brains and hearts so much that you think yours is a candidate that Christians should support. A candidate who is blatantly racist, has a well-documented history of misogyny, who currently has a charge of rape being pressed against him, who has never so much as touched politics, has been known for his entire career as an ego-maniacal celebrity tycoon, who has graced the cover of Playboy and is married to a third wife. Maybe it’s fear. Maybe it’s blind privilege. Maybe you’ve actually been fooled by the idea that we can go back to some imaginary era in American history where damn near everything was perfect and everyone who worked hard could live comfortably and successfully. Maybe it’s just that you’re afraid of the alternative candidate.
But here’s what you need to know. Though we hope we’re wrong, we are quite convinced that if your candidate is elected, injustices will follow. Injustice will come for the weak, for the outsider, for the other, for the poor–as it always has and always will. That isn’t a concern that you feel, because you aren’t those people. Maybe you’ll even be able to rationalize or justify small injustices as necessary, or for the greater good. Maybe you won’t even have to notice them.
But if and when injustice does come, you will be forced to acknowledge it as it begins taking us, your strange sons and daughters, your unnecessarily-radical sisters and brothers. You will wonder why we insist on putting ourselves in harm’s way, when we could stay safely away from it. And we will tell you then, as we tell you now, that we don’t have a choice. Because in the place where you told us to look, we found a Lord and God that compels us to participate in his redemptive suffering with and for the world. We found a Savior that calls us to lay down our lives for others. We found a Prince of Peace, the Slaughtered Lamb that conquered sin and death by self-sacrificial love, who reveals a reality that is much deeper than any comfort, any prosperity, any violence or any form of worldly might and security.
We pray that if and when that time comes, we are able face our fears and point beyond ourselves in suffering and courage to the hope found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We pray for the imagination to see past the paltry hope offered by insider/outsider, us versus them, black and white, either/or politics. And we pray that in so responding by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the world will see its true Lord and recognize its idolatry of self, of comfort, and of power.
I hope that this letter doesn’t give an impression of self-righteousness. I am not good at anything that I wrote here. I don’t love sacrificially. I am very self-protecting. I am full of fear and anxiety, and I’m terrified of having to stand up to evil. Suffering gives me panic attacks. So when I say that I pray for this, that is exactly what I mean. I pray that I will have the courage to resemble the idealistic picture of the church that I am compelled to paint. And I imperfectly trust that God will drag me, and all of us, along to where we ought to be.