In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve written a lot about Donald Trump here. And in doing so, I keep getting some push back from folks about it. Usually, it’s something along the lines of “why do you only pick on the Donald? Why not Hillary too, she’s corrupt?” Which then turns into, “well, you must be a Democratic Party operative using religion to get people to vote for your political agenda.” So, I just want to take a moment to address why, exactly, I write so much about Donald Trump, but almost none at all about Hillary Clinton.
First, let me be clear: yes, I used to work for the Democratic Party. Yes, I was a political science major, and have worked multiple campaigns for Democrats in Oklahoma and Kansas. I am very open about this on my bio you can find right here on this website.
So, I know for some, that is a complete disqualification. I am forever stained with the Democratic stink. I will always be a shill for the party, with whatever justification I can find. That’s fine if you want to think that about me. I’ll live.
They key thing to understand about me, however, is that I used to be a Democratic party operative. Used to be. Let me tell my story a little bit. I got interested in politics in 2007, as Barack Obama began his presidential campaign. I was blown away by this guy who spoke so movingly and was addressing these things that resonated with me, like opposition to the war in Iraq and respect and dignity for all people (Even gay and Muslim ones).
Following his election, I decided to pursue a degree in political science. At Oklahoma City University, while earning this degree, I was involved with Young Democrats, with student government, with Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature. I worked in the summer between my junior and senior years as full-time staff for Jari Askins, the Democratic nominee for governor.
After graduation, I worked in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, for the House Democratic Caucus. I also, for a short time, ran as a Democrat for a House seat. In 2014, I became the Executive Director of the Sedgwick County (KS) Democratic Party, a post I held all the way through the midterms.
I went into politics for some very specific reasons. I had so many interests growing up, I couldn’t settle on one thing to study. But I knew this: I wanted to do something to help people, and to make the world a better place. I wanted to improve people’s lives and help people achieve their liberation. Democratic Party politics appealed to me, because of it’s concern for the working people, it’s support for policies like universal health care, a strong social safety net, equal rights for gays, minorities, and all religions, and it’s strong embrace of public policy as a positive good. In fact, at OCU, while getting my poli sci degree, I focused on public policy, and specifically, health care policy, which I wrote my senior thesis over. Policy work was what I loved; the political game was fun on the side.
Looking back, I now regard myself politically as an Obama Democrat. I was inspired by Barack Obama to go into politics, to work to make the world a better place. As President Obama’s term has neared it’s end, and other actors have taken center stage in America’s political drama, I have found myself losing interest in politics. It now frustrates me, and infuriates me, and disgusts me. And I don’t just mean conservatives; I have a favorite moniker for those who bug me the most: “MSNBC liberals.” I’ve just gotten to the point where I can’t stand the game. I still follow politics, but much more privately, and in smaller doses.
My waning political interests coincided with the call I felt into ministry. So, that’s the career path I have turned to. But, many of the same motivations that drove me into politics have also spurred me into this arena. I still want to make the world a better place. I want to improve lives, help work for liberation, and cultivate love, respect and dignity for my fellow humans. But now, I feel called to do those things with a theological underpinning.
It’s not a political call masquerading as religion. It is a call to work for God’s kingdom, first and foremost. It just so happens that I see God’s justice encompassing things such as equality, the meeting of basic needs, the lifting up of the poor. Where those goals coincide with any political goal is a happy coincidence; I don’t work any longer for the goal of passing this bill or that bill; I work, in any arena necessary, for the goals of justice, mercy, compassion, love, and liberation.
I’ve gotten to where I see the political party system for what it is: the pursuit of temporal power. Parties are groups of people with shared interests trying to work together to gain control of the levers of worldly power. And they serve an important purpose! They signal to your average voter, who does not have the time or the desire to consume massive amounts of political news and posturing, what a candidate stands for. If you go into a polling booth, and see a “D” next to a candidate’s name, you can be fairly certain of where that person stands on the issues, and vote accordingly. This is a very good thing. The myth of the ultimately informed electorate is a wonderful idea, but it is just that: a myth. Parties serve reality beautifully. Speaking from the political science major in me, I am strongly supportive of the political parties and the important role they play in American politics.
But, again, they are pursuing temporal power. And that is not the duty or the calling of the Church. The Church, we who make it up as committed followers of the Way of Jesus, have a historical duty to stand outside the structures of power, and speak prophetically to it’s wayward ways. We can’t become identified with power, lest we become compromised and lose our moral authority.
We do this because it is what Jesus did. Jesus did not stand with the party factions of his time, whether they be Pharisees or Sadducees or Zealots, against the imperial menace. And he surely paid for that refusal; he must have seemed terribly unpatriotic in his refusal to join in the System! But Jesus understood that temporal power is fleeting and ultimately hollow. Real change, lasting and infused with justice, comes from outside the ways of the world.
Now, don’t take this to mean that, as a Christian, you should completely disengage with the political process. Absolutely not. Be involved. Join a party. Work for candidates and causes you believe in. But, remember, that work happens in a different place than your Christian identity. You values can and should influence that work, but keep it in perspective, that this work is temporal, and be aware that real change comes from another place.
This is what fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity has seemingly forgotten in America. Instead of operating as an outside, prophetic voice, right-wing Christians have decided, over the course of the last thirty years, to marry themselves to a political party and ideological movement. I’m sure their initial goals were pure and well-intentioned. But, the association with and wielding of political power has corrupted this portion of the Church. It has come to believe that the pursuit of power for the sake of power is the calling of the Church. It has come to see Power as the way to impose their view of the world on others. Rather than changing hearts and minds the Jesus way – namely, with love and respect and compassion – they see an easier path in top-down power assertion.
This movement has come to a head this year with the rise of Donald Trump, and the rush of American evangelical leadership to abase themselves at his feet and kiss his ring. And Trump has done everything he can to encourage this, making awkward and obviously unfamiliar attempts to demonstrate his religious bona fides that fall flat when he show shows his obvious unfamiliarity with religious language or thought.
American evangelicals have done this because they see their power waning in an increasingly diverse and secular America. Instead of listening to what Americans in 2016 are saying about religion and Christianity and what they need from the Church, they have decided to double down on the 1980’s era playbook, attaching themselves to Trump in the hope that, if he wins, they can again impose their way on America, and thus grow their ranks artificially, rather than organically.
This is why I write about Trump so much: there is only one candidate, and one party, so intensely enmeshed with American Christianity and faux religious language. There is only one candidate and one party willing to skirt the edges of blasphemy and turning off an entire generation of seekers for the sake of power. There is only one party attempting to justify capitalism and bigotry and violence through the guise of Jesus. There is only one candidate and one party claiming the mantel of Christianity and denying it to those who look, think, or believe differently than them.
Trust me, the minute Hillary and the Democrats begin to appropriate Christianity in the name of anti-Christian initiatives, I will be all over them. But the Democratic Party, for all it’s many faults, has certainly proven itself willing to cultivate true religious freedom, in the form of the ability of people of all or no faiths to practice their beliefs as they choose, as long as that practice doesn’t infringe on the rights of others.
The Republican Party, and their leader Donald J. Trump, on the other hand, are fair game, because they want to be seen as the Party of Christian America. Thus, they open themselves to the full range of criticism and attention from Christian bloggers like myself. It’s not because I am a Democrat or Hillary backer trying to electorally defeat Trump; it’s because I am a Christian who cares about the way that the message of Jesus is portrayed in the world, and as such, I only see one American party besmirching that name and image. So, I write extensively about Donald Trump. And I will continue to do so, as long as he persists on appropriating my faith for this own secular, unjust and hate-filled ends.