politics and faith

Posted: January 22, 2017 in Uncategorized

My sixth grade social studies teacher was the first person outside my family to push me to start making myself aware of what was going on in the world.  Mr. Taylor made us do “current events” one day per week.  We were to show up with an item from the news – it could be from newspaper, TV news, or the radio (this was before the internet).  I was sometimes lazy and chose to be amused by sharing from the “Animal Stories” portion of Chicago’s WLS radio news – I heard it as my clock/radio alarm woke me to get ready for school (this clock was the “hands” kind, not a digital readout –  yes, I am THAT old) – Mr. Taylor tolerated that.  But often I went to the kitchen and dug some bit out of the newspaper there – my parents were faithful subscribers.  Whatever news we brought for Current Events, we had to stand up in front of the class and share about it.  So the class period was more interesting and fun if we all didn’t just grab the day’s headline.  I think there was even a rule that you couldn’t share the same thing someone else did, so there was incentive to dig for something not-so-obvious.

My parents set a great example on the front of social awareness by being interested and engaged in what was going on.  They talked about it over the dinner table, and we kids were allowed to speak in those conversations, not just listen.  They made sure we knew they were voting.  We talked about politics and about freedom (freedom was a BIG topic) and about what people were saying about what we were seeing.  My dad was always dragging history into it – he was determined that his kids would have context.  I was never under any illusion that the stuff happening “out there” had nothing to do with our household.  I was clear:  good citizens pay attention and take part in the process.  We were allowed to be opinionated – even strongly so – but we weren’t allowed to spout things without getting pushed and questioned.  My parents are both GED holders and some of the smartest people I know, and they were more deliberate than many parents with big fancy degrees in consistently, aggressively, purposely teaching us how to think for ourselves.

So I started out pretty political from early on.  I liked reading about it and discussing it and I especially liked having my own opinions that no one could force to change.  The weight of my responsibility to do my part was clear and I wasn’t tempted to shirk it.  When I grew up and had my own household, as soon as I could afford a daily subscription to the newspaper, I got it.  Before that, I tried to at least pick up a Sunday paper most weeks.  While my favorite pages were the comics and Dear Abby, I made a point to read some stories and at least skim others, trying to know about national and local politics.  In high school we had used Time Magazine in one of my social studies classes; I picked up a subscription when I was able as an adult, though more often I couldn’t afford it.  I always grabbed something like that rather than People Magazine when I was in the doctor’s waiting office.  It was a chance to be informed.  I believe in being informed.

From early on, my natural bent was a liberal perspective.  It energized me and it fit with my priorities.  That was my approach for a long time.

After my divorce rearranged my life, I ended up back in church (I’d been more “away” than “present” in church since leaving my parents’ home as a pregnant newlywed at 18.)  Later I changed churches amidst some of the yucky stuff that happens as a result of churches being comprised of actual human beings – much of that was my own mess, though I attributed heaping helpings of blame on others as I walked out the door of what really was a very nice church full of wonderful people.  My new church was similarly filled with great folks – people who would go the extra mile for you.  People who cared.  People of compassion and humor.  They were down-to-earth but also serious about the Bible.  I watched them and listened to them.  I sat in their Sunday School classes and Bible studies.  We broke bread together.  And while no one said so in specific words, I came to understand by observation and osmosis that apparently people who followed Jesus voted Republican.  It seemed to be God’s expectation, though I can’t say anyone called it that directly.  There were never politics from the pulpit, but casual conversation brought me indirectly back over and over to the same point:  I owed it to God to vote Republican.  People of faith had no other option.

So, that’s what I did.  I didn’t like it.  It didn’t energize me – it made me feel conflicted and icky.  I worked to force my priorities to fit the more conservative agenda; it was hard and not pleasant.  Still, I was willing to push into it, if that was what God wanted from me.  Where I disagree with God, I am the one who is wrong.  Not God.

During this period of time, I mostly stopped reading the paper or paying attention to the news.  It wasn’t fun or interesting to me to know about it when the working out felt like such hard and unpleasant work.  It wasn’t inspiring.  It was drudgery, so I didn’t go there.  I just paid enough attention to know who the Republican candidate was, so I could obediently do the thing.

Fun and energy and inspiration on the political front came back to me when I happened across Sojourner Magazine, which is about being both liberal and Christian all at the same time.  I felt almost sneaky reading it at first – like no one should know.  I bought a subscription and soaked up every article quickly when a new issue came.  I started to notice:  not everyone believes Jesus requires us to vote Republican!  I took some time investigating this (when you’ve been Southern Baptist, it’s in your blood to make sure you’re not spitting on scripture); after research and prayer, I felt free to move back politically to the way I’m wired.  Since then, I’ve found tons of other people who love Jesus and lean liberal, and I’ve made peace with the fact that God created some of us leaning conservative and some leaning liberal.  He works out His purposes amongst the tension between the two perspectives.  If we have only the one side or the other, we end up out of balance.  It’s not a matter of one side being right and the other wrong; both sides are right and both sides are wrong.

Since then I’ve tried to be intentional in communicating this.  I figure there are probably others like me out there, thinking they can only vote one side of the ticket.  I want to help them be free to reconsider that idea, no matter which side they might currently be stuck on.  I’m mostly trying to set my fellow liberals free to vote their hearts, but if someone feels captive to the liberal side and freer if they can choose conservative, I want that for them.  I really do.

The recent election has made me more vocal about politics than I’ve been since my teenage years.  There are a lot of reasons behind that, but those reasons aren’t the point of why I’m writing this particular blog entry, so we’ll leave them be for now.  I’ve had some pretty pointed reminders on several fronts in the last couple of days about some important things I need to remember, while I’m navigating the tricky business of politics and faith:

  1. Prayer is really where it’s at.  I can act –  I SHOULD act, for sure.  But if I’m acting without praying, that is futile.  When I pray first and then act, I move in wisdom.  When I act first and pray later, I start speaking and moving from my fears or selfish motivations, or at the very least I get shrill – and shrillness never wins the day. Prayer has to be first; actually I SHOULD NOT act if I’m not going to pray first.  (If you’re not a Christ-follower, this is not a condemnation of you in the least.  FOR ME, my faith is the center of everything, so I have to keep it there.  I’m not pointing at you here.  Just me.)
  2. As a Christ-follower, I am called to be a peacemaker.  If I fall into “us vs. them” language, it’s gonna be hard to broker peace.  Right now, it’s hideously tempting and very easy to go there – the national political conversation is highly inflamed, no matter which side one comes from.  A peacemaker doesn’t just “preach to the choir.”  A peacemaker speaks decently and respectfully to and about those with whom he or she disagrees.  One-sided rants in coded language filled with inside jokes and taunts don’t ever win anyone that wasn’t already on your side.  It’s just not how human beings work.  If I’m a peacemaker, I have to remember this with every word I choose.  I’m all about protecting people, but if I make the oppressors even angrier with my rhetoric, then maybe the very people I seek to protect will suffer further.
  3. Social media has to be managed carefully – more carefully than almost any of us (including and especially me) are currently managing it.  In “real life,” I have a ton of people close to me whose politics are polar opposite from mine.  We navigate that well because we know one another.  I know their hearts and lives, so I don’t make horrible assumptions about them based on their voting in a way I detest, and they are able to grant me that same grace because they know my heart and life.  The business of knowing one another is a marvelous cushion for the navigating.  It’s too easy on social media to pull that cushion away and act in ways we’d never act in person.  It’s also too easy to forget that not all of my hundreds of Facebook friends or Twitter buddies know me very well, so that cushion may not even be available to them.  I need to curate what I’m posting there so that if someone who barely knows me decides to Google me, they won’t be immediately repulsed by something we disagree on, which I have expressed without grace or care.  This is important not because I need to please everyone (I don’t), but because I’d rather not have anyone just flat unwilling to hear from me.

 

There’s more, but I’m already way up over 1500 words and I’m losing y’all fast.  This is why I need to write daily and not just “once in awhile.”  I’m very much in process on this subject – writing prayerfully helps me sort.  I’d welcome your thoughts on how we can navigate this better – folks all over Facebook are lamenting how badly we’re doing it just now.  What do you think?

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