Words matter. There is a reason we love to laugh at auto correct errors from our smartphones. It’s amusing when we think we are communicating one thing, but our phone sends a message with a totally different meaning. Using the proper words in cases like this makes all the difference.
As our culture shifts, some words even begin to take on different shades of meaning. Sometimes the definition changes altogether. A recent example of this is “literally”. To be honest this one annoyed me at first, but I have come to realize that the new popular use of this word is probably not going away any time soon. What I’m referring to of course is the use of the term “literally” to describe something that is ironic or symbolic. I notice this on social media mostly (“I am literally starving”, or “I had to wait literally all day at the dentist office”). Understanding the intended meaning is important when interpreting such statements.
The words I use to describe my beliefs and views are equally as important. As a follower of Jesus, I am convinced that it is crucial to think critically about what my words and actions are communicating to those around me. Just throwing around terms that have historically been associated with Christians can cause confusion or unintended offense.
There are two terms I want to deal with here because I believe they have been hijacked by extreme elements in our culture. More and more I am distancing myself from these labels because they no longer correctly describe who I am as a person or what I stand for.
The words I’m speaking of are Conservative and Republican.
I was raised in an environment in which the above words were almost always associated with Christianity. If not used as synonyms, they were definitely adjectives attached to the Christian moniker. “Conservative Christian” is an incredibly common phrase that I grew up hearing and is still extensively used in the media and many churches. When I was younger, I really did have this notion that the Republican party was the Christian party! Democrats were at worst evil and at best opposed to Jesus and Biblical values.
Just as an aside here, I want to make it clear that this was not something my family taught me. These sentiments were things that I picked up from the church culture around me. I basically grew up in church and Christian school and then I attended a Christian college. While I would never imply that everyone around me during those times subscribed to this worldview, I would say that it was definitely the prevailing and acceptable one. Anyone describing themselves in different terms was usually looked down on, and I never really felt comfortable considering differing opinions on social issues (and certainly not verbalizing any) for fear of negative social consequences.
Now, as I’ve grown older and developed my own ideas and beliefs, I have come to realize that I no longer want or need to use these labels because they simply do not reflect who I am anymore. And it’s not necessarily me that has drastically changed, but the terms themselves that have taken on connotations that I do not wish to be associated with.
If you had asked me just a few years ago what my political leanings were, I would have told you that I was a Conservative Republican. The reason for this would have been twofold. First, my personal convictions would normally have fallen more on the conservative side concerning most social issues. Second, when it came to my views on the government I believed that it should be accountable and not too big. I wasn’t a fan of Uncle Sam micro managing my everyday life.
These core principles are why I identified the way I did and they have not changed for me. Yet it seems as though they are no longer the guiding forces of modern conservatism. To put it simply, I can no longer reconcile my personal beliefs with what I see going on in the Republican and Conservative camps right now.
Here are a few examples of recent issues that highlight the inconsistencies which I find intolerable:
While President Trump’s views on this subject are extreme (at least in my view), I was struggling with the issue long before he took office. Months ago, when President Obama was working to allow more Syrian refugees into the United States, I began to become disillusioned by the responses I was seeing from many who would call themselves “Conservative Christians.”
The sentiments I was seeing were along the lines of, “We can’t let these foreigners in because some of them might be Muslims and some might want to hurt us” or “these people will just come in and mooch off the system.” Presently, these types of opinions have become emboldened by the current administration’s use of an executive order banning people from certain countries from entering the U.S. These responses to people in need are diametrically opposed to my faith in Jesus and my citizenship in this country, and I’ll explain why.
As a Christian, I believe that I need to model my life on the actions and teachings of Jesus Christ. Opposing the idea of helping people in need doesn’t fit into that worldview. Jesus spent most of his time on this earth with those whom society shunned, and he himself was blackballed from the religious elite of the time.
In fact, there is a TON of teaching in the Bible related specifically to helping refugees and outsiders. For example:
*Deuteronomy 10:18 clearly shows God’s heart on the subject: “He executes justice for the orphan and the widows, loves the foreigner, and gives them food and clothing.
*Jesus himself weighed in on the subject by saying that how we treat the less fortunate shows how much we love him: “I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” (Matthew 25:43).
*Hebrews 13:2-3 is also pretty clear: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.”
These are merely a few of the numerous examples throughout scripture about helping foreigners, strangers, and the down and out! It is a thread that can be traced through the entire Bible.
And as far as worrying about whether these folks want to hurt us or take advantage of our tax dollars, once again I have to defer to Jesus. He came to this earth KNOWING that he would be killed by his enemies, yet he still showed up. He loved the very people that actively worked to kill him. His teaching on giving to those who ask is also very clear: “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 30:27-31). I don’t see Jesus saying that you should not give to someone because you think they don’t deserve it.
From the standpoint of being a American citizen, I have to remember that this county is built on cultural diversity. The majority of us have ancestors that immigrated to this country to start a new life. Unless you are full blooded native American, someone in your family tree traveled here from another country at some point. How can we then deny others the same opportunity?
So personally, my feelings on this no longer align to what many in the conservative camp are advocating.
Obsession with Guns
With the recent shootings in this country (unfortunately it’s probably true that whenever you end up reading this there will be recent examples, even if it’s months from now) the debate about gun control continues to heat up. It’s one of those issues that tends to polarize people, with both extremes seemingly having the loudest voices.
Personally I am in the middle on this one. By no means do I think all guns should be banned. I am absolutely fine with people who are trained in their safe and proper use carrying them. However, I see no valid reason for ordinary citizens to have weapons of war. I don’t think gun laws will solve the whole problem and I am aware that criminals will keep being criminals even if new laws are passed (that’s why they are criminals, after all), but I do think we need to tighten up on background checks and ban assault weapons. These are just my personal feelings on this.
My greater concern with this issue is the obsession I have seen from some conservatives about guns. I simply cannot understand it. The same folks whom I hear so vocally opposing abortion because they are “pro life” will then turn around and defend the unrestricted ownership of guns that are designed specifically to kill multiple people efficiently! That blows my mind! If you are going to say that you are pro life, you have to apply that to all life equally! The 49 lives taken in that Orlando night club are just as important and precious as our recently born baby boy!
I just can’t tow the conservative line on this one. I am not in favor of owning guns just for the sake of owning guns. And I don’t feel it should be easy for somebody to obtain weapons designed for war. They have no place in everyday life, and all the lives that are being lost in this country could not be more conclusive evidence of this.
I know this one is a hot button issue, and if you disagree with me that’s absolutely fine. My purpose here is not to argue but to share why I do not identify with certain viewpoints, and this is one of them.
The Rise of Donald Trump
Some folks have expressed surprise at the rise of Donald Trump, but I don’t believe that he is an anomaly. He is merely symptomatic of what has been happening in the Republican party for quite a while now. Anger at the changing culture, progressive policies, and “political correctness” have fomented a desire for an authoritarian leader to step in and right all of the perceived wrongs.
I want to say that I am shocked by the support Mr. Trump has received from some in the Conservative Christian camp, and to some degree I still am, but for the most part this could also be seen coming. He is the logical culmination of decades of Christian Nationalism, which sees the United States of America as not only a Christian nation, but a special country chosen by God. This is in no way a Biblical notion, but that has not stopped it from being proliferated in evangelical circles for years.
Understanding these political and religious ideologies is vital in making sense of Donald Trump’s success. If you believe that the nation you reside in was founded as a Christian Theocracy and you are uncomfortable with people and lifestyles that differ from your own, Trump is your perfect candidate. He is the hero who will protect you from those of strange faiths and nations, and he will restore the good old days when everyone thought, believed, and worshiped just as you did.
While I understand how we got to this point, I believe that as a follower of Jesus, I need to rise above the non-biblical ideas that have led us here, and in so doing, reject Donald Trump as a moral, ethical, or Christian choice for President. I will explain:
The problem with Christian Nationalism: I see two major failures with this outlook. First, it simply is not biblical. Scripture makes it clear that Israel is a special and chosen nation to God, but no other country has that status. Second, while the United States was founded on many principles that are in keeping with biblical teachings, it was never established as a Christian country. As a matter of fact, religious freedom was one of the main reasons that settlers from Europe made the treacherous voyage across the Atlantic in the first place. The founders were actively trying to avoid the legalism, corruption, and control that comes with state sanctioned religion.
Culture Wars: One of President Trump’s greatest appeals during the election was the notion of, “Making America Great Again.” He has promised to restore us to a simpler time. My major problem with this is that I believe throughout the years, The United States has made some great social justice strides that should not be backtracked. Without going into detail here, I will just say that the fight for equality on many fronts has been a long and arduous one. I would probably be labeled “Liberal” for some of my specific views here, but suffice to say I would hate to see any ground lost in these areas.
Political Correctness: Another thing President Trump promised to do away with is, “political correctness.” My problem here is the broadness of that term. Yes, I do believe that one can go overboard with tiptoeing around issues to avoid offense. However, especially as a believer in Jesus, I also believe that I should always seek to be respectful and loving. Not every situation makes it necessary for me to spout my opinion and just let the chips fall where they may. As I share God’s truth, I need to be concerned first of all with doing so in love. “Political correctness” is not always a bad thing, sometimes it means just using tact and grace in my speech.
One of my big concerns with Mr. Trump is how his rhetoric on this has emboldened those on the fringes of society to spout their racist and bigoted ideas more openly. That can lead to nothing good.
Qualifications of a Leader: I have heard many Christians refer to Donald Trump as, “a good Christian man” or “a Christian leader.” Well, the Bible has a lot to say about leadership. If a person voted for Mr. Trump for political or economic reasons I may disagree but I understand the reasoning. However, just reading the clear teachings on leadership and wisdom throughout the Bible preclude any notion of lifting him up as an example of Christian leadership. Below are merely a few examples of what God’s Word has to say on the subject.
- Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)
- Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but one who hates correction is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1)
- The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly. (Proverbs 15:2)
- He who restrains his words has knowledge, And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent. (Proverbs 17:27-28)
From even this small cross-section of verses, I don’t see how one could point to Donald Trump as a Christian example. He just doesn’t fit that bill in any way, shape or form.
So what am I getting at here? Simply this:
As a Christian, my identity is tied to Christ, not a political party. My allegiance should be first and foremost to Him, and that should color everything else that I do. In the realm of politics, as in any other, I should critically think about my stances and opinions through this lens. For me, that means not just jumping on the Conservative bandwagon because that is what I am expected to do. It means prayerfully considering each individual issue and studying the scriptures as I form my opinions.
If you, like me, are a follower of Jesus who doesn’t feel comfortable under the umbrella of modern Conservatism, I want to provide some encouragement. You are not alone. Others like you are out there. Keep having those tough conversations with other Christians and keep fighting for the causes you care about!
If you find yourself on the opposite side of the spectrum, this is for you too. Please realize that just because you are a Christian and hold certain political positions, that does not necessarily mean that all other Christians must agree with you. Don’t write somebody off just because they are a Democrat or too liberal for your taste. It might even be healthy to broaden your own viewpoint by considering the opinions and arguments of those you don’t agree with.
As the body of Christ in the world, we need each other. I can learn from you and you can learn from me. I believe it can be extremely beneficial when we lay down our preconceptions and truly listen to one another. If we do so with the goal of knowing Jesus better and seeking to have a more Biblical worldview, I think God will bless that. Let’s just not get our citizenship in this world confused with our true identity in Christ.