It’s politics season, my favorite time of year! Although it only comes around every four years, the Presidential elections, and more importantly, the build-up to them, are like Christmas to me. It’s a magical season full of debates, issues, personalities, TV ads (the fruitcake of this analogy), and memes all over social media. In fact, I’ve been drawn back into using Facebook, after about 8 months away from it, just for the opportunity to comment on people’s political posts. Did I mention that I love politics?
My first exposure to politics was as a child, growing up in a conservative “walled garden” of home, church, and school, where Reagan and Bush had a monopoly and Jerry Falwell was the spokesperson. Faith and politics were indistinguishable. I assumed that if you were a Christian, you were a conservative, and if you were a Satanist, you were a liberal. There was not middle ground, no overlap, no Venn diagram scenario where one could occupy both roles. Then I went to college.
This isn’t your typical “I grew up churchy, and a secular University turned be liberal” story. In fact, I graduated college (a good Christian college) as conservative as ever. But a love for politics was planted, with the Bush v. Gore election, and subsequent legal battle. By this time, I was an uber-conservative registered Libertarian, and I had started to see my faith and my politics as separate entities, where one could be independent of the other.
As both my faith and my politics have grown over the years since then, one question still nags. Which informs which? Does my faith inform and influence my politics? Or do my politics inform my faith?
It sounds like an easy question. Obviously, our faith (some might say our religion) should inform the political stance that we take on a given issue. But the rub is that too often we let our politics inform our faith. If a candidate claims to be a champion of “Christian values,” we want to support him. But what about his or her foreign policy? Does God care more about oil-rich countries than poor developing ones? What about his social or economic plans, are those Christian? Would Jesus have been an advocate of gun rights and lower taxes?
I’m not saying these issues are cut and dry, by any means. I’m saying that there are often political issues that become faith issues. I have actually had my faith questioned because I am not a fiscal conservative. Too often, our political views become our “Christian values,” and that’s a dangerous place to be, because it’s easy to justify.
As my relationship with Jesus grew, I came to realize that many of my political opinions stood in stark contrast to my faith. Views that I thought were informed by my faith were actually quite the opposite. I found that I had shoehorned my faith into a narrow political space, then judged other people who had other opinions. Learning to untangle the web of politics and faith is a daunting task, but one worth undertaking.
I love politics. I love Jesus. I strive to keep my faith first, and let it inform my politics, not the other way around. Sometimes this puts me at odds with the “religious right” and sometimes not, but my politics are not determined by what are labeled “Christian values,” but by the One that those values are supposed to represent.