I am an evangelical Christian with a record of voting in line with the Republican Party. This year, however, I am casting my vote for Barack Obama. My support for Obama stands on its own, and has been well documented throughout this blog. But why would an evangelical Christian vote for a Democrat? The answer is as much a reflection of what Obama stands for as it is what the GOP does not.
Last week I received an email from Dr. James Dobson – whose internet ministry I subscribe to – imploring me to “vote my values,” meaning to vote for the candidate whose “pro-life” and pro traditional marriage rhetoric carried Dr. Dobson’s stamp of approval. My immediate thought was: Why should I vote two of my values to the exclusion of all others? In that question lies the problem of the Christian allegiance to the Republican Party.
Since this country’s founding, Christians have politicized Biblical values (we have as much right to do so as any other group that wants this nation to reflect its beliefs) and have helped the U.S. become a beacon of light to the world. The problem, I now realize, with the union of Christians to the GOP, is that we’ve aligned ourselves with a spokes group that sees Christians as nothing more than a voting bloc to pander to with lip service about two passion-evoking issues while ignoring other values that form the core of our beliefs. And as they grip our hearts with life and marriage, the GOP exploits our values to demonize or vilify those with opposing viewpoints.
A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
GOP leadership has (perhaps with the willing participation of some Christian leaders) twisted and distilled our values to the point where we are just hot-button sound bites wrapped up in a platform designed to benefit the wealthy and corporate classes. In the process, they have turned uninformed Christians (me among them) into “single-issue voters,” sheepishly towing the Party line while it exploits the name of God and bastardizes our ideals to foment hatred, division and racism and to engender animosity toward Christians by associating us with a platform that is anathema to God’s love.
The party that sprang back to executive power in 2001 (never mind 1994’s broken “contract with America”) did so headed by a self-professed Christian who took no issue with smearing his opponent (John McCain) with the racist lie that he’d illegitimately fathered a mongrel child. George Bush went on to run not only two of the most vile campaigns in recent memory, but also to hold one of the most deceptive and secretive presidencies ever (kudos to Nixon for the one-upmanship).
Today’s GOP wants to strike out further, exploiting Christian principles to preach a message of hate, division, racism and confused class warfare. Whether it be Nancy Pfotenhauer proclaiming that northern Virginia – which is leaning toward Obama – is not the “real Virginia”, Joe McCain (John’s brother) calling blue-leaning Arlington and Alexandria “communist country”, Michele Bachmann calling for a congressional witch hunt to weed out congressmen – like Obama, apparently – who are “anti-American”, Sarah Palin calling small towns in “red states” the home of “real Americans” (not to mention her derision of community organizers), or Robin Hayes claiming that “liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God”, the GOP is doing all it can in the waning days of this campaign to create sloganized hatred and division in this country. And with the “Joe the Plumber” tour, John McCain is trying to trick Americans into falling for the perverse lie that somehow working-class, blue collar tradesmen are economically aligned with the top 5% of wage earners and are on the losing end of a mythical “class warfare” that Obama is waging against the working class. And as if that’s not a far enough transgression, the GOP is on a “religious crusade” to paint all Arabs and Muslims as evil terrorists and to “otherize” a respected United States Senator and fellow Christian who is running for President and happens to be African-American, calling him every conceivable demonized and incendiary word other than (and in at least one notable case, including) coming out and saying “he’s black.” And if they cannot win again through fear, division and racism, the GOP is fully prepared to use the subterfuge of voter fraud to conceal their disgusting efforts at voter disenfranchisement (each word links to a separate news article).
GOP strategists have substituted hatemongering for the love of God. And some Christian leaders are complicit in this twisted endeavor. At a recent McCain rally in Davenport, Iowa, Arnold Conrad, former Pastor of the Grace Evangelical Free Church, while leading the invocation, said
I would also pray, Lord, that Your reputation is involved in all that happens between now and November, because there are millions of people around this world praying to their god – whether it’s Hindu, Buddha, Allah – that his opponent wins, for a variety of reasons. And Lord, I pray that You would guard Your own reputation, because they’re going to think that their god is bigger than You, if that happens. So I pray that You will step forward and honor Your own name with all that happens between now and Election Day.
So now God’s reputation is maligned if Obama wins? What of the fact that Obama is a Christian? And what of the Christians who are praying for Obama? Trading on the name of God to castigate your political opponent and recklessly fan the flames of racial, ethnic, religious and socio-economic discord is not of God. And yet, in spite of that, the GOP wants Christians to be co-conspirators in a fundamental breach of Christ’s commandment – the modern equivalent of betraying Christ for 30 pieces of silver – in exchange for the perpetually unfulfilled promise that they will one day overturn Roe v. Wade? Are we actually going to let ourselves fall victim to cookie-cutter religiosity – voting one value while casting all others into the abyss?
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
Christians have a ministerial calling to provide aid and comfort to those in our society who are poor and oppressed. These persons also represent our values. And yet the benevolent (and otherwise “small government”) Republican party, which has decided that it’s the Federal government’s duty to protect the life of unborn children, wants to leave those children out in the cold when they need healthcare. For the uber-Christian GOP has determined that though unborn children have a right to life, children who are born to economically depressed parents (who are, by the way, disproportionately represented in the statistics of those seeking abortions) do not have the right to life-sustaining healthcare. John McCain’s policies, while making insurance more – and perhaps cripplingly – expensive for working class Americans, do nothing to ensure that the 47 million uninsured Americans have access to insurance and that all children have a right to insurance.
Likewise, the “compassionate conservatives” who want us to “vote our values” use the power they achieve because of those votes to call for tax policies that place a disproportionate burden on struggling Americans (including the Christians who blindly voted their values) while the wealthiest citizens reap disproportionate tax benefits (talk about engendering class warfare). How can the Republican party care about addressing poverty when it’s tax policies actually create poverty? And how can the Republican Party care about its Christian base when it’s economic and health policies actually harm us and the people we’re called to minister to? The notion that we ought to elect a party that robs us of our health and wealth while blaspheming the name of God just because that party waxes rhetorically about the sanctity of life is beyond insulting.
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15
God wants Christians to not only possess knowledge of the Bible, but also to excel in the knowledge of our trade and to generally possess a dedication to learning that befits a creation endowed with such vast reserves of learning potential. Yet the McCain campaign and GOP operatives are waging a war against intelligence. Whether it’s manipulating the fact that Obama overcame poverty to become a Harvard educated professor who correctly pronounces “Pakistan” to call him an effete elitist, or asking Americans to vote based on slogans (like “Joe Six Pack” or “Joe the Plumber”) that have no relation to reality, Republicans are actually trying to vilify intellectualism (further helping along that class warfare in the process).
When did the party of Teddy Roosevelt decide it was politically expedient to champion mediocrity? With the various “Joe” slogans, Republicans insult blue collar workers everywhere by expecting them to vote for the candidate who’s willing to talk “folksy” and drink a beer with them all the while lying about the fact that “Joes” across America will be worse off under McCain’s tax policies than under Obama’s.
But the poster-child for the Republican assault on intelligence is the once honorable John McCain’s running mate, who, by the way is also an affront to Christians. While professing Christianity, Sarah Palin has shown a penchant for lying whenever she opens her mouth. Whether she’s making up the story that the Alaska legislature fully exonerated her of abuse-of-power charges, proclaiming that Obama is an anti-American terrorist sympathizer, calling Obama a socialist (and now, a communist) who will raise all our taxes and “redistribute wealth”, or reveling in the hatred and rage she incites at her rallies, Palin has proven herself to be a lying, vengeful, slanderous hypocrite who uses Christianity as a resume booster.
She is also an unabashed anti-intellectual. While she’s not insulting working Americans by speaking with a hokey, sixth-grade-reading-level dialect (as though working Americans are too stupid to understand and relate to anything else), Gov. Palin is expecting the American people to swallow the proverbial tripe that she’s qualified potentially for the highest office in the world by virtue of (1) her ability to see Russia, (2) her overseeing of a national guard that might – any day now (whenever Putin “rears his head”) – be called on to defend the U.S. against a highly improbable Russian invasion of Alaska, (3) her recent U.N. coming out party where she, for the first time in her life, met foreign leaders, (4) the fact that her international travel experience is limited to a trip to Kuwait and Germany to visit Alaska National Guard troops – a trip for which she obtained her first passport – last year, and (5) her governance of an oil-rich state. We’re also supposed to ignore the fact that she cannot make it through softball television interviews – for which she had weeks to prepare – without stumbling incoherently through answers to even the simplest of policy questions and getting hopelessly stumped at both the fundamental questions – whether she agrees with the Bush doctrine, and the “gimme” questions – what newspapers she reads.
And after weeks on the campaign trail, she has yet to demonstrate the desire – as Colin Powell put it, the “intellectual curiosity” – to become a student of the serious international and domestic policy issues that she has no comprehension of but seeks to be in charge of. It was appalling that, in her only debate, Gov. Palin excused her inability to answer questions important to the American people by saying “how long have I been at this, like five weeks?” If she cared about anything other than smiling, winking and regurgitating campaign talking points, Palin would have used that “five weeks” to attempt to seriously consider some solutions to our national and international issues.
In that regard, Palin is an insult and a slap in the face to Christians. When stripped of her contrived “qualifications” we are left with a candidate whose only redeeming quality – with regard to the Christian base for whom she was nominated – is that she is a professed Christian who is pro life. And the implication is that Christians are either too stupid, too emotional, or too single-minded to see through her support for our values to the fact that she is woefully unqualified and was selected merely as a pandering tool. Sarah Palin embodies the ultimate betrayal of the trust that we placed in the Republican Party to champion our message.
I am unashamedly pro life and pro traditional marriage. Christ is also, though he would condemn abortion clinic bombers (who, by the way, Ms. Palin, notwithstanding your attempt to dodge the question and pander to the lunatic fringe of your “base”, are terrorists). And though He obviously did not condone the practices of the sinners of His day, Jesus walked among them, rather than separating His followers from them, for to those persons was His ministry.
True, Obama is not pro-life (though he is against gay marriage), but his stance on abortion is conciliatory, rather than divisive: “We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.” That statement is from his nomination acceptance speech. Obama is thus sincere enough to admit that though he has a differing opinion with fellow Christians on an important issue, he is willing to work together to solve a potentially divisive problem in a way that may remove the impetus for women to seek abortions. It is that desire to unite and seek common ground rather than divide that separates Obama/Biden from McCain/Palin.
I do not have any messianic delusions about Obama, but his career background and political message indicate that he has tapped into Christ’s message, and that he understands that a leader must be an advocate for all of us, not just those in his voting bloc. Contrast Obama’s message in his national introduction speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention with the divisive message of the Republican Party.
…there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits…like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?
Whether it be his early work as a community organizer and civil rights attorney, his achievement of bipartisan support for ethics and healthcare reform and higher tax credits for low-wage workers while in the Illinois Senate, his involvement with police organizations to enact death penalty reforms and seek an end to racial profiling, or his efforts at improving fiscal transparency (on which he received bipartisan support from John McCain, among others), criminalizing voter intimidation and improving healthcare and education while in the U.S. Senate, Obama has a record of bridging divides, reaching across party lines and working to end the social inequalities that plague the ethnically and economically disadvantaged members of our society. That balanced, unifying leadership is the kind of leadership we need in the White House. We need a leader that restores a sense of hope in a unifying purpose for this country.
[P]art of what has been lost these past eight years can’t just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose, and that’s what we have to restore…. [T]his, too, is part of America’s promise, the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.
Barack Obama, 2008 Democratic Nomination Acceptance Speech
We are a nation of fault lines. The oneness that saw us through the Great Depression and World War II to become the greatest, most powerful and benevolent nation on Earth has been replaced with a fractured society, defined by social discord and plagued by smoldering racial, economic, class and political tensions. We have become a selfish, individualistic, win-at-all-costs society that seems to only recall a unifying purpose in times of national tragedy. While this predicament is not the fault of one political party, no post-Cold War president has yet called Americans to a purpose higher than themselves. And the narrative-stealing “change” agents on the other side have demonstrated that they merely want to help America further dissolve into national obscurity.
As I’ve said before, Barack Obama pledges to change that course, “to bring to our highest office the wisdom, the morals, the ideals and the people necessary to steer the American psyche back on course…to restore in this country a sense of collective purpose and unified destiny.” Having the potential to be more than just a president, Barack is poised to be a transcendent, generational leader both embodying and effectuating reconciliation and restoration. That’s the change we need – a leader who simultaneously calls America back to a time when we were unified in collective pursuit of the “American promise” and forward to a present and future where we can actually attain that promise; a leader committed to genuinely helping the disadvantaged classes in our society achieve equality of opportunity.
These are values Christians can vote for. Obama’s platform calls for providing realistic educational, economic and healthcare opportunities for the poor, for the socially disadvantaged and for the economically distressed workers in our society. Obama’s vision – the veracity of his belief in which is borne out by his record – is for a country where Christians can fellowship with Muslims, where white Americans can break bread with black Americans, where “liberals” can find common ground with “conservatives”. Obama’s pledge is to restore America as a beacon of light for the world. This platform represents a more holistic cross-section of Christian values; for while Christians will not (and should not) agree with every stance taken by another social or religious group, our ministry is to the world and, thus, our political focus should be on electing leaders who not only advocate a broad swath of our values – thereby exhibiting our values to the world – but also effectuate restorative policies that will help those most in need. The time has come to do away with politics that pander to one of our values while employing rhetoric that spawns division and hatred and policies that do the most harm. The time has come for change. This is Barack Obama’s time.