The day I found out Christians could be Democrats

One of the most important reasons I started this blog: to fill the void of too-few liberal voices talking about how our faith inspires our politics.

When I was about ten years old, growing up in a conservative Christian home, I asked my grandmother if she was a Republican or a Democrat. Obviously, I knew she was going to say Republican, because all Christians were Republicans. (My grandparents, who were given awards for their perfect Sunday School attendance – as adults! – and watched Bill Gaither Homecoming videos, were most definitely Christians, in the cultural sense and in the most personal.)

Except she said she was a Democrat, and it poked a hole in my worldview.

It was the first hint I had that politics might be more complicated than I had previously realized. (To be fair, I was ten. The entire world was more complicated than I had previously realized.) What I didn’t know then was that Democrats, with their New Deal and Social Security and fairer labor laws, had made the American Dream possible for people like my grandparents, who never graduated high school; who drove a garbage truck; who worked at a factory. Democrats made it possible for them, and so many others, to create a good life out of hard work and to raise children who had more than they did. One of their sons went on to own his own business. Another, my dad, got a doctoral degree. My grandparents were so proud.

Back to faith.

My grandfather who was a garbage truck driver was also a farmer. At his funeral, people our family didn’t even know packed into the church and later told us how he would bring them food from the farm when they were down on their luck. That was part of my inheritance from my family: I learned that you’re supposed to help other people because that’s what Jesus would do. That’s what love would do.

Republicans argue that government shouldn’t be in the business of helping people, because people should be helping people. I can understand that to some degree. Certainly, the onus is on us as individuals to love our neighbors as our selves.

Unfortunately, no matter how I and my local faith community may help people, I have to recognize that not all people have access to a community that gives generously. I have to recognize that too often churches place restrictions on their helping, that exclude the very people who may need it the most. Additionally, I recognize that not all congregations have equal resources to help their communities. Some areas of the country need more help than others. I appreciate that there is a federal government that can provide help and is accountable to us, its people, for doing so in fair ways.

One may deride that as socialism, but when all is said and done, it is, for me, more personal than any political label. It’s about my faith. It’s about what I learned, deep in my bones, from the words of Jesus and the life of my grandma and grandpa.

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I once debated against gay marriage

Or: An Essay on How Someone Could Look at Jim Obergefell and Not Be Happy for His Love to Be Recognized

Let’s be clear: the Apostle Paul got a lot of things wrong. But one thing I think he got right: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put the ways of childhood behind me”.

In 1998, I participated in a school debate and chose the side arguing against marriage equality. My premise, I am very sorry to say, was that it would be bad for children. I was 17, and I was regurgitating what I had heard from those around me. I hadn’t actually met anyone who I knew was gay. Within a few years, my intellectual understanding had grown enough that I knew I had been wrong, that regardless of whether I “agreed” with homosexuality (that’s how I heard people around me talking about it. Like being gay was some sort of political stance, a side you chose), equality before the law was an issue of civil rights, and all adults capable of consent should have the right to be married.

As I came to this conclusion, I continued to wrestle with whether homosexuality was a sin. By this time, I had a gay friend. He, too, was a Christian, and he tried to date girls. One night I sat beside him and held his hand and cried as he talked about his internal war. The fight to not be who he was.

He loved God just as much as I did.

By the time I was in my mid-20s, I had opened my heart to the reality that I didn’t know it all. That there were people who called God by a different name or not at all, and they loved and were good and smart and kind. The religion I grew up in didn’t have the corner on knowing God. My world had grown larger, and I had a better understanding of my place in it and the possibility of many different ways of being.

When we are children, the world is me-centric. We think the rest of the world is or should be like us. But we are supposed to grow up. We are supposed to put the ways of childhood behind us.

Of course I am incredibly relieved and encouraged by the Supreme Court’s legalization of same sex marriage this week, but my heart still drops at some of the comments I’ve heard or read from acquaintances and friends. People who I know love their families. Would give their friends the shirt off their backs. But there is a disconnect in their sense of common humanity. I can only hope that as they get to know gay families, as their own children and grandchildren come out, the disconnect will be fused. I know the momentum is there. I see it happening like a river, like a never-failing stream, and yes, sometimes like a thunderbolt.