I’ve been pretty quiet for the last almost-month since the United States presidential election. But good news, y’all! I’m not going to stop talking about politics.
Like many people, I was caught off guard by the results of the election on November 9th. I think I might be processing this for a while and I know we’ll be dealing with the consequences of this election for longer. So please don’t look at this as a definitive statement, but rather my first (coherent) reaction with many more to come.
In contrast to my morals and values, I have been partisan.
I first developed a political consciousness around the age of 13 or 14. This was during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was difficult for me, having been raised as a third culture missionary kid, to understand national pride and how a Christian could support a government that was doing terrible things to people, based on imaginary and arbitrary lines of distinction.
My distaste with politics in general grew and eventually, I came to the conclusion that Christians should not participate in the political system at all. This sounds crazy for people who grew up in a culture that almost entirely equates Christianity with America and democracy. As I sit in this coffee shop writing, I feel the urge to justify this viewpoint, but I won’t; that’s not the point I’m trying to make right now.
In support of this view, I didn’t vote for Barack Obama in 2004 or 2008. But I liked him. He was young, relatable, intelligent, and funny. He was a dedicated husband and father and I really liked him. I didn’t support him, but neither did I criticize and I eventually began to defend him in verbal discussions.
Eventually, I met and began to date a man who not only had served in the army in Iraq, but who openly identified himself as a patriot! This was a bit of a personal crisis for me. We began by having serious arguments about issues of loyalty to country, patriotism, and what the duties of a good citizen were. I respected him and began to see things from his point of view. It helped when he quoted at me: “Dissent is patriotic.” I also took a seminary class about the thoughts of Karl Barth and his idea of the two spheres that Christians occupy: the civil community and the Christian community. Barth was agonizing, from start to finish, so I won’t elaborate. If you’re interested in this, I can email you a 15 page paper on the topic.
The above, very long paragraph can be summarized as, I began to change my mind.
But as I became more politically aware and involved, I began to see a problem: the US political system is terrible on so many levels. And the federal government is doing things that are terrible, even as I type this. Furthermore, Obama supported domestic and international policies that I disagreed with. But I still just liked him so much! So I was silent. While I did not claim to be a Democrat, in practice, I was a Democrat.
This was wrong! To paraphrase Paul, “In Christ, there is neither Democrat nor Republican.” As a Christian, I claimed to support that which Christ would support and reject that which Christ would reject. The gospel does not fall neatly into the modern American political system. It was simplistic of me to try and make it. I am aware that this realization comes late; I am aware that some of my credibility has been lost with my circle of influence.
Nevertheless, I know that by the grace of God, we are all offered forgiveness and another chance to “get it right.” This is why I’m not going to stop talking about politics, but rather renew my commitment to speaking God’s truth whenever I can, without concern for political labels.
In light of this, there follows a short and incomplete list of deep concerns I have with President Obama’s policies.
- Set an aggressive foreign policy that seeks to further US interests by interfering in other sovereign nations. Here I would specifically call attention to Libya and Syria.
- Approved of and expanded the use of drones as a method of attacking enemy combatants without concern for civilian casualties.
- Failed to close Guantanamo Bay.
- Bailed out Wall Street and the banks that were “too big to fail,” at the expense of individual homeowners whose houses had been foreclosed.
- Responded to the Middle East refugee crisis inadequately.
- Supported neo-liberal ideas, by which I mean, ideas which allow corporations/entities a great deal of freedom to interact as “people” in the political and social sphere. This is related to (4) and prioritizes things like privatization (of schools, prisons, the military, etc), and deregulation. It also involves overconfidence in the morality of capitalism.
- Expanded the power of the executive branch through the use of executive actions, setting a dangerous precedent for future leaders.