I’ve been posting about Bernie Sanders in support of his presidential nomination a lot. I’ve gotten push back, mostly by ultra conservatives who don’t claim to have much else in common with me. But I know others are worried about me, probably including my mom who is far too nice to say it.
Prior to this, I almost never posted opinions about current events, politics, or anything controversial. I don’t like conflict, and I don’t think the internet is the right place to have a difficult conversation.
So, I have to ask myself, what changed?
To be honest, nothing really. I post about Bernie, but I still cringe when someone challenges it. I made a conscious decision to be vocal. The reason? I care.
Bernie Sanders is the only candidate in the history of my being of voting age (a whopping 13 years at this point), that I have cared about in the slightest. Not only do I care, but I care a lot. He fills a role that I never dared hope to see filled. A politician who both wants to reform the established status quo of American politics with all its corruption and who seems to mean what he says.
Until now, I couldn’t really even take solace in voting for the lesser evil. I have seen it all as a big game. No matter who we vote for, rich puppet masters are the ones who really shape policy. But in Sanders, I see the possibility of change.
For that reason, I would support him even if I disagreed on most of the other actual issues.
But I don’t. I agree with—according to www.isidewith.com (a site with a questionnaire you can complete to see which candidate you most closely match)—Bernie Sanders on 91% of the issues. And I took that quiz before I had ever heard of him.
Now, most of the people I grew up with and went to college with are thinking, “Where did we go wrong? How could such a smart young man have abandoned God’s values and turned into… a… a……… a LIBERAL!”
Oh, the shame of it.
I’m not kidding. For those of you who didn’t grow up in that environment, for an evangelical Christian, “Liberal” is a dirty word on par with “murderer,” “communist,” and “feminist.” (oh, wait, that’s right. That last one only applies to those same people…)
Having grown up in that culture, I once agreed with them, which is why I still have a hard time using that word and prefer “Progressive.” But to be honest, I don’t like labels and actually register to vote as “Not a member of a political party.”
Obviously, my ideas have changed. But it isn’t my faith that changed. It’s a crude and possibly fatal misconception that being Christian requires being Republican. In fact, as I have matured, studied Scripture, and grown in my understanding of God’s heart and the needs of his people, I have come to believe that Republicans (as a party, not as individuals) share zero values with the Bible. Democrats (as a party) share more, but still do not align well.
My faith is the most important aspect of who I am. For it to be real, it must influence every other part of my life, including how I think of politics and how I vote. I can’t claim to believe Jesus called us to care for the poor, for example, and then not vote or support politicians who would enact policies that would care for the poor. It would be hypocritical and faithless. It does not negate my responsibility to care for them more directly. Neither negates the other. Serving at a soup kitchen or giving money or donating or even inviting a homeless family to eat in my home would not release me of my responsibility to vote in a way that would effect help for not just the few I meet but all people nationwide.
My goal here is not to tell people why they’re wrong. I have simply realized that my understanding has changed in a big way that does not allow me to ignore it, and I want to share how I understand things.
Your first thought (if you’re a Christian and a Republican) is probably, “But what about abortion? How can you support murdering babies!”
The short answer? I don’t.
To be honest, I think both parties have it wrong. They have falsely and dangerously turned the conversation into a simplistic and irrelevant yes or no. Should abortion be legal? Check ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
I don’t want you to be so distracted by my answer that you can’t hear the rest of what I have to say, so I’m not going to try to describe my thoughts on this just yet. Maybe I’ll come back to it in another post.
Setting aside this issue (and same sex marriage, which I also see as being misapprehended by the Christian right) I see the values of the Bible lining up with what have traditionally been the positions of Democrats and other… progressives.
What are the big ideas that come up throughout the Bible? The values we see people living out or not, that God is happy when they do and sad/angry/grieved when they don’t? What about the other way around? The big things that make God angry when people do them and happy when they don’t?
Worshiping other gods – Bad
Violence – Bad
War – Bad
Exploiting the poor – Bad
Mistreating foreigners – Bad
Mistreating the powerless – Bad
Loving God – Good
Loving other people – Good
Feeding people who don’t have food – Good
Giving clothes to people who don’t have enough – Good
Helping strangers – Good
Making peace – Good
Healing sick people – Good
Accepting foreigners – Good
The list goes on, but let’s start there.
Worshiping other gods. That’s a tricky one to tie to American politics, but somehow many of the people I grew up with managed it. It usually began with “This is a Christian nation. The founding fathers…”
Never mind most of the founding fathers were Deists. Being a Christian has a lot more to do with what I care about and what I do with my life than with what words I print on my money or say while I stare at a flag or have scrawled across my t-shirt or bumper sticker.
If we’re going to talk about worshiping other gods or worshiping the one true God, let’s take a look at how the Bible summarizes what that looks like in a nation as a whole:
3 The Lord says, “Do what is just and right. Deliver those who have been robbed from those who oppress them. Do not exploit or mistreat foreigners who live in your land, children who have no fathers, or widows. Do not kill innocent people in this land. 4 If you are careful to obey these commands, then the kings who follow in David’s succession and ride in chariots or on horses will continue to come through the gates of this palace, as will their officials and their subjects. 5 But, if you do not obey these commands, I solemnly swear that this palace will become a pile of rubble. I, the Lord, affirm it!”
6 “‘For the Lord says concerning the palace of the king of Judah,
“This place looks like a veritable forest of Gilead to me.
It is like the wooded heights of Lebanon in my eyes.
But I swear that I will make it like a wilderness
whose towns have all been deserted.
7 I will send men against it to destroy it
with their axes and hatchets.
They will hack up its fine cedar panels and columns
and throw them into the fire.
8 “‘People from other nations will pass by this city. They will ask one another, “Why has the Lord done such a thing to this great city?” 9 The answer will come back, “It is because they broke their covenant with the Lord their God and worshiped and served other gods.” (Jeremiah 22:3-8 NET)
Look again at what God wants from Israel in verse three: get people out from oppression, don’t exploit or mistreat foreigners or people who don’t have a way to support themselves, don’t kill innocent people. Notice that God promises wrath for the nation if they don’t do those things, but when the question is asked ‘why did this happen’ and then answered in verse nine it is summarized as they broke their covenant with God and served other gods.
If you don’t do the things in verse three, then you serve other gods.
That’s how you know. Americans don’t worship Molech or Baal or Chemosh (which is a REALLY good thing if you know how people worshipped those gods). Americans worship subtler gods. Jesus names one Mammon. Money. That might be the number one god in the American pantheon.
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24 NET)
Later in Jeremiah 22, it describes how you can tell someone does serve God:
15 Does it make you any more of a king
that you outstrip everyone else in building with cedar?
Just think about your father.
He was content that he had food and drink.
He did what was just and right.
So things went well with him.
16 He upheld the cause of the poor and needy.
So things went well for Judah.’
The Lord says,
‘That is a good example of what it means to know me.’
17 But you are always thinking and looking
for ways to increase your wealth by dishonest means.
Your eyes and your heart are set
on killing some innocent person
and committing fraud and oppression.
(Jeremiah 22:15-17 NET)
Again, doing what is right and just is described as advocating for the poor, and it is even designated as good example of what it means to know God.
As far as the Bible goes, when it comes to doing the things that serve God or serve other ‘gods’ then the nation that takes care of its poor and powerless and the foreigners living in the land is the one that serves God.
Jeremiah 22 is not the only place. Read anywhere in Isaiah. Read the Gospels. Actually read your Bible as a whole instead of repeatedly referencing the few verses used to make a point by people who want their Christianity to be clean and proper instead of life-changing and transformative on a global scale. If Israel didn’t follow (at least part of) the biblically prescribed welfare system, Ruth would never have become the great grandmother of David and an ancestor of Jesus. This stuff is important.
Let’s look at another issue. Violence. Self explanatory. Violence is bad. We’ll throw in war here for the sake of expediency. Take a look and tell me which political bent sounds more biblical.
Why did God send the flood in Noah’s day? Violence. “11 The earth was ruined in the sight of God; the earth was filled with violence. (Genesis 6:11 NET)
The Lord approves of the godly, but he hates the wicked and those who love to do violence. (Psalm 11:5 NET)
In Isaiah, God describes his perfect kingdom as one where there is no more war and the weapons are destroyed and remade into tools that cultivate life. Neither party actually addresses violence biblically, but Democrats at least talk about the right ideas. War is bad, guys. There is no way around it. If you’re pro war, you’re anti-biblical-values.
The examples of the Bible condemning those who oppress or don’t take care of the poor are too many to count. Jesus’ whole ministry involved him helping people who needed food or healing (for present day, read ‘healthcare’).
I can’t read the Bible and get away with being OK with voting in a way that would reduce food stamps. I can’t read the Bible and get away with voting in a way that wouldn’t give access to healthcare to the most people. I can’t read the Bible and get away with voting for laws or politicians that would make the lives of immigrants more difficult.
The Bible talks about doing that very thing:
But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. 23 For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. 24 For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. 25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out – he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25 NET)
Now, I could keep going for a really long time about this. I could quote verse after verse after verse in support of caring for people as a nation, reducing violence and war, feeding people, providing for their health, combatting greed, seeking justice for people who are different than me, and all sorts of values that fly in the face of the Republican party and are exemplified in Bernie Sanders.
Honestly, it wouldn’t do much good. I already know what I believe. Many people I know already agree with me. Most of the people who disagree with me probably didn’t even get this far and if they did, they haven’t been swayed an inch. A few might be inspired to think about it a little. I hope that’s the case. I would love to talk more about it with those people.
My faith in Christ, my faithfulness to Scripture, and living out the fruit of the Spirit require me to follow this line of thinking. I must vote Bernie, but more, I must support the people who need support like people who are forced to live outside, or who are systemically disadvantaged because of the color of their skin, or who are sick or hungry or unemployed. I must support initiatives that promote love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. I must oppose hate, greed, indifference, aggression, oppression, and unhindered ambition. I must do these things in my own day to day life, and I must do them however I can, including with my vote.
To be honest, I feel like this post wasn’t anywhere near good enough. It feels like I came off as judgmental and didn’t do a good enough job explaining or supporting what I mean. I don’t really know how to make it better without going on, and on, and on, and I don’t think it would make much difference. The best way to connect when there are differences is to talk about it. An unending, impersonal monologue wouldn’t do it.
So if you want to talk about, please do. Please keep it civil, and let’s both try to actually consider the other’s point of view. That’s how we grow. That’s how I learn, and maybe that’s how I become more like Jesus.