this is an open letter written by a dear friend and brother – I think it is worth discussing and considering….
I mean Jesus had disciples who both hated the Roman occupation and those who collaborated with it… so is there room for political disagreement in the church today?
Dear Young Conservative,
I know this is slightly pretentious. You don’t know me. And chances are: I do not know you either – at least as well I think I may do at times. The problem however, is that I still have to write you this letter. There are some things that have been bothering me lately that I feel need addressing between the two of us, especially with the elections so near.
As your brother in the faith, I feel it my duty to address you with issues that need to be called to the light. Indeed it was the words of the Apostle Paul that charged each of us to “cast aside falsehood and to speak the truth to one another in love.” So I, being your other half – your counterpart – am charged with the duty of coming to you in humility, bearing truth, as charitably as I know how.
As I write, the 2008 Presidential race is at full throttle. No stone has been left unturned; no topic or feeling left untouched. It also because of this race – the race between Senator John McCain and Barak Obama – that has caused me in part to write you this letter.
The truth is, is that I am a social liberal. I am still your brother, rest assure; but I confess: I vote Democrat. And this race has already revealed some ugliness and bad blood between each other. I say “each other,” of course to mean, left and right; liberal and conservative. For that is the present reality of the state of our nation, our society: we are polarized.
The problem lies in the fact that we can not get past these clearly invisible boundaries, these barriers between us. Here I am: a young, liberal, African-American evangelical Christian writing to you – more than likely: a young conservative Caucasian evangelical Christian. I could of course be completely wrong about who I am writing to, but so far the media and its talking heads have done a good job of portraying us this way; of drawing this map; of depicting evangelicalism and evangelicals this way. And I’m afraid we have all too well believed it ourselves.
Indeed, it is confirmed to me, when I see it in the way I receive those cold but surprised stares from you upon learning that I am liberal, a voting Democrat, who esteems diversity and is suspicious of grandstanding litmus test issues among stereotypical evangelicalism: abortion, gay marriage and creationism. I of course have my strong opinions on each of these subjects (and others), but have come to realize that they are not easy: which is to say: they do not easily fit into neat conventions: they are not clichés nor sound byte answers: they are complex.
My younger brother once remarked during the last Presidential elections between George W. Bush and John Kerry, that if the Republican Party were really smart, they would try to “steal” some of the black vote (a major swing and dedicated bloc in the Democratic Party) by appealing to its deeply religious, traditional conservatism. He was right, you know. African-Americans, like many communities of color – whether from this country or beyond (especially those from the Global South) – hail from very morally conservative cultures. But these same communities are also very liberal, socially. Which really is a pretty intriguing mixture. Interesting. Just how exactly can a community be both deeply traditional on one hand and yet radically progressive on the other – at the same time?
Fredrick Douglass, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, as well as the entire Civil Rights Movement were all spitting examples of this paradox of moral conservatism and social liberalism at work. And I would even argue so was Christ, the early Church and the gospels themselves. And while we’re at it: both you and I – our current church so commonly and rather pejoratively labeled the Evangelical Church. Such a dubious moniker. (This may explain why the Church has so often turned to the New Testament and teachings of Christ for both ‘radical’ and yet ‘traditional’ beliefs, time and time again. Even C.S. Lewis – in his much beloved classic, Mere Christianity – noted this strange irony.)
The problem is, is that there are people who make their living off of trying to make it appear as if one were entirely and wholly, either liberal or conservative; a sort of Manichean way of existence, of living, moving and being. But if we were to be completely honest with ourselves, we would find that our spirits would testify to the truth of this argument: that we are not as divided as our politics would have us believe. You may see this at work or at school or maybe even at church: we do not sit around and bicker about everything, because we do not need to. We usually agree on the things that matter and are essential and bind us as humans. “Nothing human is foreign to me,” said the Roman writer, Terentius. It is therefore on the details that we differ, it seems. And why this dialogue between us must happen. And happen it shall!
But I wish I could convince you of that. I wish I could convince you, pour it unto your embittered hearts that liberals are not out to get you. That this so-called cultural war has bruised us all; radically distorted each other’s perception of the other. That though we liberals are often over-zealous and can be self-righteous in our pronouncements of what is just and what is not, we are not out to get you. I wish I could make you see the importance of diversity and how when there is no representation of people that look like me, in positions of influence and leadership, that hurts me and hurts the very heart of God and his Body, here on earth; that diversity is not an affront on moral absolutism, that it is not – at it is core – a veil of cultural and moral relativism out to denounce or demonize European ancestry and its rich and varied traditions.
And most of all, I wish I could get you to see that I am no less a lover of God, nor less dedicated to the advancement of the gospel, a seeker and promoter of justice and a proclaimer of Christ because I am a liberal. I think that may be one of the biggest misnomer white evangelicals must come to terms with if it is to ever engage with its brothers who are of color: that many of us are liberal – at least socially, and we are still as committed to the cause of Christ as you are. That for us, the line of justice is wider than abortion (or even sexual politics). That God’s heart bleeds over both the unborn and the child in the slums, in the hovels, in the crack houses and neglected homes, in our own backyards in America. To put it bluntly: God’s justice is larger than one political party, and for Christians, his Church – his physical manifestation here on earth, to be consigned exclusively to solely one political party is to ghettoize God’s voice and his work he desires to do right here on earth.
There could be no other explanation of Christ’s own maverick like behavior while he was here on this earth, disrupting the unchurched masses and the deeply conservative religious establishment at the same time. Indeed – if you will pardon the stilted metaphor – it would seem to his contemporaries, Christ was often too radical for the establishment and too conservative for the masses. A divine tension.
What that means for us, my fellow young conservative, is an exciting opportunity for us to finally begin to learn from one another, without the political suspicion of the other. To come one, come all in humility and simply listen and communicate without preaching at one another (as if we were preaching another gospel). The ultimate goal, I would hope, would not be some hippie shtick of peace, love and rock-n-roll; but a chance for us to see how God can and does move on each side of the spectrum without the demonization of the other. In the end, I think that is what Christ would what us to do anyways: the left hand serving the right one; each proclaiming how indispensible the other one is on earth. For the body is weak, but the spirit is willing.
Your Other Half