I feel like an adult now. For anyone who knows me well, that's a pretty big deal. The video game playing, sarcastic, baby faced, never take anything serious guy finally feels like an adult. I've been paying taxes for over a decade, I've owned a home for almost half a decade, and I have two kids. But none of those things gave me this feeling that I had grown up - that I was in the same league as the other adults at work or at church. I think I have come to realize that what has made me feel like an adult isn't that I have grown up. I still love video games and hate paying taxes. Rather, I think the world has grown up to me.
God began breaking into my life when the most recent refugee crisis came to light. I was broken by the stories and the pictures of hopeless lives. Their need is real, and they are seeking refuge in my country and with my people. We are in a position to help. But many of the Christians with whom I have associated, bellowed out against harboring refugees - for the sake of our own safety. While the liberals and atheists were trying to help the alien at a cost to themselves, many conservative Christians I looked up to as spiritual leaders were fighting to keep them out.
God continued to break my heart as the issue of abortion arose in political discussions. While I did - and still do believe abortion is immoral, my heart finally broke for women who choose abortion. Many of the Christians I know fight for a noble cause - to save human life. Yet we failed to consider all of the lives involved in the equation of birth. While the decision to abort is a horrendous one, I began to see it (in many cases) as a very understandable one. I now empathize with those who have influences and experiences that make the choice to abort seem like not much of a choice at all, but rather an inevitability or a necessity. And while the liberals and atheists were trying to love women and walk with them through hardship, many conservative Christians I looked up to as spiritual leaders proclaimed to love all life, yet only seemed concerned with giving lip service to the unborn.
Then God worked on my heart through the Black Lives Matter movement. I have to say that out of all of the issues, this was the hardest for me to come around to, likely because it is the area in which my culpability is the greatest. Thankfully, Catalina has a much more self-reflective and contrite heart than I do and was able to bring me around. I began to recognize that there is systematic injustice, I have biases and tendencies I never realized, and my black brothers and sisters need me to listen. And while the liberals and atheists were trying to open a dialogue of humility unto resolution, many conservative Christians I looked up to as spiritual leaders only spoke self-defensive proclamations of judgment and blame towards others.
Finally, God has worked on my heart through current politics. I have, for the first time, seen that the so called "values voters" are by and large the same as most other voters. They vote out of pure, rationalized self-interest. The party that I have always associated with Christianity - the conservative party - has been so focused on preserving their right to be comfortable and avoid hardship, that they're willing to vote for a man who has as some of his biggest goals, tearing apart families by sending most immigrants back to their countries of origin, building walls, and refusing refugees. On top of this, conservatives have chosen as a candidate a man who is openly degrading to women, dismissive of systematic racism and race issues, and disrespectful of anyone else who is not him. I find it quite telling that Republicans are seeking to spend a lot of money on the military, keeping people out, and kicking people out, while other parties seek to spend money on the immediate needs of those who are suffering. Regardless of your view on nationalized healthcare, Planned Parenthood, and the like - it seems like one party has been focused on fear, self-interest, and social regulation, while the other is focused on social assistance that often involves self-sacrifice. However misguided that assistance may be at times, I have to ask which group seems to have their hearts more aligned with what is good.
In all of these scenarios, I believe I have begun to understand issues beyond their polarized liberal and conservative forms. I am torn about the refugee crisis because I know that no matter how good our vetting system is, allowing refugees into our country will put my life and my children's lives in danger. In regard to abortion, I know that if a fetus is a human being, and all classes of humans have rights, are valuable, and are deserving of life, then no matter how difficult the situation is, it is wrong to attack and kill that life. I know that in the BLM movement many of the videos that come out show an individual who is not complying, and I empathize with police officers who have to deal with unknowns in a split second, life or death situation. When I hear people advocating that I vote for Trump, I feel broken as I consider voting for a Democrat or third party candidate who upholds abortion and initiatives I feel are fiscally unsupportable, and I understand wanting to protect religious freedom against the danger that Clinton likely poses. I'm just broken.
And there it was, the answer to it all. I am broken. But what came as a surprise should have come as an expectation. We as Christians should especially know the dichotomy that exists in this world. We know that evil and brokenness are out there, but through scripture, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and self-examination - we know that more than just existing out there - evil and brokenness exist in here - in our very core. It seems like many of my fellow Christians, like me, have forgotten the ubiquity of brokenness. We have come to believe that we, the pure of heart, along with our ideologies and our parties, are the only hope this world has. While wrong, we are at least half right. Our Christian ideology is the only hope this world has. But it is vital that we get our theology and our actions to align. For it is not us and our ideology of a legislated morality that will bring about change. The only true and living change comes through the grace of Jesus Christ poured out to the world, beginning with the most wretched of hearts - our own. This true theology produces two things - both of which seem absent in the current conservative party: love and humility.
One of the biggest forms of idolatry in United States today, and particularly in the evangelical church, is politics. We have the belief that only legislation can save us. But setting my priority as legislation betrays an ideology that says all that we as humans need to live righteously is a good set of laws. Contrast this with a life centered around humility, grace, and love, where I set my priority as helping those in duress at a cost to myself. In the latter instance, I exemplify an ideology that understands the gospel. It is an ideology that recognizes grace and mercy by not belittling the aggressor – who could just as easily be me, but by the grace of God. Such an ideology also allows me to help all of those in pain. This means helping not only victims, but the aggressors and sinners as well. Legislated morality only condemns, and often ignores the real plight of the suffering. Grace is the key component to a true Christian ideology and political driver.
Many misunderstand grace and believe that it only leads to leniency because it excuses evil. But grace has nothing to do with excusing evil. Rather, grace imparts good. It is the restoration of relationships. Grace does not come without a cost, and often involves directly addressing the consequences of evil. In fact, grace is not the burying of evil, but rather the bearing of it. But unlike bearing evil alone, when grace is involved, the consequences of evil are taken on, at least in part, by the gracious party. This is seen most clearly when God extended his grace to us, alleviating us from our plight of alienation. He did not excuse evil, but rather bore its consequences at a great cost - but a cost to himself. As Christians, we are not called to ignore evil, we are called to bear it in love and empathy, with our brothers and sisters, and with a world who needs to understand the transformative power of the gospel. This power comes in a message that is validated through lives that are lived in relationship and in community - not through more laws that assert supremacy and condemnation.
Unfortunately, I see very little from the conservative party that adheres to the gospel – to the true Savior who saves by mercy and grace. And while I am torn in this presidential election, it is a good brokenness. It is a reminder that all parties are composed of humans who mar what good they have been given. It is a reminder that my allegiance lies not with any party. It is a reminder that my gospel witness must focus more on love and action towards all. It is a reminder that I as a Christian am called to inspect and judge my fruit and the fruit of those who claim to be Christ followers. And most importantly, it is a reminder that there is only one hope and one savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Western church has the gospel and politics so backwards. Legislation does not change motive and action. Love and grace change a person. It is only once a person is changed that they will seek to do what is right. Conservative Christians, do you want to change the world? Then we need to start by actually changing lives - beginning with our own. The world will only know that Christ is in us by the way we love one another, not by the way we legislate. The world is in dire need of the gospel. But so are we.