An individual comprises many aspects. He has his various tastes, his desires, his values, his wants, his talents, his achievements, his dreams, his future, as well as the self-identification he places upon himself to say “This is me.”
We are comfortable in thinking we know who we are, especially as we get older. We settle down into our lives, confident we know how to do certain predictable things and achieve predictable results. We are confident that when we speak the people who respect us will listen to us, and that’s all that counts. We know that we have a settled place in our society, and that we fit in. After a certain point in our lives, we really don’t change much in our position. Our attitudes and expectations are set. We don’t even think of it anymore, but at one time in our lives we struggled to figure out who we were and what we could do; now that we’ve arrived, so to speak, that struggle for self-identity is over.
In fact, if we’re not careful, our comfortable middle-age may gradually lead us into a life that no longer reflects the idealism of our youth. Where once we were afire with passion and righteousness, we can become placid and consumed with self-righteousness.
This happens to most of us, I think, and it happened to me. Realizing this is taking a lot of effort, and it’s not a process that is finished.
This same thing happens, I believe, to political parties, which comprise various factions and values all striving to become an identifiable whole. In America, there have consistently been only two major political parties, no matter their names, and no matter their values. There are two general places that the they coalesce around, and while those places shift in time, they tend to be based on economic identities with some attention to other values, including political values.
The coalescing is always going on, and while parties can become more fixed in their viewpoints on some issues, the rise of new generations and the passing of old generations tends to allow parties to gradually shift their positions over time without even noticing it. Like people who age who gradually shift away from their youthful principles, parties can age and shift away; it takes a rejuvenation and a regenerated sense of purpose for parties to recapture the flame of their youth.
Now, this leads me to my departure from the Republican Party. (Trust me, I’ll tie these things together.)
I grew up in Southern California in the 50s and 60s, and saw and experienced the conflagration of general American principles during the time of great upheaval. I was transfixed by the death of JFK and the onscreen murder of Oswald (which I saw directly), and while I was only mildly upset at the death of Dr. King (because I was not capable of comprehending his place in American history), I was shocked at the death of RFK just a few weeks later. It seemed America was falling apart—or maybe was going to explode. There were increasing numbers of riots in American cities. Kids on campuses were attempting to take over their schools against all reason (they weren’t the owners of the schools; what right did they have to do so?)
Yes, I was impressionable—I was only 14, but based upon what I saw and felt, the civil society I believed in was falling apart in ways that didn’t make sense. I felt an inclination to support the values that gave me comfort—the values of God and country, of a return to normalcy and stability. It was during the 60s, and the President was experiencing more and more of a credibility gap—the famous inability of Lyndon Johnson to tell the truth.
During the ramp-up to the 1968 election, I followed the general debates closely—who was talking about what would most bring about stability in America. It seemed to me that the consensus around the Democratic Party was that the Vietnam conflict was a mistake, and that we should withdraw American troops because we had failed in our efforts to achieve an American culture of democracy in Vietnam—with all the efforts of America, the Vietnam peninsula was growing less democratic, not more. And there was, of course, the fear that the fall of Vietnam would lead to the fall of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma—the whole set of dominoes that would go down if Vietnam were to fall to the Communists.
In the America I lived in, the world was coming apart. There were daily reminders of campus violence, sit-ins, demonstrations, tear gas being used to control students who could not be controlled. To my mind, it appeared as if kids didn’t understand how grateful they should be for the blessings of liberty and freedom, and that they were taking advantage of the American college system. How could they think that they were the ones who could determine whether a college was open or closed, or even determine the classes that could be taught?
I will have to say that I didn’t pay much attention to the civil rights struggle going on at the time, which is both a matter of awareness and a matter of valuation—I didn’t consider the struggles of the American underclass in any way, and didn’t comprehend how much the unseen struggled to be seen and heard.
It was tumultuous, and it appeared that America truly might just fall apart.
In this mix of chaos came a man who had been a Senator, a Vice-President, a Presidential and a Gubernatorial candidate, and he spoke words that he would bring peace and safety and calm. It was Richard Nixon, and he appeared to be the statesman of America and the world.
I could not vote for him, of course, as I was not 18 at the time of the election, but I supported him over Hubert Humphrey. And I was glad to see that in a very close election Mr. Nixon was elected. And at that time I made the commitment to follow the Republican Party, because I felt it was the party of peace and stability and godliness and honor and flag and country.
Richard Nixon, of course, had to resign in disgrace for his manipulation of the 1972 election, but I stayed faithful to the party. I voted for Ford because he was a good man who pardoned Nixon to remove the problem of trying a former president for crimes committed in office. I voted for Reagan twice, because of course the Republican Party was going to restore American greatness, and I voted for Bush I in 1988 because while he didn’t appear to be Reaganesque, he was Reagan’s VP and he deserved to win. Then I voted for Bush I again in 1992 against Clinton and Perot, and for Dole in 1996 even though, honestly, Dole was a terrible candidate—someone who just walked into the candidacy because it was his turn.
In 2000 and 2004 I voted for Bush II because he appeared to be an honest, upright man, and in 2008 I voted for McCain even though I had sworn I’d never vote for him, because, well, he was the Republican.
But I have to say, there was a rising sense of discomfort over the direction of the Republican Party, and I had been going through personal struggles about my own changes and my own understanding of my values. I had become a Christian in the early 70s, and my Christianity got identified with the Republican Party—they were the party of God, after all, and the Democrats weren’t.
But my Christianity really wasn’t identified with the Republican Party over all—what my religion valued were people—the hurt and lonely and lost, the marginalized and the forgotten, the ones who were broken and wounded. The lost and the forgotten and the sinners really weren’t the people the Republicans valued—or even that the church valued. the people and the church valued were the good and the godly and the just and the upright—the ones who lived the upright, moral, American life, the ones who did what was expected to keep the economy moving and the church thriving. If you wanted to fit in to the American and the church that I knew, it was up to you to make the changes in your own life. You needed to come to church, you needed to do the work to be a hard worker and an honest person to be a Republican, you scrimped and saved and exhausted yourself in order to provide for your family because, by God, your government should not in any way assist you in your life and your struggles.
It seemed quite weird to me to hear sermon after sermon talking about the need for a life of integrity and honesty and love, and yet to see how the church identified itself with the Republican Party, which was not about honesty (witness Nixon) and love (witness the hysteria of any attempt to have a government which reflected Christian social values such as mercy and justice and welfare. Instead, the government values the Christian church promoted were values such as resistance to changes in civil values such as the right of women to be full and equal citizens, to suppress the rights of black Americans to be full and equal citizens, to suppress the rights of anyone in America who did not fit into the image of the straight white Christian. There was so much that didn’t fit in to what I heard preached, and yet the church overall proclaimed that the Republican Party was the party of God because, for one, the Republican Party claimed to be against the right to abortion, and the Republican Party also became identified as the party against the rights of non-straight people to have equal rights.
It was crazy-making in my head. How could I be a believer in a merciful Jesus and be identified with a party that was so utterly cruel to the downtrodden? How could I be a follower of Jesus when the party I identified with was literally bloodthirsty with regards to the death penalty? How could I be someone who said “I am a model of the accepting and loving Christ” when my party excluded so many people from full civil rights?
I could not maintain it, but I spent many years trying to make it work. I tried the excuse that the church and the state were separate, but I could not do it—the values I carried as a believer were human values, and they were life-affirming. I tried the excuse that the church was a kingdom not of this world, and that I should render to Caesar the things of Caesar, but I was actually interpolating my church values into the civil government of America. The America I was trying to support was more and more simply an extension of an extremely conservative social and religious structure.
I was becoming someone who was letting my church enforce its religious values upon citizens in American who did not share those values. There is nothing in the Bible that supports the rights of believers to own the government or to determine what the government should do except that the government should enforce justice. But justice in the American system was becoming more and more a system that supported the powerful and the rich and the well-connected and the self-rewarded. It was ignoring the cries of the dispossessed—the very people Jesus came to save and serve.
My government and my church were becoming entwined, and it was not good.
And I was a Republican through all this. I believed in the party, in its goodness and in its principles. The Republican Party was the only party that would do the right thing.
But really, it became apparent that the government was becoming more and more wildly unChristian in its support for continuous war with a convenient enemy, in its disinterest in the plight of Americans caught in the cycle of poverty, and it its completely unconscionable support of the wealthy in their continuous efforts to achieve wealth and control of America and the world.
If the kingdom of Christ is not of this world, then it appears to be wrong to support the people who are attempting to gain control of this world.
The Republican Party simply was the party of greed and dishonor and unfairness. It was the party that wanted to continue ignoring the awful plight of the poor and the oppressed in America. It was the party that simply supported only the presentable.
I finally could no longer support the Republican Party. I could no longer suppress my own religious values, and my own sense of the kingship of Jesus over my life and over this world. He was the king who demanded justice and fairness and attention to the people who cried out for help. He was the king who bent down to save the needy. He was the king who comfortable being born in a feeding trough, in living in a hick town, in living in poverty, in dying with few few friends. He was not someone who loved the spotlight or who wanted to associate with the powerful as a shortcut to accomplishment.
I could not associate with this party any longer.
And the break was made complete when the Republican Party firmly associated itself with the craziness of the birther movement. President Obama is a flawed man and a flawed President. Every President is so flawed. But President Obama is also someone who has the unique property of being black in America. He is a representative and a member of the class of people in America who have historically been ignored and put aside, who have been told for centuries to shut up and stop trying to cause a problem.
There is in America systemic racism against (mainly) black Americans. This is not a secret. And President Obama is black. He is the representative member of black Americans, and a lot of non-black Americans are uncomfortable with this president being the president.
One way to reduce the legitimacy of his presidency is to attack his worthiness for office. There are only a few requirements—you must be a citizen, and you must be 35 years old, and you must have been born on American soil. That’s it.
The Republicans could not oppose him on his own worth, so they tried a trick of attacking his legitimacy by attacking the circumstances of his birth. Instead of simply opposing him politically, they opposed him by questioning his American-ness. They questioned whether he was “really” an American.
To a white American, this is, on the surface, no big deal. Anyone in white America is seen as a citizen and is accepted. But black Americans have for centuries been seen as outside of America. They have been seen as the other, as not Americans, as second-class Americans, as people who only deserved the second-best or the left-overs. They should be grateful to be allowed to even be living in this country, and they have simply not been seen as full Americans. They have always been seen as probationary Americans—as long as they behave, they won’t be attacked.
But Mr. Obama broke through this to be an American President, fully qualified to be President, elected lawfully to be President, and sworn into office as the full President of the United States.
There was nothing the Republicans could do to attack this, so they tried the strategy of questioning his American-ness. Like all black Americans, he was perhaps probationary. He wasn’t a real American, and he was in office accidentally. He could be smeared and attacked for being not a real American, and it was all aboveboard and innocent, a pretense that nothing in America had happened in the previous 400 years.
It was cynical and dishonest, awful, and definitely unChristian. And yet the conservative Christians ate it up.
It was awful.
I could not stand it any more. I did not vote for Mr. Obama, as I considered him unqualified. (I have since changed my mind.) And yet—he was fully an American, and he was the President. Oppose him for his policies if you like, but don’t pull this dishonest attack upon him as not being American.
The Republican Party has simply gone insane, and is unChristian. I can no longer support it. I can no longer call myself a Republican if I want to also call myself a follower of Jesus.
I’m not saying that every Republican who calls himself a Christian is wrong, or even must choose one or the other. I’m not only not the judge of that, I have no interest in that judgment.
I am only saying that for me, I cannot be both Christian and Republican. I cannot serve God and Mammon.