Interestingly, as time passed and I shared my plans to volunteer in this election, the responses I received from family, friends, and even strangers were as varied as the people themselves. Many of my friends who are liberal Democrats were excited that I was going to a "swing state" to help defeat the man they consider one of the most divisive Presidents in the history of our country. On the other hand, many of my conservative Republican friends chided me for supporting a "Massachusetts liberal" who if elected would destroy our economy and create the largest, most bureaucratic government in the history of our nation. And since I am an evangelical minister who grew up in a conservative evangelical church (The Church of the Nazarene), many of my evangelical Christian friends couldn't believe I was both a Christian and a Democrat, since many of them seem to think all Christians must be Republicans. Of course there were also many other evangelical Christians, typically silent about their political views, who shared with me their fear to admit publicly that their faith motivates them to reject the Republican party line because it does not represent all the values they hold dear.
Working on a political campaign full-time for three weeks was both a tiring and exhilarating feeling. Our original intentions were to go to Columbus, Ohio and mostly walk precincts and do phone banking. But on the way to Columbus, we received a call from the campaign asking if I would be willing to drive approximately 80 miles north of Columbus to a small town called Bucyrus, to help give leadership to the campaign office they were trying to establish in the final weeks of the campaign.
What we discovered was a county with approximately 50,000 residents, with Bucyrus (population 13,000) as the county seat. Most people here are farmers or work in one of the declining number of manufacturing plants located in the county. It is mostly white, almost everyone is religious and/or attends church regularly, and people seem to genuinely care about one another. In some ways, it is an icon of what many places were like in America fifty years ago.
There had never been a campaign office in the county before, so no one really had any experience doing phone banking or working on campaigns. People were, however, engaged in this election in ways they never had been before. We had senior citizens, housewives, union members, high school and college students, and everyday working people who all joined our efforts to work for change. As the campaign progressed, people became more energized, recruiting their friends and family members to volunteer, to the point where on election day, there must have been 50-60 people working at various tasks to get people out to vote.
I think the Democrats have mistakenly abandoned the whole conversation about cultural and moral values. Their silence, or avoidance of language that has the potential to sound "religious," leaves the impression that they lack any concern for moral or cultural values at all. This is unfortunate, since the truth is that many Democrats are driven by deeply held values of faith and justice, including a concern for the most vulnerable and disenfranchised members of our society. It's time for them to show that they are grounded in something larger than their own ideas. Unless they engage people of faith in a conversation about the values that the Republicans talk about, and frame some of their own ideals as moral issues reflecting values and a positive vision, they will have a hard time being anything other than the opposition to the party in power.
The Democratic Party seems afraid to use religious language for fear of alienating people, when ironically I think this election proves that people are hungry to connect these kinds of ideas in the context of a cultural and moral values discussion. Based on this incredible experience and the results of this election here are some of my thoughts to share with my different types of friends.
To my liberal non-religious Democratic friends:
Many of your core values of civil rights, affordable health care, the elimination/reduction of poverty, and a fair and just economy are core Judeo-Christian values born out of these historic faith traditions. The civil rights movement of the 1950's and 60's was birthed in the African-American church and I believe much of its success was rooted in a faith in a just God who believed all people were created in the image of God and deserved to be treated as such. While a lot of evangelicals do in fact make all their voting decisions based on two narrowly defined issues, there are many more who share many of your core values. Engaging them in a discussion in the context of faith and moral values will lead to not only greater dialogue, but maybe even some unlikely partnerships/friendships.
According to all the political pundits it was your turning out in record numbers that pushed Bush over the top. Since evangelical Christians seemingly were the key to the President's re-election (according to his top political advisor Karl Rove and "exit polls"), it seems to me that evangelicals ought to make some policy suggestions for the next four years to the President and his administration that reflect our historic values as people of faith.
Evangelicalism in America was birthed near the end of the 19th Century and was a movement that emphasized a holistic approach to the Gospel. Ironically, the foremost concern for many evangelicals in that era was the poor and those who lived on the margins of our society. So what does all that mean for us today? With the country so divided along political and cultural lines, is there anything that can be done by anyone?
Evangelical Christians can lead the way in helping push the President to promote some policies that are not only in line with our historic values, but could also appeal to others who may not share our religious beliefs, but share our concerns for the poor and those on the margins in our society.
Let's challenge the President to establish a goal of drastically reducing the number of people in poverty during the next four years and decrease the number of people who work more than 40 hours per week, but don't earn enough to provide the basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter for their families.
Let's challenge the President to do something about the healthcare crisis in this country that has left over 40 million Americans without basic healthcare coverage, and increased the cost of insurance for those who have it by nearly 100% in the last four years.
Let's challenge the President to resolve the war in Iraq and to return to the historic "just war" principles that Christians have advocated as a guide for our country for the last 200 years. We should be advocating for a "culture of life" that values not only the lives of all our citizens (both the unborn and the living), but also the lives of those who on the surface may seem to be our enemies.
To my progressive Evangelical Christian friends who don't have a
It's time to break your silence and to boldly speak out for a more progressive, holistic, evangelical voice in our politics. Your silence leaves a void that others with a narrower view of morality and values are eager to fill. You need to take back the words "evangelical Christian" from the Republican and fundamentalist Christian leaders who have co-opted that phrase for their own political gain. The word "evangel" literally means "to proclaim good news"; so to be an Evangelical Christian should stand for proclaiming the good news of the one called Jesus, who defined his mission by quoting the prophet Isaiah (Chapter 61:1): "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners." May God help us to be bold in our witness and consistent in our historic commitment to those that Jesus called "the least of these" in our world.