Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Evangelicals and Political Independence

Recently I read a number of books on the intersection of faith and politics, most of them written by progressive evangelicals — Christians who adhere to an orthodox view of Scripture but who are disenchanted with the way our faith has been co-opted by the Religious Right and the Republican Party. The authors discourage all Christians, evangelical or otherwise, from pledging allegiance to either major party and encourage them to instead become politically independent.

All well and good, but each author interprets "independent" from a partisan perspective. Not one mentions registering as an independent or adopting a genuine independent perspective on politics.

I've tried not to become dogmatic about my own political independence; I've been careful not to suggest that my way is the only way. While I believe that each person needs to follow her conscience, I'm baffled when I hear someone urging people to become independent but never once suggesting that they sever ties with the major parties.

Here are a few reasons why I believe all politically minded, thoughtful Christians should at the very least consider becoming true independents:
  • Registering as an independent makes a clear statement that you have distanced yourself from the two major parties.

  • The mere act of declaring yourself to be an independent works on you in subtle but significant ways. You begin to think more critically about the issues and the candidates because you've begun to shed your long-held partisan biases.

  • By remaining a party member, people who know that you are a Democrat or a Republican immediately assume — whether you like it or not — that you agree with your party's entire platform. You are automatically pegged as pro gay marriage or anti abortion, pro war or anti family values, and so on. It's not fair, but it's reality.

  • The major parties covet the independent vote. We have an opportunity to be heard like never before. You may end up having more influence as an independent than you would if you were a party member.

  • Jesus said no one can serve two masters. We've seen what happens when Christians try to serve both God and party, and it isn't pretty. When the party wins that contest, everyone loses.

What do you think? Are there valid reasons for remaining a party member (other than being allowed to vote in primaries)? Are there other reasons why Christians in particular should register as independents and adopt a genuine independent perspective?


bullettheblue said...

I've actually been told that if I don't vote a certain way (ie, Republican, anti-abortion, anti-gay, "pro-family"), that I will go to Hell.

I thought of myself as an independent before that, but that's when I confirmed it. It's also when I confirmed myself as a liberal mainline church member rather than an evangelical. I actually became ashamed of the people of God, and in some ways, I still feel that way.

I saw your book for the first time last night at Borders, but had to make another purchase and I'm on a limited (college student) income. Next time I will definitely go back and buy it. THANK YOU for your willingness to voice what I and other people have been feeling for so long. I now identify myself as "purple." Blessings, grace and peace.

Marcia Ford said...

Thank you for your kind comments about the book! I was a panelist over the weekend at a forum in L.A. on evangelicals and politics, and an audience member (and Liberty U. grad) asked how we felt about the word "evangelical." I sensed that my fellow panelists felt as I did -- it's tough to call yourself an evangelical these days if you're trying to distance yourself from the religious right. I think a lot of us are, or hae been, ashamed of the way the people of God have behaved in the political arena.

A college student income? Tough times...I do remember. Buying a book I didn't need for class was a true luxury.

Fernando said...
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Fernando said...

When Jesus said no one can serve two masters, He was referring to some other deity. He also said render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar and to God the things that are God. I think I am an independent at the core, however given the political climate we find ourselves in today I'd say I have to call myself a democrat. The reason being Jesus always stood with the poor as do democrats. It's not that Jesus excludes the rich, it's just that he has this thing of lowering the hills and raising the valleys. It's very difficult to view the two parties just on the issues. A candidate can offer you this, that and the other thing but can they be trusted to take the helm of the most powerful position in the world and make decisions that will most definitely effect your life. Look at what happened with president Bush. I think it's important to look at the candidates from a character and record background to get an accurate picture of how they will govern. As far as issues like abortion, gay marriage, those are societal problems and not necessarily political ones. Our society has lost it's moral compass and it might surprise you to discover who is undermining the moral fabric of this great nation. What do you do in a messy society and political environment like ours. Do you wash your hands, stand back and say I'm not really a part of this and I would like to see things made perfect please. Even Jesus hung out with sinners and lepers even though he was ridiculed by the " religious" of His day. One question might be did Jesus ever vote. Well what if nobody voted. Personally I don't think there is an either or choice today. The neo-cons have hijacked the republican party and what they want to this nation is just unthinkable. In reality it's O.K. to be independent, so long as you see clearly what is at stake in this important election and really do your homework in vetting the candidates.

God Bless You.

Marcia Ford said...

Fernando, thanks for your thoughtful post. I agree --- we all need to do our homework and not just vote for a candidate based on one or two issues. And we need to do that for every office, not just the presidential candidates.