It’s complicated and yet so very clear

If there was a status designation for my politics, it would probably read “It’s complicated.” It’s much clearer for my religious faith, although that’s not exactly nice and neat either.

Over the years, my religious life and political designations have both changed. These are often seen as core identities of a person. Many people never change their religious affiliation, and it seems that even fewer people now have any openness to changing their political affiliation. Political affiliation has seemingly become the most important tribal identity that many people have in their life – to the point that I wonder if many would be willing to die or be martyred for their political faith. In many ways it seems as though a person’s political affiliation has become what religious affiliation used to be. Instead of people being condemned to hell, shunned, or excommunicated for their religious beliefs, we now have these type of actions taking place because of a person’s political beliefs. That’s not healthy. When one’s political affiliation takes on the importance equal to or even more so than a person’s religious affiliation, we have serious problems. Religion has a bad history of morphing into politics and attempting to gain power. It causes terrible suffering when it does. It’s far worse when politics takes on a religious form in which one’s politics are seen as equal to the divine. This combines the worst of politics and religion with terrible and destructive results. It usually ends in some sort of war and/or violence.

I don’t share my history very often, but given what I’m writing about, I feel it is important to share it now. I used to be big into the Republican Party. Way back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. You name it, I did it. I was the county Young Republican Chair, and then rose to the state chairman. I was an elected precinct committee person. I worked on Republican campaigns and got Republicans elected. in 2004 I got to be one of 300 people who spent time with President Bush in a park during the Republican National Convention. I was rising in the party and had every intention of running for office myself and rising through the ranks further.

But things started to change for me. For one thing I worked to get a friend elected as a district judge. She was a Democrat at the time. The district judge position is the lowest level judicial position there is – often dealing with renter/landlord issues and minor infractions like traffic violations. Hardly a partisan position – the mere fact that one could cross file for the position shows this. But my crossing the aisle to help someone I knew and who I believed was the best qualified candidate created a problem. The political people didn’t know what to do with me. It was worse when my candidate won by two votes. It was an upset win, and I ran the campaign.

Things kept getting worse and finally in 2006 I had enough. The trigger was the election of the PA Speaker of the House. The Republicans kept their majority in the PA House in the recent election and then re-elected a known corrupt politician. I had enough. I was vindicated later when that Speaker of the House went to jail for his corruption. I was done with the party that I had given so much effort to building up. The corruption was too much for me. What I was seeing was that political people within the party became more concerned with winning rather than living by any principle that they claimed. I would later call this believing and living by the ends justify the means belief system. I couldn’t. And so I left. I registered non-partisan and never looked back.

People ask why I never became a Democrat. Because I’m not really a Democrat either. I remember what the Democrats were in the 1980’s and have seen over the years too many Democrat politicians get away with what I consider terrible things and support policies that I can’t support. Parties ebb and flow over time.

I mourned leaving the party back then. But leaving freed me to see clearer. I often said that the party changed, but I’m not so sure that political parties change all that much now. What changed was me. I saw the party through a lens of principles and thought that the party had changed. In reality, I saw what I wanted and desired to see. It was only in encountering difficult situations that I was exposed to the truth of what was actually there.

The other question people ask me is who I vote for. It’s complicated. I vote for Republicans and Democrats. I’ve voted for Libertarians and Green Party people. I’ve voted for Independents too. And I’ve written in more people than I can count because when I look at who is on the ballot there are many times when I end up saying “you’ve got to kidding me. These are the options?” And I write in someone. More often than not, the people I vote for don’t win. But there are a small percentage of ones I do vote for that do, and I’m glad about that because these are good people. My standard for who I vote for has less to do with their stands on the issues and more with their decency, critical thinking ability, and how they deal with those they disagree with – are they disagreeable and petty, or are they willing to listen and consider alternatives and look for ways to find win-win situations. Those are people I consider good leaders and people that I can respect, regardless of whether we disagree on issues. Issues are secondary to a person’s character.

As I mentioned, my religious affiliation has changed over time too. I grew up Roman Catholic – an altar boy, lector, and became a 4th degree Knight of Columbus, and when I went to college, became the president of the Newman Club (the Catholic club on the campus I went to). I loved being Catholic. I didn’t leave because of anything I experienced in the church thankfully. I was called away from the church and into the Lutheran church – in quite a literal sense. And I have loved being Lutheran. I feel fortunate that I am Lutheran – learning about grace, saint/sinner, and the theology of the cross. And at the same time I can draw on my past in Catholicism – I am drawn to the mysticism of Catholicism, learning the examples of wonderful saints and their faith journeys, and a great appreciation for the sacraments.

I say all of this to provide some context to what I’m about to say. I don’t comment on the next things because of some kind of partisan reason. I don’t care about advancing either political party – I’ve rejected both of them and have serious issues with how broken each are, but in far different ways. I look forward to the day when the Democrat and Republican parties disappear, or at the very least become less important to the identity of people.

The recent video that Rep. Gosar used depicting the death of his colleague in the House is disturbing in many ways. And it is wrong. Not because he’s a Republican and the target is a Democrat. It would be wrong if a Democrat did it targeting a Republican. And I would be speaking out about it then too. I can’t think of an employer in which such a thing would end any different than that employee being fired immediately for such a thing. What is even more disturbing about this episode are the excuses being made for Rep. Gosar, along with the “whataboutisms” that are being thrown around. It’s wrong to depict the murder of your political opponents. Rep. Gosar lists his religious affiliation as Catholic. I’m curious how such a video is in alignment with his religious faith? Having been Catholic for much of my life, I feel confident in saying that at no time while I was Catholic was it acceptable to depict the death of an opponent. Then again, there’s a long history in the church of condoning the death of opponents – so maybe I saw only what I wanted to see. But here’s what I do know for sure – such a video is not Christlike, which is what we are called too. I wonder where the failure of faith happened that would bring Rep. Gosar to conclude that making such a video would be in alignment with his faith. Unless he believes that faith is just some compartment of his life, reserved for an hour on Sunday and having no impact on any other aspect of his life and not something that is foundational to life. That’s really sad. The action and the excuses speak loudly in the belief that the ends justify the means.

Recently Gen. Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor, made the following statement – “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God and one religion under God.” Since when did National Security Advisors (or former ones) feel the need to comment on religion in such a way? Where are the folks who get upset about clergy making political statements? I guess it’s ok for these folks as long as the statement aligns with their politics because I don’t hear any protest to Flynn’s statement. Such a statement is nationalistic to its core – and dangerous. Whatever that one religion is that Gen. Flynn wants is certainly not the religion I want. We may both be affiliated with the Christian religion, but based on that statement alone, I feel safe in saying that we don’t share the same set of beliefs about what Christianity is. Flynn’s statement leans heavily on force and compliance – an old set of values for Christendom, but certainly not Christlike. I’m more interested in Christlikeness rather than the promotion of the institution using force with the goal of compliance. What I hear is a belief that the ends justify the means.

The ends justify the means is not consistent with Christian faith, with Christlikeness. This belief is the antithesis of Christ and everything he taught. Christ taught that the means matter just as much as the ends. This is why following Jesus is about far more than just having a correct belief, but is also about how we live. The ends justify the means may be in alignment with institutional desires, but it has no place in the actual following of Jesus.

Depicting the death of an opponent is not Christlike. Such things are a refusal to see the image of God in others, and a refusal to love ones enemies. Christ taught, quite literally, that we are to love our enemies.

Trying to impose one’s beliefs on others is a form of using force against others. It is a way to force compliance. It is not a loving act and is not Christlike. It is in alignment with previous practices of the Christian religion – and I can say confidently that every time Christianity has tried to impose itself on peoples, it was sinful and destructive. And it is to be rejected.

Unfortunately Rep. Gosar’s actions and Gen. Flynn’s statements are not uncommon and seem to be growing in content, nor will they be the last time we see and hear these things. But just because we’ll hear and see more of these does not make them right. They aren’t. They are wrong. And people of faith need to speak out against such actions and statements because these things are in opposition in Christlikeness.

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