A Note for Conservative American Christians Before an Election

I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior at the age of 11 while attending a Baptist church in rural New Jersey. A few years later, I began attending Fellowship Baptist Church (now Fellowship Community Church) outside of Philadelphia.

This is where I read through Voter Guides that detailed the pro-life positions of candidates, preached my first sermon, lead worship on Sunday morning, and decided to pursue ministry. I worked with one of the up and coming young pastors at our church each summer, and we spent most of our days tuned in to a Christian radio station that mashed together a politically conservative Christian perspective on news with straight up conservative radio shows.

I knew all about the latest court cases involving Jay Sekulow’s Christian group, The Center for Law and Justice, which often engaged in lawsuits over what kinds of religious t-shirts kids could wear to school. We listened to a lot of Rush Limbaugh throughout the impeachment of Bill Clinton. I never even seriously considered voting for a Democrat until 2008.

While attending seminary at a conservative evangelical school outside of Philadelphia from 2001-2005, I began to ask questions about my politics even though I remained a supporter of George W. Bush. Once I began to ask those questions, I eventually realized that I could no longer align myself with the Republican party in good conscience.

I have no qualms with individuals who support the conservative ideals of limited government, which used to be a Republican ideal as well. However, the Republican party has raised one red flag after another, and I encourage all people of conscience to closely examine the language and the policies of Republican politicians in the upcoming election.

My belief is that the majority of Republican politicians at this point are largely manipulating and exploiting my Christian brothers and sisters by tossing them the occasional policy win while running roughshod over the well-being of minorities, giving massive tax handouts to the most wealthy, passing disastrous tariffs that are hurting hard-working farmers, undermining the healthcare that thousands, if not millions, depend on, ignoring the ways that healthcare can dramatically reduce abortion, and failing to take the very real threat of climate change seriously.

If I can briefly trace what I have seen, we need to begin with the tactics of conservative radio that have also come into full bloom in news outlets like FOX News.

First, these shows create the perception of a problem or a threat that doesn’t actually exist. They amplify and distort a news story in order to create a narrative and the perception of a terrifying trend. When viewers/listeners are stirred up with enough fear, outrage, or both, they can then direct their viewers/listeners to support conservative candidates who will address their fear and outrage—which the Democrats aren’t addressing after all because they are based on a false premise to begin with.

For instance, an American student who is told to change a t-shirt with a religious message is hailed as an example of modern day persecution. A city’s challenge to a church’s significantly discounted public school facility rental is presented as an attack on freedom of worship. The extreme agenda of the Freedom from Religion Foundation is broadcast widely as the vanguard of a wider liberal scheme to destroy religion (it’s not).

Conservative news outlets broadcast dire predictions and warnings, and so Republican politicians swoop in as the heroes who will defend Christians in America from the liberal assault on their freedom. The trouble is that our elected officials are overwhelmingly Christian, and those that are not Christian have expressed no interest in waging a war against freedom of worship. Even when President Obama assured us of his Christian faith, conservative news outlets stirred fears that he’s secretly a Muslim working against Christians.

The brilliance of this strategy is that Republicans can use this false persecution narrative in order to secure votes from people who are otherwise not benefitting from their policies. The tax laws are benefitting the wealthy, Republicans have ballooned the deficit in order to justify cutting medicare and social security, the ACA is under constant threat, and our political leaders are failing to take the very grave danger of climate change seriously. They have successfully created a culture war narrative that requires them to provide next to nothing for their constituents because they are solving problems that don’t exist. They can tout their triumphs of defending religion while attacking the policies and institutions that could actually benefit their constituents.

Even more damning, I have seen wide scale attacks on the right to vote in many states where elections are often close. In Ohio, there was obvious partisan gerrymandering, and while we lived there we often signed petitions to appoint a by-partisan group to draw the district lines. We saw polling locations closed and voting hours limited only in areas with larger minority populations. The wealthy white communities that were more likely to vote Republican had no limitations placed on their voting hours or locations, ensuring ample time and short lines.

This same tactic has been used throughout other states, including North Carolina where gerrymandering has been an ongoing threat for minority communities. In Alabama, there are voter ID laws that make it all but required to have a driver’s license, but Republican leaders at the state level have closed down many DMV locations in minority areas, making it that much harder to get a license in order to vote.

And so we see a tactic among Republicans to use distractions for their middle class or upper middle class voters, while using obstruction for the lower income and minority voters. These are all well-documented. You can look all of them up and find multiple sources. I witnessed some of these things in real time.

I don’t believe that every Republican is evil or is in 100% support of such tactics. However, the trends are plain to see and they’re undeniable.

Access to voting shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but Republicans have made it one.

The persecution of Christians in America is not happening, but Republicans want their supporters to believe that it is.

Abortion was dramatically reduced because of the Affordable Care Act’s healthcare benefits, but Republicans want to repeal it.

Thousands, if not millions of Americans face death or extreme suffering if the ACA is repealed, but Republicans have made it a cornerstone of their policy.

The Trump administration has used racially charged language, attacked Latino, Arab, and black communities specifically, and emboldened white supremacist groups, but Republicans have not countered this dangerous rhetoric.

Climate change could cause a dramatic increase in severe weather events all over the world and devastate many coastal communities, including some of the poorest people in the world who live by the coast, but Republicans have not addressed the severity of this problem and instead turned it into a partisan culture war with flag waving coal miners vs. out of touch liberals who want unsightly solar panels and wind turbines.

Kentucky even has a “Friends of Coal” license plate!!! It’s more like “friends of climate change.”

I’m not saying that Democrats are perfect. Some have poor policies and troubling pasts for sure. However, when it comes to some basic issues that could literally save lives and protect the basic human dignity of millions or more people, Republicans have largely relied on obstruction, distraction, and deception.

I hate writing about politics. The last thing I want to do is to spend time following politics. But if I am going to truly love my neighbors and affirm the dignity of God in all people as well as the worth of God’s beloved creation, I cannot sit idly by while Republicans deceive and exploit my people to the detriment of many.

I will be voting for Democrats during this election. I look forward to a time when I can seriously consider the candidates of both parties. That is my preference by far. That, however, is not our reality. We have the Democratic party that is at least attempting to serve the interests of the majority of people and the Republican party using obstruction and distraction to pass policies that are already doing great harm to their own constituents.

I don’t see myself as someone who abandoned my ideals or the things I learned growing up in a strong Republican family in Philadelphia. We were the people who supported smart policies, freedom, and individual liberty. I spent so many years thinking that Republicans were the good guys.

Today, I can primarily only see crass exploitation and opportunism that, in part, relies on deceiving my Christian family in order to prompt them to vote against their own interests and the interests of their neighbors.

It feels terrible to find out that you’ve been deceived. Believe me, I’ve been there. But we have to stop electing the people who will give us a few policies we want while sacrificing our ideals and the well-being of our neighbors. Christians are numerous enough in America to demand bi-partisan Congressional districting, the end of voter suppression, healthcare for all, AND pro-life policies.

I won’t stay silent while alleged Christians pollute the news with shameless propaganda and half-truths. We can be better than this. The problem, in part, is that we’ve settled for so much less than we should be demanding.

My prayer today for you is that you will vote with the well-being of our neighbors in mind, with the well-being of our children in mind, and with the well-being of the most vulnerable people in our communities in mind.

Demand higher morals from our elected leaders and use your influence to ensure that everyone is treated with equality and justice under the law. The place that starts is in the voting booth, and in the majority of races, equality and justice are not coming from the Republican party.

 

I Understand Why the Evangelical Subculture Supports Trump

Growing up in evangelical Christianity, I was steeped in the alternative Christian media that included radio stations and eventually websites that peddled current events with a generally conservative spin.

I attended seminary, and I worked in a church affiliated with the Willow Creek Association, a large network of churches that receive resources and discounts at conferences hosted by Willow Creek, a Chicago megachurch. I was deeply embedded in the evangelical subculture for about ten years as a participant, and then, following seminary, I took a more critical stance while still writing within the evangelical world.

Seeing the unwavering (primarily white) evangelical support of Donald Trump has offended my commitment to the life and teachings of Jesus, but it also makes a measure of cultural sense. White evangelical culture has been prepared for a leader like Trump. Here’s why:

The Flaws of Evangelical Leaders Are Tolerated for Higher Goals

The goal of just about every evangelical pastor is to preach the Gospel and to grow the church. Evangelicals believe that failing to grow the church means that you’re not preaching the Gospel.

As long as a church is growing, then a leader is more or less safe. It takes a significant moral failure, typically an affair, for a church to get rid of a pastor. Mark Driscoll was emotionally abusing and bullying the leaders and members of his church, but it took a misuse of church finances on his book’s marketing campaign to prompt enough people to remove him. As long as his church was growing, he could lead as he saw fit.

In the evangelical world, if a leader can deliver something defined as a higher moral good, then that leader can use borderline, if not outright sinful means to accomplish it.

Dissent of Evangelical Leaders Is Considered Divisive

It doesn’t matter how mean, divisive, or problematic a leader may be in many cases. If a church member or outsider dares to challenge an evangelical leader, the dissenter will be criticized as divisive. I have heard this all of the time for years. The people who blow the whistle or support the whistle blower are ALWAYS considered trouble makers who rock the boat.

The anger many evangelicals feel about this is fully warranted.

I am sorry to be crass here, but I have zero fucks to give about this. ZERO. It’s an epidemic, and I’m done with it. I’ve read Christian news for one of my clients for over five years, and I’ve seen this play out enough that I have no problem being viewed as the “asshole” in a church if there’s a safety issue or a leader is abusing power. I will be kind and constructive, but I will not be silent about the heaping piles of bullshit that evangelical leaders pile on their church members who try to hold them accountable.

For too many evangelical leaders, accountability flows from the leaders down to the congregation, but God help anyone who dares to speak up about their hypocrisy or abuses. Sorry folks, zero fucks given here.

Bible Stories about Leadership Are Applied Loosely (Read: BADLY)

In college, I attended a church that challenged a leader’s plan to build a giant new facility. The pastor prepared a sermon the following Sunday where he equated himself with Moses and the congregation with the people of Israel who opposed their “God-given” leadership. When the people refused to obey Moses, the ground swallowed them up.

An evangelical pastor in a seemingly otherwise normal church of 300-400 people preached this sermon. We should have all gotten up and walked out then and there. It was a ghastly and manipulative interpretation of scripture. He turned a historical account in the nation of Israel into a kind of object lesson to impose onto his congregation.

Evangelical pastors tend to avoid the teachings of the prophets or the Pentateuch about justice or caring for the poor. You won’t hear much about the Year of Jubilee or the types of sacrifices that God finds acceptable in evangelical churches. You will hear plenty of stories about good kings and bad kings. That isn’t a mistake. Just like the people at the time of Samuel, evangelicals love having a “king” (i.e. CEO) like the other groups in America. They’ll bend over backwards to defend the authority of the American government by citing Romans 13.

Evangelicals Nurture a Persecution Complex

I’ve read many different explanations about this, tracing our persecution complex back to either a poor reading of scripture when Christians were actually persecuted (as in, killed) for their faith or a smoke screen perpetuated by Christian media outlets. Every slight, insult, or lawsuit that can in any way be twisted into a persecution narrative is exploited to the hilt.

For instance, I used to attend a church that met in a high school in Ohio. It wasn’t an issue at all for us to rent a public space, but in Hawaii and New York City there have been debates about the tax issues related to the rental of a public school by a nonprofit church. Both states had different nuances to the issue, but at the heart of the matter, no one was trying to keep Christians from gathering for church. The concerns were about special tax preferences for churches.

None of this mattered for Christian media, where each case was stirred up into a seething froth of fear and anger over the persecution of Christians. This story just reinforced a narrative that, for some evangelicals, has been part of a lifelong siege mentality.

Traitors Are Dehumanized and Dismissed by Evangelicals

For many evangelicals, there is a fine line between the truth that saves and the error that condemns. Those living in error who aren’t saved are condemned to hell. While many evangelicals will tell you, and demonstrate on paper, that they care very much for the people who are going to hell within their theological framework, the reality is much more complex.

Yes, there missionaries and evangelists who may have a very compassionate and personal approach to those viewed as outside their camp. However, for many evangelicals already living in fear of persecution and believing that their theology is under siege from liberal Christians and atheists, it’s very easy to begin dehumanizing or at least dismissing those who differ from them.

To dialogue with those outside the camp invites the danger of changing theology and falling into error. “Compromise” is a dirty word in evangelicalism. There is no room for tolerance and political correctness when you believe your religion could be outlawed or your movement’s beliefs could fall apart at any moment.  This leads to a rigid dogmatism that refuses to see the thoughtfulness and, at times, humanity of those who disagree.

Connect the Dots Between Evangelicals and Trump Supporters

If you want to understand why 81% of white evangelicals supported Trump, this list provides some ways to connect the dots between a Trump supporter and an evangelical. The tolerance of flawed leaders alone explains why evangelicals, who have been obsessed with pro-life Supreme Court justices, will tolerate anything else Trump has done.

I wish I had a clear call to action for how to address this problem, but I don’t. I do have a few suggestions for evangelicals who see Trump and our movement for what they are:

  • Practice quiet contemplation to center yourself in God’s love for you and compassion for others.
  • Assure your evangelical friends who support Trump that you love them, but you disagree with their political views.
  • Point your evangelical friends to news that is supported by multiple, credible sources.
  • Remember that it’s not your job to change people, but it is your job to love them.
  • Spend more time asking how you can love and serve those impacted by Trump’s destructive policies.

 

Monday Merton: Freedom Needs Truth

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Thomas Merton writes that Democracy relies on the education of the population, getting a large majority of people more or less on the same page. If the people are able to see the issues of the time with clarity, political discourse about solutions becomes possible.

However, as propaganda and alternative partisan versions of reality take hold on certain news channels and in the American White House, Democracy may face one of its greatest challenges according to Merton’s criteria:

“Democracy cannot exist when men prefer ideas and opinions that are fabricated for them. The actions and statements of the citizen must not be mere automatic ‘reactions’–mere mechanical salutes, gesticulations signifying passive conformity with the dictates of those in power.

 

To be truthful, we will have to admit that one cannot expect this to be realized in all the citizens of a democracy. But if it is not realized in a significant proportion of them, democracy ceases to be an objective fact and becomes nothing but an emotionally loaded word.”

 

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 96

 

 

 

We Will Rebuild with Truth, Equality, Justice, and Love

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As concerned as I am about America’s next president and the many threats he may pose, here’s where I’m at today:

– We have civil rights leaders and activists among us who are experienced and able to help us stand for justice.

– We have journalists and academics who are committed to finding the truth, reporting the truth, and documenting the truth.

– We have civil servants and government workers who will resist the injustices and destructive policies of this man.

– We have a history of Christian writers opposing injustice, such as Dorothy Day (see “The Long Loneliness”) and Thomas Merton (see “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”).

– We have a majority in our opposition since the majority of voters did not choose this man.

– I believe that injustice and suffering will follow this man’s inauguration, and things could become far worse than we could imagine in the next four years, but perhaps this disastrous presidency will be the low point that the American people finally need to elect politicians who can enact the reforms we need.

– As the American people discover the depths of injustice that have been unleashed on our land, we must immediately translate our anger into action throughout state elections and Congressional elections, putting politicians (from either party) into office with the moral backbone to stand up to this man.

– This election has exposed the degree to which I have personally depended on elected officials for security in my future. That doesn’t mean I’m not terrified of this man and his hateful associates and policies, but Christians have lived and continue to live in the shadow of oppressive and corrupt regimes.

– I am more committed than ever to my creative work and the creative work of others that pulls back the blinders that political propaganda, pop culture, and entertainment throw on reality.

– I am more committed than ever to the practice of contemplation, seeking quiet moments throughout my day in order to be present for the love of God in order to ground my faith and to cultivate compassion for those deceived by this man.

– I am more committed than ever to love and truth because these are steady and strong, outlasting the temporary gains of bombast, deception, and propaganda.

The American people have resisted injustice and deceit before. With God’s help, we will do it again.

As dark as this hour seems with so much freedom and stability slipping away, let’s resolve to hold onto our family, friends, and neighbors who grasp the gravity of this moment. Let’s hold onto God’s love. Let’s move forward together, committing to pick each other up when we fall into despair. I resolve to hold onto you, to reach out for you, and to depend on you as well when I need support.

After we pass through the fire of this man’s presidency, we will need to rebuild what he has taken away from us. I hope and pray that we will use the sturdy materials of justice, equality, and truth so that no man, woman, or child will ever have to experience the depths of dread and despair that so many of us feel today.

For today, take care of yourself. Practice silence before God. Breathe deeply. Take a walk. Ask for God’s strength to carry us in the days that coming.

In God’s hope,

Ed Cyzewski

A Firefighter Reflects on September 11th and the Call to Serve Others

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The following post first appeared in 2010 on my previous blog: I first met Dan in high school. He was a Jr. firefighter at the time. He worked hard over the years, harder than anyone I know, at achieving his goal of serving as a firefighter. He even tacked on time as an EMT and police officer.

When September 11th happened, I thought of Dan and his family who serve as firefighters. They were the kind of people who perished on 9/11: salt of the earth servants who rush into a crisis without expecting anything in return. I thought we would benefit by hearing Dan’s thoughts on his work and on 9/11 in order to learn what makes folks like him tick. He has kindly agreed to share with us:

Every day I am asked the same question… “Are you crazy!?” Most of the time this question is posed by my wife or a close friend. Occasionally I hear this from the taxpayer that I serve. Usually I hear this as I doff my breathing apparatus and try to take a blow from fighting a house fire or mitigating some other conflagration.

The fact is that I am, and will always be, “crazy”. What I do, and what hundreds of thousands of public servants do every day, requires a little bit of “crazy”. What we do in public safety is done for one reason… There is a need. Why do we do it? That’s easy. We do it simply because this is what we were called to do.

Most public servants do not believe that they are any different from those who serve in other capacities. I tend to agree. My pastor does not have envious employment. His is not one without worry and stress. He is not one without sleepless nights, scary moments, and lack of answers. He is not one who will become financially wealthy from his service.

All beings have their place in servitude. Some of us have not found it yet. Some of us know where it is and refuse to go. Still others are confident in and blessed in their place of service. We have one common body. I believe public safety is the arms and legs of that body, the doers, and the action takers. Not the smartest of humanity. Not the most moral and ethical. But definitely the ones who will do whatever it takes to complete the service required of them, for the sake of the call, for the sake of us all.

On September 11, 2001 the public safety community took a tremendous lose of personnel and still did not waver. Every September we are reminded of this. Instead of remembering cowardly acts of terrorism, I choose to remember those who served with confidence, humbleness, gratitude, and self sacrifice; those who completed their assigned task.

Daniel L. Kerr Jr.

Firefighter/Police Officer/EMT

Celebrating the Renew & Refine Retreat with an eBook Giveaway

I’m proud to announce that tickets are now on sale for the Renew & Refine Retreat for Writers that I will be hosting with my friend Kristin Tennant in Watervliet, MI on May 24-26.

Renew and Refine is a holistic writing retreat that provides creative guidance, spiritual direction, and professional insights for full- and part-time writers.

Learn more at www.renewandrefine.com.

Early Bird Tickets are limited and cost $225. That includes lodging, sessions, and meals.

Register Today for $225 at EventBrite.

As part of the celebration of Renew and Refine, I’ll be offering 3 of my eBooks as free downloads February 27th through the 28th:

Not sure you can make the retreat this time around? There will be others!

Sign up for my e-newsletter to stay in the loop!