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 Used to Say Cruel Things in Love: A Tale of Evangelical Cognitive Dissonance

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Back in my anxious, overly zealous evangelical days, I had this habit of telling people horrible things or insulting them all for the sake of the Gospel and being “loving.’ I told them that I was saying these things for their own good—the ends had to justify the means. I reasoned that they were on the brink of eternal destruction, so any means of getting the message to them had to not only be justified but loving. This was just sharing the truth in love, right?

This is a common problem: people hear unloving things from Christians and then Christians assure them, no, this is actually the most loving thing I could do.

No wonder so many people thought I was crazy back then. In truth, I was living in a delusion.

I’ve found that I don’t get to tell someone how to receive love or an insult. Evangelical Christians struggle to understand that good intentions do not make up for a smug or dismissive tone, hateful words, or damaging actions. We can discuss the merits of “tough love” in some situations and we all need some boundaries in extreme situations, but in our day to day interactions, some evangelicals say genuinely hurtful if not hateful things.

Even just sharing a perspective that isn’t particularly hateful can be done in an angry, belligerent, or dismissive manner. I regularly receive emails from and read articles by Christians who take great umbrage at my support for women in ministry, and their typically mix their rage with just enough condescension to make their words sting.

When such Christians are accused of being hurtful or hateful, they either claim they’re misunderstood or bemoan persecution and our “politically correct” culture.

Let’s step back to consider a hypothetical situation: If I insulted and badgered my wife in order to convince her to make a particular decision, no matter how beneficial it may be for her, anyone with a functioning brain would tell me to lay off. She would clearly not feel loved. Anyone witnessing my behavior in this scenario would surely take her side and roll their eyes at me if I said, “No, this is for her benefit. I’m being very loving.”

Back in my days as a zealous evangelical, if I had been challenged to be nicer to the people on the receiving end of my aggressive evangelizing, I would have probably ranted about political correctness and then said, “If I kid was about to run off a cliff, wouldn’t you stop him by any means possible?”

Aha! Checkmate, no? Well, not so fast… This is the kind of reasoning we use to stop someone in the midst of a split second, life and death scenario. This isn’t necessarily how we help someone start a relationship—which was the other thing I would have told you quite emphatically about Christianity. I would have gone to the mat to argue that Christianity is a relationship, not a “religion.” And yet, I used extremely pushy and impersonal means to start that relationship. If this is a relationship with God and we’re speaking to other adults about it, we can’t adopt a scorched earth policy that attempts to make them have a relationship with God AT ALL COSTS.

Actually, we can do this and enjoy some success… with children.

In my seminary class on evangelism (I’ll pause here so you can roll your eyes that I took an actual “class” on evangelism), we learned that high school and college students are the most important years to share the gospel. These are the years that we make our life-changing decisions that can alter the courses of our lives. To a certain extent, this is true. That’s why brands send free stuff to college students. For instance, the Bic razor handle I received for free in the mail is still in our medicine cabinet because I use it every morning.

However, there’s another side to all of this. High school and college students are also at a very black and white point in their lives. They’re sorting things out, and an aggressive, take it or leave it evangelism pitch that’s trying to save them from an eternity in hell may actually work more often with them than with older adults who will be more likely to question any angry or insulting means of sharing “good news.”

As one of the many evangelicals who is now repenting of my scorched earth evangelism that was trying to get people saved no matter what, I can now recognize the cognitive dissonance of my message. If I tried to share about God’s love through guilt, judgment, shame, or fear, I was only sharing my own guilt, judgment, shame, and fear. People were actually learning nothing about God from me. I was using the devil’s own tools in order to shove people toward a loving God who absorbed our anger and insults rather than dishing them out.

Even more disturbing, I see cognitive dissonance all over evangelical Christianity today.

When pastors teach against women in ministry or mutuality in marriage, they assure us that these limitations and restrictions actually free women to serve… in a much smaller sphere.

When I receive angry, insulting, or dismissive emails because I hold the “unbiblical” view that women should, in fact, preach and serve as pastors, the senders completely miss the fact that Paul noted his words are a clanging cymbal without love.

As church leaders overstep their authority through far-reaching covenants with their members that hand over enormous power to the leadership hierarchy, they assure us, no, we’re actually just caring for people.

While unraveling my false conceptions of God, love, and Christian community, this cognitive dissonance has been the hardest thing to untangle. On the one hand, our faith does appear to have these dissonances wrapped up in it.

There is liberty in discipline and the practices that help us remain connected with Christ, our vine, help us to receive God’s gift that we could still never earn. The more we surrender to God, the more freedom we will enjoy. The more we give up fleeting earthly indulgences, the greater chance we have to find the abundance of God.

In all of these instances of potential dissonance, keep in mind that our sacrifices all come at our own expense and help us draw near to God. We don’t have to look someone in the eye and say things like: “Yes, I just insulted everything you believe and hold dear, but it’s all in love so that I can save your soul.” “Yes, I just told a woman that she can’t be a pastor, but now she’s free to work at our children’s ministry at no cost to us.” “Yes, I just told a woman that she has to stay in an abusive/unfaithful marriage, but she signed the covenant that gives us the power to care for her.”

Speaking the truth is not automatically loving, and that has been a hard lesson to learn. We can only communicate the truth in love if we actually speak and act in ways that people recognize as loving. When people said I wasn’t acting very loving, it was on me to recognize that a message of love has to be communicated with genuine love and care as well.

Am I actually loving someone when I talk about Jesus? The answer is as simple as the standard we use for telling a joke. If you have to explain it, then the answer is no.

Get 5 FREE eBooks with A Christian Survival Guide

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I’ll level with you. I’m a writer, not a book promoter. However, over the next two weeks, I’m going to be promoting my new book A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth.

I loved writing this book. I’m working on loving the promotion of it. Every author tries to talk up their books without overwhelming friends and family with updates. So here’s the plan, my publisher and I have put together some different offers that will appeal to different groups.

Each offer is about giving readers a chance to get the best deal possible on my writing, whether that’s just A Christian Survival Guide or it’s a bunch of books I’ve written. For instance, if you’re relatively new to my writing, this week you can pick up six eBooks for the price of one.

 

Starting today, August 11th: Buy A Christian Survival Guide from my publisher, and you will receive a link to FIVE free eBooks at the end of the day that includes: the TWO full length Coffeehouse Theology Study Guides, Divided We Unite, Creating Space, and Why We Run from God’s Love. The offer ends Friday, August 15th.

Not convinced? You can also read a two-chapter sample of the Survival Guide for free over at NoiseTrade books.

Can you help spread the word? 

Get 5 FREE eBooks when you purchase A Christian Survival Guide by @edcyzewski at Kregel: http://ow.ly/zR9b1.

 

And just a heads up, I have no idea about the precise time this offer expires on Friday the 15th (I assume by midnight EST). So don’t delay, but if you do hit any glitches, please drop a comment to let me know!