A Liberal and a Christian Walk Into a Bar . . .

As we approach a day many of us never saw coming, the inauguration of Donald Trump as President, pundits and experts are still trying to figure out what happened. I have lost count of the explanations out there for why so many people were so wrong. A couple of weeks ago, The Atlantic published an article by Emma Green entitled “Democrats Have a Religion Problem,” consisting largely of an interview with Michael Wear, author of Reclaiming Hope and a former director of soon-to-be-former President Obama’s faith-outreach initiative in 2012.

The Atlantic: Democrats have a religion problem

The article begins by pointing out that Democrats, once again, have proven themselves to be illiterate, ignorant, and clueless concerning religion and persons of faith, given President-elect Trump’s garnering of 81% of the white, evangelical Christian vote in the November election. In the interview, Wear not only describes his frustration as a conservative, evangelical Christian surrounded by folks who were not during his days working for Obama, but also offers a number of comments that are “interesting,” to say the least.

  • Wear was surprised to discover that apparently not everyone is as thoroughly familiar with the various things Jesus is reported to have said in the gospels as Wear is. The title of one of his faith-outreach fact sheets was “Economic Fairness and the Least of These”; one of his colleagues, unaware of who or what “the least of these” are, thought it was a typo.
  • In the never-ending battles between pro-life and pro-choice positions, Wear is convinced that it is the pro-choice folks in the Democratic party who, through their shrillness and inflexibility, are keeping pro-life people from considering voting for Democrats. “Some portion of voters would likely identify as both pro-life and Democrat, but from a party point of view, it’s basically impossible to be a pro-life Democrat . . . Reaching out to evangelicals doesn’t mean you have to become pro-life. It just means you have to not be so in love with how pro-choice you are, and so opposed to how pro-life we are.”
  • One could read the entire article and conclude that the only real Christians in the United States are conservative Evangelicals—the rest who claim to be Christians are just posers. I was particularly struck by the following: “The Democratic Party is effectively broken up into three even thirds right now: religiously unaffiliated people, white Christians who are cultural Christians, and then people of color who are religious.”

This is very strange, since I find no slice of this Democratic pie that includes me—a white liberal who takes his Christian commitments very seriously. I’ve written frequently in this blog over the past four-plus years that I am a liberal because I am a Christian. The stereotype that liberal Christians are “cultural Christians,” that they don’t really believe in anything other than trendy and politically correct social causes, and that no liberal claiming to be a Christian could possibly be a real follower of Jesus, is not only wrong—it is patently absurd.

There are many problems lurking underneath Wear’s analysis, beginning with his assumption that party platforms have much of anything to do with how individuals vote. I have voted for the Democratic candidate in virtually every election I have participated in over the past forty years, not because I am a Democrat, but because the issues and commitments that are most important to me have most often been more closely represented by the Democratic candidate than any of her or his opponents. I vote as the person my experiences and commitments have made me into—those experiences and commitments have most often been shaped by my Christian faith. With regard to Wear’s claim “it is virtually impossible to be a pro-life Democrat,” I simply observe that I have any number of friends and colleagues—many of them Catholic—who are both pro-life and vote regularly for Democratic candidates, simply because other issues they are equally committed to are best represented by those candidates. Whether these friends and colleagues are officially members of the Democratic, or any other, party is irrelevant. Broadening the scope a bit, I live in the most Catholic state, per capita, in the country. It also votes overwhelmingly Democrat both in national and state-level elections.

I first learned of the article in The Atlantic when a friend and colleague, who reads my blog regularly, forwarded a link to a New York Magazine article to me, suggesting that it might be of interest for my blog.

New York Magazine: The case for democratic outreach to religious liberals

The author of this article, Ed Kilgore, provides a link to and briefly critiques Green’s interview of Wear, then proceeds to blast the Democratic party for not paying attention to a demographic that should fall into its camp as easily as “low-hanging fruit”—liberal and progressive persons of faith. Although I do not appreciate being described as low-hanging fruit, I get the point. Assuming that “liberal, progressive persons of faith” is a demographic that can easily be described, it would make great sense for the more liberal of our two major political parties to do what it can to both understand and reach out to such persons.

But somehow, I don’t feel that I am part of a demographic, at least not of the sort that politicians, pundits, and pollsters tend to describe in sound bites and tweets. I don’t vote for liberal candidates because I am a Christian. I vote for liberal candidates because I am a liberal—and, as noted earlier, it is my faith commitment that, over time, has turned me into the liberal that I am. It’s a subtle, but important, difference. Liberal persons of faith tend not to carry their faith on their sleeves, not because they are ashamed of their faith, but because their faith is not a list of dogmas, a collection of rules, or a checklist of required beliefs. A liberal Christian’s faith is on display in the life that she or he lives, the sort of evidence that is more convincing, but also more difficult to describe easily, than what one might hear on a stump speech or read in a policy platform.

A liberal and a Christian walk into a bar . . .

And discover that they are the same person.

8 thoughts on “A Liberal and a Christian Walk Into a Bar . . .

  1. socalkdl

    Excellent article! Thanks. I was raised Evangelical and can tell you, for them, Liberals are the most misunderstood an maligned group of people they talk about. The Evangelical mindset is simple: there are only two types of people in the world, Evangelicals, and everyone else. They are the “Saved” and everyone else, the “Lost.” Of the Lost, Liberals are the worst because they lead people astray and hamper the Evangelical cause, which is to create a “Christian nation.” They are under the delusion that Evangelicalism is so appealing that no one will notice that individual rights have been taken away, that, if successful, an Evangelical Christian nation would be fascist.
    I am representative of a growing group of long time Conservative Christians who have become Liberal because of our Christian faith. For many of us it is a Damascus road type experience, a suddden realization that the Evangelical emperor has no clothes. For me it was the Evangelical response to the “Lost” in the culture wars in general, but the “right to refuse” service specifically that raised red flags. Serving others is so central to Christ’s teaching I knew immediately Evangelicals were not representing Christ, but their own homophobia.
    I am in the midst of reading an excellent book entitled “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections)” by Stephen Prothero. A very timely book considering the recent election outcome.

    1. vancemorgan Post author

      Thanks! Although it isn’t clear in today’s post, my religious pedigree is similar to yours. My father was a fundamentalist, evangelical Baptist minister and my whole world was the one you describe. In a way, it was my working through how I evolved from that into the progressive Christian that I now am that started this blog four and a half years ago.

      I notice that you also have a blog? If so, I’m looking forward to taking a look! Thanks for the book recommendation as well.

      1. socalkdl

        Pentecostal here. Interesting how Progressivism can bring together people who were on the opposite poles Evangelically. Thanks for noticing my blog. I am new to the blogging universe and took a break from it over the holidays, whoops, I mean Christmas break! (gotta be PC in case any Evangelicals are watching). Having only left the “bubble” 4 years ago I am discovering new things on an almost daily basis. I am so busy on Patheos It’s hard to sit down to my own blog, plus I come home from work so exhausted…you know how it is. But I retire in 14 months which will allow unfettered freedom for blogging and more church involvement.
        If you’ve seen any of my comments on Patheos’ Progressive channel you’ll see I tend to “think out loud.” With 50+ years of Evangelical indoctrination behind me you can imagine I have a lot of questions, concerns and outright skepticism. I’m off work today and hope to get a new post up.

  2. Kris B

    Really interesting article. I grew up with Evangelicals. I went to there churches until I was about 23 and their schools (4th – 12th grades). In high school, I started to see some things I was a little concerned about. By the time I was 23, they had behaved in certain ways that made me leave the church. I was (am) born again, so when I left the church, I didn’t leave God. He gave enough wisdom, at that time, to realize that there was a vast difference between worshipping Him and the religion that they seemed to be worshipping. While being around conservatives, my family was always liberals. When I was old enough to start voting, I tried very hard to pay more attention to the candidate than the party. The problem was that despite being the “party of God,” I found conservative policies not to be very Christlike so, more often than not, I voted Democrat. As time went on, I found myself disliking the stance conservative Christians took more and more. That became rather apparent over the past 8 years. Then this election cycle happened. To be honest, I’ve had a hard time recognizing much of Christ in their behavior/beliefs. I kept seeing hate coming from them and this focus on religion instead of God. I couldn’t believe how they could support Trump and I was appalled every time that they tried to convince me he was/is a Christian. Right now, I don’t know if I could ever vote for a Republican candidate again and I have to say that it was the conservative Christians that have really affected how I feel. The funny thing is…I believe basically all the same principals that they do. I just have a big issue with how they carry those things out and how they treat others who are not part of “their crowd” as well as their seemingly reluctance to allow anyone who doesn’t look or believe just like them to be allowed into their crowd. As I said earlier, I’ve also had a hard time with conservative policies being very Christlike. For those two reasons, I am a proud liberal Democrat and now, especially with the current policies they want to implement, I’m not sure that will ever change. Thanks again for the great article!

      1. Jeanie Frazier

        I think there are many more who are seeing that wide difference between The Religious Right and the Liberal Christians . I have been told that I was not a Christian if I was a Liberal. That in its self proved to me that the Right has a lot to learn. Liked your article.

    1. Julie Main

      @Kris B– Yes! You say exactly what I have been thinking, particularly during this election. I so appreciate reading this article and the comments, and knowing my experience is not as unique as some would have us believe.

    2. socalkdl

      Kris, I agree. A lot of post-Evangelicals are leaving conservative churches. I could have been one, but I am convinced God wants me to stay at my church. I hope to be an agent of change. I don’t know exactly how this will work out, but I do tend to be vocal about my beliefs 🙂 We have a new pastor who’s a bit different than the run of the mill evangelical minister. I’m praying!


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