Like many people, I left home for college with a pretty good idea of what constituted appropriate political views in my family without a clear idea of what I really believed. I was raised in a conservative Lutheran household and I was raised with the idea that my faith was supposed to guide my political beliefs and appropriate political beliefs for those of my faith tradition were conservative (Republican) by nature.
While my small Christian college initially appeared to be conservative, the longer I was there the more I discovered surprising diversity amongst my professors and classmates. In fact, my academic adviser was an unapologetic Clinton supporter and one of my favorite history professors bordered on being a “bleeding heart” socialist. My literature classes opened me up to new worlds and perspectives and the history I learned challenged some of the most conservative notions I had held for the longest time.
But when I voted in my very first election in 2000, I voted for George W. Bush. To be perfectly honest, I don’t regret my vote and while I hate the wars that we eventually found ourselves in, I’m still not sure that Al Gore would have done a better job of directing our country after 9/11. Nor do I have any interest in discussing what could have been nearly twenty years ago. What I do regret was my lack of understanding of how our political process works (especially embarrassing because I was a history major) and just how important the primary was to the final outcome of that election. Why? Because if I could go back and talk to 21-year-old me I would say, “The primary matters; for the love of everything holy, vote for John McCain.”
Experience changes us. It helps form our opinions and views and politics and beliefs. The people we know, the places we visit, the jobs that we hold, and the things that we read either open our world view or narrow it. I know some wonderful conservatives and liberals who hold very strong beliefs founded in a narrow world view defined by those very things. Because they don’t know many people on the other side, only interact with people in certain professional sectors, and read only certain publications, they have very little tolerance for, or understanding of, those with whom they disagree.
And then there’s me. In the years since graduating from college, I’ve claimed Independent whenever asked which party I align with. I refuse to pick one over the other because I have significant problems with both. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve felt like a lone wolf in the moderate political wilderness, convinced that my fellow citizens don’t want to see each other as human beings deserving of compassion but instead as adversaries who need to be defeated at any cost.
I know that I’m not alone. I know that there are many more like me who can look at issues from multiple angles and see that the issues we face as a country and a world are hard and multifaceted and require more than one solution. Living life with other people is messy and requires multiple perspectives to find solutions that will positively impact the largest number of citizens. But being politically comfortable moving around in the in-between can be a lonely existence because American politics don’t seem interested in the growing number of us in the middle. Extremes make headlines and create talking points.
I’ve come to the point where I don’t feel like any politician wants me, and I’m pretty easy to please. I don’t consider myself a high maintenance constituent, but apparently wanting representatives who consider the needs of their constituents, act ethically (and demand the same of their colleagues), and work towards bi-partisan solutions is too much to ask.
What do I want?
I want politicians to recognize that capitalism is an integral part of our political and economic DNA and we need to work with the system we have instead of a complete 180. No economic system is perfect and that includes capitalism. My generation has seen true capitalism take a backseat to capitalism-gone-rogue, a system that celebrates the successes of those who make their fortunes on the backs of the powerless, the rich getting richer while the wealth gap just grows. There are bi-partisan solutions that could force business owners to take care of their employees so that those employees can have a fair chance at the mythical “American Dream.” Regulation doesn’t take away freedoms but ensures that our sinful nature doesn’t use our freedoms to oppress others. There’s nothing wrong with earning significant wealth through ingenuity and a relentless work ethic, but CEO’s shouldn’t be allowed to make millions while their hard working employees are living on food stamps.
I want to see actual improvements to our education system, improvements led by teachers and not politicians who haven’t been in a K-12 classroom since they graduated from high school. Higher education should to be available and a realistic possibility for all who want it, regardless of economic status, and the financial cost of a degree shouldn’t follow graduates until they are approaching middle age. For those who do not do well in a traditional school model, we should be encouraging and lifting up the trades and trade schools and promoting those jobs as legitimate and praiseworthy professions for our high school graduates. Instead of arguing over whether or not college should be free, politicians should be investigating why college costs so much and fixing the system that created a trillion-dollar student loan industry and a severe shortage of skilled labor.
I want understanding that the Second Amendment exists for a reason and recognition that our sinful human nature requires reasonable laws, regulations, and enforcement to ensure that our theaters, concert venues, places of work, and schools are safe. There are people who should never be allowed to own a gun. There are places that need stronger security. But I don’t want to be surrounded by gun-owning civilians convinced that it is their duty to protect me and my family. Second Amendment enthusiasts need to acknowledge that there are guns that are only intended for military use (meaning they are meant to kill people) and therefore should only be used by the military. I don’t want to die protecting my students or find out that my children were shot because the right to have any gun somehow trumps our right to live a long, healthy life. Again, our representatives are supposed to work for their constituents, not the lobbyists, and common ground here is not difficult to find.
I want politicians who don’t just say that they believe in the sanctity of life, but who actively pursue policies that not only affirm the sanctity of life from womb to tomb, but protect the right to have life and make living a healthy and productive life possible. I want to see politicians interested in protecting, not just the lives of the unborn, but children in detention centers at the border, members of the LGTBQ community who continue to face very real threats to their lives, prisoners in our legal justice system stuck in an endless cycle that keeps them trapped instead of helping them become productive members of their communities, and those abused by a health care system that sends families into crippling debt. I want politicians to recognize that conception, fetal development, pregnancy, childbirth, adoption, foster care, and child rearing is messy and I want them to talk about the messiness using real talk. I want more women politicians from both sides of the aisle to be welcome to the table and listened to by their male colleagues. I want to see lives saved.
I want politicians to recognize that caring for our earthly home is not a partisan issue. I’m not going to argue with people: the vast majority of scientists have been saying for years that global climate change is an issue and I can see the effects around the country. It is not hyperbole. And while the rate and actual danger may not be as dramatic as some make it, we should take care of our home, period.
I want a recognition of the nuances that surround our relationships on each border and an understanding that we can’t just shut our neighbors out. We are a wealthy country that is completely inept at managing our resources (and we consistently fail to hold our leaders accountable for doing just that with our tax dollars). We are perfectly capable of taking care of our own citizens and making sure that those who come to our borders for safe haven have their basic needs cared for without stripping them of their human dignity in detention centers.
I also want a full recognition of those who are our adversaries and those who are our foreign friends. Again, this should not be a partisan issue. Those who want to hurt our country should be held at arms length, not regularly praised or congratulated for when they just happen to do something that our leaders like.
I want to see support for our troops by insisting that they not only have a legitimate reason to be away from their families putting their lives on the line to protect me and my family, but that they have the right tools and best equipment for the task at hand and the training necessary to do the job well and with minimal casualties. I don’t want to go to war so that our leaders can get ego boosts, protect their legacies, or win the next election. If we have to go to war, I want our leaders to be damn sure that it is in our nation’s best interest and that we are defending the innocent, not putting them in harm’s way.
I’m too conservative to be progressive and too progressive to be conservative. The more I read the more I know and the more I know the more I know that I really don’t know anything. And believe it or not, I’m ok with that. What scares me are the people who are afraid of what they don’t know, who refuse to read about parts of the world they don’t understand and who share information online after reading a headline that they like, but they don’t read the full article. What scares me are the people who blindly follow their favorite celebrities or politicians and don’t challenge them when they say or do something that they wouldn’t tolerate from someone who doesn’t hold the same political views as them.
George Washington warned against the danger of political parties, saying it “serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.” While our nation’s first president was a wise man, as a Christian I have a more pressing reason to refuse to align myself with a party: those who devote themselves to party membership risk putting their political future and ideals ahead of the spreading of the Gospel and the furthering of God’s heavenly Kingdom. Instead of seeing those with whom we have political disagreements as fellow children of God deserving of God’s Grace, we start to see them as sinful social deviants deserving of our personal wrath.
My faith won’t let me follow an ideology that encourages a practice of party over country. Nor will it allow me to participate in blind patriotism that unequivocally states “my country right or wrong” because sometimes my country and the people in leadership are wrong.
My faith may dictate my position on many social issues, but it also helps me to see the underlying causes of human nature and sin and the need for grace in how we legally solve those social issues.
So where does all of this leave me?
For years I was ok with saying that I was politically independent because that still indicates a sense of belonging. I was choosing to not pick a side. I was choosing to vote my conscience over allegiance to a political party. But somewhere along the way I began to feel like I don’t belong anywhere. Not only am I not choosing to pick a side, but no one who theoretically represents me in government is choosing to represent me.
And so I sit in the in-between. It used to be a lonely space. I’d angrily preach to a choir of one (my unfortunate husband), convinced I was the only one. But as some of my college friends and colleagues and brave family members have slowly opened up, I’ve discovered that there are many more of us than I originally thought. So I will continue to pray for candidates who actually see those of us exiled to the no-man’s land. I will pray that my desire for common sense and compromise will be heard. And I will pray that we all find our way back to each other.
Because that is the only way our nation will truly become great.