There’s a growing polarization in America. As the gulf between the partisan left and the right continues to expand, there’s very little middle ground to be found anywhere.
The Pew Research Center has tracked data since 1994 which clearly demonstrates this growing entrenchment. In 1994, Democrats and Republicans were gathered pretty closely in the middle of the political spectrum. In fact, 23 percent of Republicans were more liberal than the average Democrat, and 17 percent of Democrats were more conservative than your typical Republican.
Today, the middle is almost nonexistent. There’s a more significant ideological divide than ever. In 1994, only 23 percent of liberals had an unfavorable view of Republicans, and only 28 percent of conservatives had unfavorable opinions of Democrats. In today’s culture of extreme political tribalism, 53 percent of liberals carry negative impressions of Republicans, while 72 percent of conservatives think that Democrats are a danger to the country.
So why am I picking on conservatives?
There’s no question that conservatives are not solely to blame for this problem. So where do I get off calling them out? That’s a great question.
In the last thirty years, evangelicalism has come under the spell of the Republican party. Through an intentional effort to secure this enormous voting bloc—one that responded so positively to Jimmy Carter’s “born again” talk—Republicans focused on painting themselves as God’s party. They were the only ones who cared about Christianity and moralism.
Today, Republicans need the evangelical vote. They’ve now come to a place where they rely on this bloc to carry them through elections. By coloring themselves as the choice for God-fearing Christians, they guarantee that poor, white middle America will consistently vote Republican—often against their best interests.
Meanwhile, evangelical Christians are increasingly poisoned by this political association. As Christians have conflated Christianity and conservative politics, they’ve ended up championing things that oppose Christ: nationalism, war, division, racism, hatred.
If conservatives and liberals simply represented two sides of a political divide, I wouldn’t particularly care. Politics are important insofar as they affect real people and for that reason, I try and vote as responsibly as possible. But the fact that people outside of the church are left thinking that American conservative politics and Christianity are synonymous is wrong—plain and simple.
This post isn’t intended to slam anyone with conservative viewpoints. There’s nothing wrong with having a political perspective that skews right. The problem occurs when you believe that your religious and political identity are synonymous. If you think that you’re a conservative because you’re a Christian, this post is for you.
And while this isn’t meant to be mean-spirited, it is pointed. The relationship between conservatism and the church is driving people away from the cross—and here’s what I think Jesus would say about it.
1. “I love you, but I love them, too.”
I live in a relatively small, conservative, “Christian” community. People tend to assume that if you identify as a Christian here, you also identify with conservative politics. Because of this, they openly talk about “liberals” in the most disdainful and often hateful ways. It often seems like conservativism is more about what you’re against (liberalism) than what you’re for—this only exacerbates the fact that religious people tend to struggle with the same problem.
The difficulty is that if you don’t identify as a conservative, you’re automatically a “liberal.” In fact, if you disagree with any accepted conservative position (gun control, welfare, abortion, etc.), you can no longer call yourself a conservative. Sadly, this means that conservatives who are inclined to disagree with some aspects of right-wing politics never speak up.
This mean-spirited vitriol pointed at liberals is anti-Christ, plain and simple. There’s no way that you can follow Christ and harbor that level of resentment and hate.
“But wait,” you might say. “Liberals hate conservatives, too!” You’re right. Some of them do. But honestly, that feeling isn’t held as strongly by liberals as it is by conservatives. And even if it was, who cares? Jesus called his followers to love their enemies. If someone holding a different political view than you makes them an enemy, you don’t get to hate them. Jesus calls his followers to a higher standard.
I think Jesus would say this:
“My child, I love you. It’s not because of something you did; it’s because of who I am. There’s not a thing you can do to earn my affection. This should be good news. You are now free to do good because you want to be good, and not because you’re trying to make yourself worthy of my regard.
But you need to come to grips with the fact that I feel this way toward others, too. Your ‘rightness’ does not make you more deserving of my love. Your self-righteousness does not give you more value. I don’t take it lightly when you look disdainfully upon those for whom I was willing to give my very life. Remember, you’re not the judge, I AM.”