Editor’s note: Five diverse evangelical voices came together in a first-ever “National Town Hall on Evangelical Faith and Politics” (Aug. 6, Facebook Live), moderated by Lisa Sharon Harper, to bravely start the conversation Evangelicals need to have in this consequential year for our nation: Charles Robinson from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma works with The Red Road, a non-profit that shares the love of Jesus with native people in a culturally relevant and biblically sound way. Rev. Dr. Alexia Salvatierra, is Fuller Seminary’s assistant professor of Integral Mission and Transformational Development in the school of Intercultural Studies and Centro Latino. Rev. Justin Adour is lead pastor of Redeemer East Harlem Church in New York City. Kyle J. Howard is a theologian and trauma-informed soul care provider. Andrea Lucado is a journalist and an author based in Texas. Everyone except Andrea is an Evangelical of color. What follows is Part 2 of our 8-part series based on the National Town Hall.
I started with a very simple question, “We are all evangelical. We all have a testimony. How did you come to Jesus? And tell us the story of the first time you heard that following Jesus meant that you would have to join a particular political party?”
Charles: I came to know Jesus through the Young Life Ministry when I was growing up in Texas, and the key thing is that it’s a very relational type ministry. The guys who led it really invested in my life and cared about me as a person. I prayed and asked Jesus, “Hey, if this story is real, man, I feel like I want to do something, be a part of that and make other people feel the way that I feel.” But I do not ever recall somebody saying, now that you follow Jesus you have to be a Democrat or Republican. I have never had that conversation with somebody.
Alexia: My grandparents came from Mexico and Russia, and they were both from the anti-church traditions in those countries. I grew up with this image that, if God existed he was just not on our side, that he was away playing golf while we are suffering unjustly. I came to know Jesus as Lord and Savior in the Jesus Movement of the 70s. I was moved by the vision of the God who suffers with us, and then whose suffering brings us to victory. I grew up in a world where love and power were very separate — powerful people were not loving, and the loving people were not powerful. The story of the cross and resurrection was a story about love winning. Love having ultimate power. And I just said, “Wow, if this has any chance of being true, I have to try it.”
I do not think anybody ever said directly to me ever that you have to be a Republican or Democrat to be a Christian. But what they did say was that the only political issues that we need to be concerned about are abortion, homosexuality, and religious freedom. A church’s freedom to discriminate against homosexual people, for example, whatever party would support that was the party we should be part of. It was indirect, never a direct message.
Andrea: I am a pastor’s kid. But the moment that I really converted or accepted Christ was at a Baptist Vacation Bible School. I did not actually grow up Baptist. I responded to an altar call when I was nine. My faith has evolved a lot, so I feel there are moments that I have met a different type of Jesus, even in the last four years.
I don’t feel like I was told to vote a certain party. When your dad is your pastor, he is your dad, he is your spiritual leader, so I think I internalized that as, “Okay, we are Christians, we vote Republican.”
READ: A National Town Hall on Evangelical Faith and Politics
Kyle: It was made very clear to me that there was a political party that I had to vote for in order to be considered faithful. I came to faith as someone from a completely secular background. I did not grow up in the faith. I just did not want anything to do with God. But long story short, I had a radical conversion experience into the Black church with a Black college campus ministry. It was kind of understood that we all believe in advocating for policies that advance the Black community.
I started reading heavy theology. I left the Black church and began leaning more towards the Evangelical Southern Baptist churches. I was welcomed with open arms. Only then began the process of seeking to assimilate me into the idea that I had to vote Republican. Around the time of Obama for example, it was very clear to me that I could not like this man, that if I, in any way, shape, or form communicated any kind of appreciation for Obama, then I was unfaithful. He was to be hated and Republicanism was the most faithful expression of how Christians should engage politics.
Justin: I am a fifth-generation pastor. Our family business was a conservative Pentecostal church. Of course, it has been a lifelong journey of understanding and trying to plumb the endless depths of truth found in the gospel and what that looks like in practical life.
I never heard it explicitly, but for way too long, I did not know a Christian who was a Democrat. And then I also remember my pastor saying from a pulpit — it is seared in my memory during one particular election cycle, “I can’t tell you who to vote for, but I can tell you to vote for righteousness; and we know who the righteous candidate is.”
The National Town Hall on Evangelical Faith and Politics was convened by Freedom Road LLC in partnership with Evangelicals for Justice, The Voices Project, Global Immersion Project and Evangelicals for Social Action. You can watch the inaugural Town Hall on Facebook. Follow Freedom Road on Facebook and Instagram @FreedomRoadUs.