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 with the idea that my faith was supposed to guide my political beliefs which, for those of my faith tradition, were 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. The history I learned challenged some of the most conservative notions I had held for the longest time.
Experience changes us. It helps form our opinions, views, 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. 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 others like me (and not like me) who can look at issues from multiple angles and see that what we face as a country and a world is difficult, multifaceted, and require more than one answer. 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. Extremes make headlines and create talking points; nuance makes conversations, but our politics aren’t often geared toward that.
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. Believe it or not, I’m ok with that. What scares me are the people who are afraid of what they don’t know. What scares me are the people who unquestioningly follow those who affirm what they already believe.
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 tend to 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 a 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, 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 indicated 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 it feels that no one who theoretically represents me in government is choosing to represent me—a reality that our marginalized siblings know all too well.
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 alone. But as some of my college friends, 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.
Note: This piece is revised from a longer blog post titled “Reflections of a Politically Homeless Christian.”