I have been writing letters to the editor for a long time in a desperate hope to change the direction of the evangelical Christian church as it relates to politics. It is difficult to express how hard it is to not be heard. In truth, this is why social media is such a popular thing. Being on Twitter or Facebook or TikTok allows millions of people to pretend they are being seen and heard. As I look back at my previous letters, I notice a progression that has led me into attempting a true reform of what we might call the "God vote."
This article first appeared in Salon.
President Biden proclaims a deep connection to the Christian faith. Newly elected Sen. Raphael Warnock is pastor at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s former church. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and nearly every other presidential candidate in the last 200 years or so have discussed their faith. For the last 50 years or so, however, right-wing evangelicals have dominated the God influence in politics. So who is right — or is the question, which side is closer to Christianity? In other words which political party deserves the God vote?
I have attended evangelical churches where the pastor preaches that God pays attention to what we do in the voting booth. The pastor made it clear that you will be judged based on that vote. It has also been argued that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, which seems obvious. It is difficult for me to imagine the creator of the universe registering with some political party. It sounds like asking whether God roots for the Yankees or the Red Sox. Theologically speaking, I am confident God is wearing the jersey of the team with the least amount of money. God loves the least of these. Anyway, yes, God has not picked a political party. The real question is for everyone to decide how to live their life and to publicly decide what issues they support.
I do believe in choosing sides, and I believe in being vocal about it. I certainly believe that many political issues should be important to all people of faith. I also believe that many politicians on both sides have used the God vote in ways that may not have been sincere. Politics tends to pollute the sincerity of everything, including faith. Either way, I think exploring the God vote has merit as long we as individuals are not simply defined by those choices. We must remember that our most basic responsibilities are found in the day-to-day interactions with the people in our lives. That is why I connect the political choices that need to be made to the choices we make in our lives.
For the sake of this discussion, I'm going to assume that God is real, and that within that faith I can't forget that the name of God has been used to promote genocide, enslave millions and promote oppression — and that the name of God has been used to free slaves, promote equality and liberate societies.
The question of why the two issues of abortion and the rights of LBGTQ people became such attractive issues for the conservatives is easily answered. The most obvious answer is that they have required no self-judgment on the part of the leadership of the evangelical church. The evangelical leadership, at least outwardly, are heterosexual married white men of serious financial means, which excludes them from any judgment regarding these issues. I find it fascinating that in the entire Bible — which is a massive read, by the way — the only issues these evangelicals can find to be public about have nothing to do with the leaders that choose the very foundation of the evangelical political movement. Doesn't anyone else find that uniquely convenient for evangelical leaders?
It also should be noted that this message has proven to be extremely dangerous through evangelical missionary work. In many poor countries, the conservative brand of Christianity ends up becoming a significant part of the culture. Thus, there has been extreme laws written within these countries that have permitted executions, imprisonment and social rejection of people within the LBGTQ population. I have seen speakers from some of these countries who have been forced from their own families and threatened by the government with execution because of who they are and whom they love. This is directly related to the evangelical movement and should not be overlooked. I could also write a book about the effects on these poorer nations that relate to the abortion issue.
The issue of abortion is by far the most theologically ridiculous. I have read the whole Bible and studied under some incredible theologians at a conservative seminary. Abortion is simply not mentioned. Not once. I believe this attack on women from the church comes from the anger many men felt at the strides that were taking place in the women's movement during the 1970s. Women were entering the workforce in large numbers, going to college and showing a strength and independence that many men both inside and outside the church did not enjoy.
Just as a quick FYI, the #MeToo movement died a slow death in the evangelical church a couple of years back. It was discussed for a couple minutes and then dropped quickly as a non-issue. Many evangelical men still believe in the idea of wives submitting to their husbands. I hear it every day on evangelical radio stations. Traditional roles in the household means that men are in charge. According to the church, divorce is a problem in this country because of the women's movement and wives believing they are equal to their husbands.
Condemning abortion as murder tapped into this male rage in response to the women's liberation movement. As I stated earlier, there is not one verse on the Bible that refers to this act. To quote one of my favorite musicians, Ani DiFranco, from her song "Play God": "You don't get to play God, man, I do." She sees through all the BS of the "pro-life" movement and understands that abortion is about control, not morality.
The conservatives' second-favorite issue at least has some biblical mention. Homosexuality is mentioned a whole three times in the Bible. If Christians are to take the three mentions of homosexuality as evangelicals do, then the church needs to put the rest of the law into practice the same way. Anyone caught stealing needs to have their hands cut off. Anyone who lusts should have their eyes cut out, and of course stoning should be a thing again for adulterers. That last part could be a problem for a lot of these evangelical leaders, not to mention some former presidents. Besides, the Bible also teaches us to accept slavery, and counsels that women do not belong in places of authority, like the Supreme Court. Suddenly hair length could become a crucial and defining issue.
The thing is that God, if God is a real thing, happens to have given us a brain and a conscience, and it is time we use both at the same time. As I look at my 14-year-old daughter, who has known herself to be gay for as long as she knew that "gay" was a thing, I see one of the most wonderful, loving and giving people I know. I know she is exactly as God made her to be. I cannot imagine telling her otherwise and I feel completely biblically confident when I say that.
Reform of the God vote must also include a call to what people of faith support. The first issue surrounds the very biblical idea of welcoming the stranger, the traveler, the foreigner. This means that a real God agenda supports an amnesty plan for the millions of people living in the U.S. without the appropriate documents. The argument that these people have cut in front of some imaginary line does not hold up when I look at the Bible. In every church service I have attended, especially in conservative churches, the message is preached that no one deserves God's love and forgiveness. Christians did not earn their salvation, or their house and car and financial security. These are gifts from God to the undeserving person of faith. So when God welcomes undeserving sinners into citizenship in heaven, how can those same followers of Christ turn toward these millions of foreigners and say that those people need to be turned away? For people of faith, there is no greater command than to love our neighbor. It is an expression of our love and gratitude toward the creator that welcomes us. To turn them away is to turn away from God.
The second issue should be equally obvious to those who have studied the word of God. Healing the sick is the very foundation of how to serve God's creation. True ministry has nothing to do with potluck dinners, or trustee meetings or even Sunday worship. Healing the sick is at the heart of all ministry. I cannot think of a better way to heal the sick than to provide health insurance for every man, woman and child living in the United States. I have lost insurance in my life on more than one occasion, and I can tell you that I was not less deserving than the times that I had insurance.
Some talk about "choice" and the freedom to choose from different insurance companies. I do not understand that either. No blue-collar, working-class person truly has a choice. My insurance company is usually whatever my boss tells me it is. Even if I had a choice, I do not know the difference. I am generally confident that both Harvard Pilgrim and Blue Cross Blue Shield will screw me over the first chance they get. I also think that when they suck, I will have no recourse. I have no representative to help me change how I am treated by my insurance company. I simply talk to some distant and detached person on the phone who tells me there is nothing they can do. "We just don't cover that procedure, sir, but there are payment plans for the $300,000 fee." Thanks a lot. I have clearly had some frustrating moments with my insurance companies — an issue that unites us all, regardless of faith or color — and I am glad that supporting a single-payer health care system would not only help me personally but is also the right thing to do spiritually.
Lastly, I think the God vote can circle around a basic political agenda that support equality. There is nothing in the Bible that ever refers to an idea of one person deserving more opportunity than another. There is, however, a lot in that book about being equal. There is a lot about the fact that all need forgiveness, love and grace. How that all plays out in a political agenda can be debated, but I think standing up for equality is a good place to start.
I see that first playing out in the school systems. In my 20 years working in education I have seen how far apart the education system is, depending on the community where a person lives. The likelihood of graduating from a four-year college or university are extremely high if a student is born in a wealthier school district, as opposed to someone born in a poorer area. That needs to change. People of faith should also support equality in the justice system, which clearly favors people who can afford a lawyer. Anyone who has stood before a judge without a lawyer — or what is sometimes worse, with a court-appointed attorney — understands that is not a good place to be. This equality idea extends to marriage, reproductive choice, equal work for equal pay and numerous other elements of American society.
The oppressive forces in this country remind me of the bullies I experienced as a kid. I never liked bullies and I see a lot of them in this country, which is why I keep on writing my little letters to the editor. The bullies need to be dealt with and I am more than willing to do it, given the opportunity. A long time ago, this big kid in my neighborhood used to bully me and a few of my buddies. I was around 12 and the bully was about 16. One winter day I was walking home, and he came up from behind me and pushed me into the snow. He got on top of me and pushed my face further into the snow and then got up laughing and feeling victorious. I'd had enough at that point so I made an ice-ball (a snowball, but harder) and I wound up and threw it at him. As soon as it left my hand, I knew it had a real chance of connecting. The stars aligned and it landed on top of his head and knocked him down. He got up and pursued me until I got myself into the local grocery store where I taunted him through the window. It was awesome and he never messed with me or my friends again.
A lot of people have had enough of the bullies who seem to run this country, run the white evangelical churches and control everything. I hope the recent ice-ball that removed Donald Trump from office can translate to a lot more bullies being removed from power and that true opportunity becomes possible in this amazing country. I will continue to write my letters because I have no other choice. There is something deeply wrong with this country, especially among many people who claim a connection to the Christian faith. My faith is a faith of truth and I hope to preach that truth to as many people as I can.
Nathaniel Manderson was educated at a conservative seminary, trained as a minister, ordained through the American Baptist Churches USA and guided by liberal ideals. Throughout his career he has been a pastor, a career counselor, an academic adviser, a high school teacher and an advocate for first-generation and low-income students, along with being a paper delivery man, a construction worker, a FedEx package handler and whatever else he could do to try to take care of his family.