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A few weeks ago an editorial appeared in the local paper in which the author took democrats to task. (The article is titled “Democrats Threatened by the Weather” in the Sioux Center News. There is no online version available.) The tone was not very generous; it was based upon stereotypes and broad generalizations. To be fair, Christians on the left are often guilty of the same thing. Admittedly, my politics lean left, and I’ve been a part of many conversations with like minded Christians who also overgeneralize. There can be a spirit of self righteous smugness on the left that makes assumptions about someone’s faith based upon the political sign stuck in the yard. The use of the word “deplorable” in the past presidential election, for example, was wrong and misguided. I understand why people voted for Trump; for the people I know it has little to do with the person and much more to do with issues people on the left also care about: economic justice, health care, and jobs. My problem with the editorial is that it categorizes people in a way that doesn’t exist in the real world.

One of my good friends is a conservative. When the weather’s nice you can find us biking around the Northwest Iowa blacktops. If you slow down and roll down your window, you might even hear us yelling at each other. That’s what we do; we also call each other names unfit for publication. Our arguments are usually about politics (when they’re not about baseball)—he thinks I’m a whiny liberal and I think he’s crazy. (That’s a joke.) More often than not, we argue over issues we fundamentally agree on. We just disagree on how these things should work out in public life. As a left leaning Christian I believe government must play a role in protecting the rights of the poor, the weak, and those who are outside of the dominant culture. I do not believe the free market is the best way for issues to be worked out because capitalism is inherently selfish and fosters greed. I believe access to economic and social power is not just based upon hard work—there are people who have worked hard their entire lives only to find themselves on the outside looking in. My friend believes there’s a role for government as well, only he believes it’s the local government that knows the needs of a community. He is a staunch believer in justice and freedom, and he believes in the rule of law as it is framed by the constitution. He holds a strong belief that no person should be unfairly judged by their skin color, gender, religious beliefs, or cultural background. The role of government is to protect the rights of individuals against unlawful infringement so we are all free to pursue happiness and a common good. In this way we share a common belief in justice and equality—we both, as Christians, want the same thing for our neighbors, our communities, and our country. At the same time, we strongly disagree on what needs to be done to work toward this common goal. This is what we argue about—and this is why we’re such good friends.

None of us totally fit into any of the political categories. I voted for Obama and supported Bernie because I am pro-life, believing that all of human life is sacred. I am not for abortion, and I would bet most politically liberal Christians are not for abortions. Statistically speaking, abortions have been on the decline, which is a good thing. At the same time, I’ve heard powerful arguments by conservatives for the legalization of drugs as a way to fight drug abuse and the violence associated with drug trafficking, and as a way to address the problem of our prison culture. The point is, putting people in thin categories and then demonizing them is foolish and unethical, regardless of political affiliation. Human beings are much more complex, much more nuanced, than our politics allows.

As a left leaning Christian I often defend my community. I know I’m in the minority; I realize that Sioux County is the reddest county in Iowa, and I was a little miffed when after the election my yard was plastered with Trump signs. But I know the hearts of my neighbors; I know their struggles and concerns, and I know that when push comes to shove they are much more thoughtful and caring than our political labels allow. Maybe someday we’ll get over this artificial niceness and learn to argue with each other again, knowing that deep down we all love Jesus, and are waiting for his kingdom to come.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

2 Comments

  • EKramer says:

    Thanks Jason for your thoughts. We humans are complex and all of us are more than a label.

  • Sara T says:

    That editorial was deplorable. Not the person who wrote it, but the essay. Thanks for this. I wish the author of the editorial would read your gracious response, nuanced thoughts, and generous characterization of your neighbors. Maybe he would learn something useful?

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