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I’m an Evangelical Democrat and I’m Coming Out… Politically Speaking

I am a Democrat.

democratEven more…by most metrics, I’m a progressive or liberal Democrat. There I said it.

My Facebook friends won’t be surprised by this. I haven’t hidden my political orientation but I’ve also never really come out publicly and said it. There is something pressure-inducing about the prospect especially as one who works in evangelical circles. Anyone who watches politics knows that evangelical and Republican are almost synonymous. That makes it all the stranger when you are an evangelical and not a Republican.

I remember in my first year teaching at a Southern Baptist college several of us went to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving. One of the theology professors said something derogatory about Democrats. My wife and I looked at each other and then told him we were Democrats. One of the funniest things ever was to see him back peddling. To be fair, he is a good guy and we became friends. It is just that within evangelical circles one is assumed to be a Republican.

My History

If evangelicals are Republicans, or so it is assumed, how did I end up as a Democrat? Part of the answer is that I come from Democratic stock. My father, Cruz Reynoso, was an important figure in the Chicano Civil Rights movement, he was the first Hispanic on the California Supreme Court, Vice-Chair of the US Civil Rights Commission, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton. So to an extent, political involvement was a part of my upbringing. I had a friend remind me, a couple of years ago, that during the 1984 campaign, when I was in 6th grade, I organized a recess dodge ball game where Walter Mondale supporters challenged Ronald Reagan supporters. I know… really nerdy for an eleven-year-old!

The political side though is only one part of the story. My mother was a Baptist from the Appalachian hills of east Tennessee. I was raised in a very conservative rural Southern Baptist church. I’ve spent most of my life in Southern Baptist Churches. When I lived in NYC, I even was a member and taught the youth at an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church. So, it isn’t that I only had exposure to the liberal Democratic worldview. I am very familiar with the conservative perspective and I love many people who hold that perspective. Among my siblings, we have all maintained Democratic affiliation. I think out of respect for my father. But, my siblings do comment that the Democratic party does not represent their views and they call themselves a “Conservative Democrat” or an “old-fashioned Democrat” and vote conservatively, even Trump conservatively.

Conviction by Reflection

How can you be a Christian and a Democrat?

I have landed where I am politically not by default from my upbringing or despite my religion. I have arrived here because of my faith. In the conservative evangelical circles where I have spent my life, Democrat is a seldom heard word, at least in a non-insulting way. Liberal is darn near a curse word. One of the most derogatory things a conservative evangelical can say about someone is to call them a liberal. There really is very little attention paid to distinctions between theological and political liberalism. For many, the assumption is the two go hand in hand. For me, they are quite different. In the blog post “Am I a Liberal?“, I address my theological convictions and leave it for the reader to judge, though I think it is clear that I am not a theological liberal. For me, my political convictions are an outgrowth of my faith even if the two don’t seem to go together to some.

How can this be!?

I know this will leave some with questions. How can you be a Christian and a Democrat? What about this issue or that issue? In the future, I will try to write essays answering those questions. I had someone on Facebook send me a message which included:

I grew up in a typical republican southern baptist democrat demeaning family. And I’ve not spoken with many evangelical democrats. So I’m curious about what exactly are your democratic views.

I told this person that I was actually going to write about this and this post is the beginning of that process. But, he isn’t the only person. I’ve had people ask me about specific issues such as how could I support Bernie Sanders (or really any democrat) considering his stance on abortion. For some, it is the bearded woman syndrome and they just want to look at what to them is strange and bizarre. But, I think for most, they genuinely want to understand how a Liberal Democratic perspective is at all consistent with my faith.

When I first started this website, I wrote in the about section:

Honestly, as an artist and art historian it is a bit nerve-racking to put my faith “out there” for the public to see. Religion and contemporary art have a very uncomfortable relationship, sometimes with good reason (from both sides). Finally though, I conceded that transparency is one of my core values and as such this blog seeks to be transparent.

Something very similar can be said about evangelicalism and the Democratic party. They have a very uncomfortable relationship; but, transparency, one could say authenticity or vulnerability, is a core value of mine. This is what I am. This is what I believe. And, I will, in future posts, try to explain why I believe the way I do. For some, I am a curiosity, for some an embarrassment, for some a danger. But for others, maybe I can be a light, someone who has questions and seeks answers and follows where those answers lead even if it is not within the traditional evangelical package.

Seek Truth

I’m a Liberal Democrat. But, neither the Democratic Party nor the progressive “agenda” own God. Neither does the Republican party or conservatism. Each of them is correct only so far as they reflect the heart of God.

The friend who reminded me about my politically-themed dodge ball game is now an atheist. He was raised in a church but when he reflected on his faith, it could not hold to the scrutiny. He commented to me once that “unreflected faith is not a virtue.” He is right. Blindly following without questioning or internalizing is not a virtue. I’m not even sure it is faith. So many have the veneer of the faithful and when they scratch it they find that there is no faith underneath. So, the church encourages people not to scratch and as a result, they never have to confront the vacuum in their souls. They are whitewashed but don’t know what is beneath. That isn’t virtue. Scratch. Scratch hard. Test your faith challenge your assumptions. If you end up a Democrat or even a Republican it is okay. Because a reflective faith is a virtue even if it doesn’t look exactly like your parents or your pastors or your friends or even if it does.

As a final note. I’m a Liberal Democrat. But, neither the Democratic Party nor the progressive “agenda” own God. Neither does the Republican party or conservatism. Each of them is correct only so far as they reflect the heart of God. I know good faithful people who are conservative Republicans. Reasonable people can come to different conclusions.

 

This essay is from our Anastasis Series where we resurrect articles from the past that are either still relevant today or can be easily updated. This piece was first published on October 7, 2015, and has been lightly edited and updated.

 

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  • Russ Skains says:

    This should be interesting. I’m not sure that I know anyone like you.

    I do not recall the retired Greek professor’s, who was Russian who preceded and was friends with Dr. Nick, name but he had a profound political influence with me.

    I went to Harlow’s one day to catch some donuts and he was there. It must have been an election year because we began to discuss politics. I was a registered Democrat at this time which was the custom in Louisiana. One had to be Democrat to vote on important matters during this time frame.

    I wasn’t planning on voting for the Democratic platform. He told me that if I voted Republican and then I said that I was a Democrat and I am a good Democrat…then I am a liar.

    I didn’t immediately switch parties however his words haunted me. And eventually I did switch parties.

    I never had a class under him but he did have considerable political influence with me based on eating a donut.

    • Thanks Russ. I hope you enjoy the posts on this issue.

      I also agree, I have always thought there is something wrong about staying with a party if you consistently don’t identify with it.

  • Judith Monroe says:

    You know we are pretty much birds of a feather, but I am registered Independent. Looking forward to hearing your views.

  • Judith Monroe says:

    Oh yeah, and I got to where I am not because I was raised that way, but because I scratched. :)

  • Joyce Kaminski says:

    Thank you for your article. I know I am a Christian and thought I was an evangelical but I could never be a Republican. I felt very alone and alienated from most of my brothers and sisters in Christ who seem to feel the Republican Party is the Christian party. So happy that Christians like you are speaking out.

    • Joyce, I am glad I am able to be an encouragement. There are more Christian democrats than we realize but we certainly are a minority.

  • Gini George says:

    Thank You for giving words to my thoughts. I’m an liberal independent (registered as a democrat for Bernie) I had a friend condemn me and question my Christianity when he found out that I was a liberal. I’m a born-again believer that encourages people to be GOD’s hands and feet. The republicans praise HIM with their mouths but their actions are far from being Christ like. I thank you for being GOD’s hands and feet.

  • Julie Larsen says:

    Thank you Rondall for being able to so eloquently express so many of my very own life experiences. I too am a born-again, true blue liberal christian democrat, with the added bonus of being a “celibate” lesbian. (Love the sinner hate the sin)!!!
    Most awful for me is the many hurtful conversations I’ve had to endure with my well-intentioned but sadly hypocritical parents, whom I love dearly, but may have already drank too much Fox News Cool-aid.

    • Julie, Thank you for the kind words. The challenges of family who hold political views that we find at odds with our faith is a very real struggle that I know all too well.

  • Sir, thank you for your candor. I am a bit perplexed as to why to the apologetic tone you use, as if you have to apologize for your evangelizing. I thought that every Christian was to spread the word so the world may know their options and choose (or not choose) that Jesus is Messiah. I would like an honest answer: what causes the Christian Democrats to be a minority? Doesn’t that same something about religiosity and morality about Democrats? While I am a conservative Christian, i am definitely not a Republican, and haven’t been for 25 years. It is wonderful when a person finds salvation in Christ, right or left, and the labels, to be honest, baffle me. Thank you for your faith to the Lord, and not being afraid of man-made peer pressure. There is only one peer that matters, and that is the Father.

    • Thank you for your comment. I was not meaning to be apologetic. Part of my point is simply that a simgle party does not own God. I have good faithful friends who are Republican. I have good faithful friends who are Democrats. I also know hateful people in both parties. I think the reason that Christian Democrats are such a minority right now is because the Republicans were able to co-opt the issue of abortion. Many Christians became single issue voters which actually discouraged the Republican establishment from atually doing anything about abortion. But, with time Republicanim became a part of the evangelical sub-culture and today we see that many are not able to distinguish between the two.

  • Jane Peters says:

    A lot of African Americans are very religious and vote democrat too. Maybe because the democrats were the party that helped give them civil rights.

  • As a Christian evangelical Southern Baptist minister and journalist, and a lifelong Democrat, I can share one thing that I have learned over the years: Jesus ate with the publicans, not the Republicans! I enjoyed this essay.

    • Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the essay. Always nice to hear from other evangelical Democrats!

  • I was raised Republican and Evangelical, and though I remember a short time when Christianity wasn’t all about politics, the two have become more and more intertwined. As an adult, I have slowly asked questions that had been there as a teen, the questions that no one seemed to want to answer with anything but a dismissive, “the issue is ABORTION.” I am no longer a Republican, but I don’t feel comfortable “joining” any party.

    Right now, my husband and I are “Democrat” because voting in the Democratic primary (which we could do as unaffiliated voters in our state) automatically signed us up as Democrats. We have to go and officially unaffiliate ourselves again. We received backlash about that online from another Christian who somehow was able to get this information.

    We spoke out against Trump and lost many friends. My husband is a pastor. We have watched as his peers in our area have increasingly intertwined the faith with politics in a “Conservative” direction (We completely agree with you that there is a difference between theological and political conservativism/liberalism, though sadly many Evangelicals have linked them together.) Being anything but Republican in the Evangelical world is very isolating.

    Sadly, this is resulting in a disillusionment with the Church, especially among young people. My own college-aged kids are not immune. It is hard to find a place to worship that is theologically conservative and NOT broadly Republican among the congregants.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I think it is always encouraging to others to read comments like this and find out they are not alone.

  • Thanks, Rondell. As for me, Richard Nixon made me a Democrat back in 1972. Am I a liberal? Of course I’m a liberal! I’m a Christian—and Jesus instructed me to welcome the stranger and care for “the least of these.” Neither party perfectly embodies those principles, of course, but the Democratic Party, especially in recent years, has come a lot closer than the Republican Party.

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