I thought I'd use this occasion of launching my column on Relevant with an valiant, if not awkward, attempt to reconcile my competing identities. I am an evangelical Christian, a Republican and a progressive. To many these identities seem at odds, and I often am expected to apologize for at least one of them in virtually every social circumstance.
Starting from the top, I am an evangelical Christian. As a kid growing up in the rural Pacific Northwest, I explored going to different churches fairly independently. Before I can remember, my parents went to a Latter Day Saints Church, leaving before they divorced. During my middle school years, when my parents weren't practicing, I attended a Seventh-day Adventist church and related school, as both were seven doors down the street from where my mom lived. I went to Portland Christian High School while attending an inner city black church, which was gospel in style but non-denominational in theology. I was on the worship at school and at youth group, and didn't miss a summer camp. Yep, I was one of those.
Living in New York, it often feels like "Republican" is an epithet one should whisper in the halls of contemporary society. In some ways it's understandable, as it's fair to say that the current GOP leadership is the antithesis of progress and reason, and this is coming from a professed conservative! But I understand my conservatism differently than what you might expect. As a third generation entrepreneur, I was raised with small government ideals, while also taught that the government doesn't need to be in the business of telling people how to live their lives.
My faith, my politics and my identity at large took a good healthy beating when I left the safe haven of a Christian environment and began studying Music Business at New York University. I held a lot of traditional views that made sense on paper, but really just sounded absurd when put into context in the real world. I slowly began listening to myself speak from the perspective of the "Other," whether Catholic, Muslim, gay or liberal. In short, I suddenly discovered that the apologetics I was taught was no replacement for critical thought, and that I need faith that I can truly say I have reckoned with and struggled to understand. In short, my faith lacked empathy and reason.
The reason I still call myself a Republican, despite my frustration with the current platform, is because I like to think long-term. When you think Republican, you may think of Rick Perry or Sarah Palin, but I think long running narrative, including Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. I believe in pragmatic, lean governance, both in matters fiscal and social. This isn't a popular perspective among Republican leaders today, as current Republican leaders talk more about social issues and populist tacts. But with demographics shifting to a younger, browner and more educated population, the GOP simply can't sustain itself with its current platform. I believe when the populism subsides, the party will come back to those roots.
Being a progressive seems to be at most odds with the other two identities. These days, it's common to hear religious leaders denounce progressivism as anti-God, while progressives denounce God as anti-progress. Yet it shouldn't be. My faith informs my worldview, and that includes a belief that everyone should have a fair chance at success, that we should build more bridges than bombs, and that no interest should be a special interest.
Being progressive also shouldn't be controversial for a Republican, even if contemporary public opinion suggests otherwise. The Progressive Era was, after all, highly supported by Republicans at the turn of the century. Theodore Roosevelt was the first presidential candidate to run on progressive platform, with the Square Deal including consumer protections, challenging corporate monopolies and creating environmental protections. It wasn't just smaller government, but better government. Yet Roosevelt was pro-business and an avid hunter. His progressivism realized that the only way to maintain the freedom to have a healthy economy, a clean environment and a safe workplace was to think long-term. Foreign policy aside, I think we need Teddy's message in our own generation.
While most of my writing will be stories, single ideas and reflections as an evangelical living in an ever-changing world, I thought it best to introduce myself. I want to be honest with readers, upfront with who I am, so no one can say I'm not being clear about where I am coming from.
I pose to you, the readers: Is it possible to be evangelical, Republican and progressive? Are there many more people like myself who just aren't represented in politics, religious leadership and the media? Please use the comments below to share your thoughts, so we can continue this conversation.
Article originally posted on Relevant, a Christian publication on faith, culture and intentional living.
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