Vice-President Mike Pence’s most famous quote is this:
“I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”
It’s popular among Christians, as you can imagine, and always seemed like a good approach to me. But, it’s not always how I’ve actually operated.
It’s not that I’ve put the partisan label before Christianity, necessarily — just that I’ve kept my politics and my faith in separate boxes. But last year, after 10 years of working in this crazy world of politics, it all came to a head. No longer could I believe in Conservatism with a capital C — which was for some, like a religion whose trademarks included the salvation by free markets, lower taxes and elimination of government programs.
I came up in conservatism as a young professional, devouring speeches by Ronald Reagan, reading William F. Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale” clinging to every hard right position out there. I worked at Human Events, a conservative bastion who employed Ann Coulter (and she was a part of our weekly editorial meetings.)
Despite being a Christian, I was turned off by the Religious Right approach and much preferred a God-less politics focused on common sense, free market economics, immigration policies, and whatever healthcare plan conservative Republicans thought best.
But last year, an imposter conservative appeared on the scene. All of the sudden, people I’d always been on the same political “team” with seemed to leave principle behind in order to support an “outsider” who wasn’t a “career politician.”
Donald Trump saw the presidency like a reality show he might actually be able to win. He said the things, and the people I used to stand with cheered very loudly. He said more things — some things that were demeaning and lacking character — and the same people excused them. It was like “invasion of the body snatchers.”
“Conservatives” I’d been working with for years would sacrifice anything in order to beat Hillary Clinton, it seemed. I’d always felt conservatism was about doing the right thing and genuinely pursuing policies that would make life better for all Americans. I’d always believed in leaders who appeared to be good men and women of value and principle. I thought others had too – until it ALL became about partisan politics (as it had been all along for many, it turns out.)
And the rest of us were left in a precarious position. We shouldn’t have had to choose between these two in 2016 — but it was we, the people, that brought us to that place. And I still don’t understand why America would whittle it down to this very upsetting choice.
All that being said, I lost all “faith” in Conservatism as a politics of principle. I have nothing against those who voted for and support President Donald Trump — or those who voted for Hillary Clinton, but it caused me to re-evaluate my place in politics as a Christian.
I’ve heard all the reasons and analysis on why Trump ultimately won this thing and many of them make sense, even though I didn’t have it in me to close my eyes and hit “Trump-because-Supreme Court” on Election Day. And I’ve found myself coming to the defense of Trump voters many times, when they are labeled ignorant racists, as I do not believe racism or bigotry were why they voted for him.
As 2016 wore on, the division and hatefulness for the “other side” increased exponentially. The Black Lives Matter movement gained steam, the Alt-Right emerged, Bernie bros rose up, as well as the Never Trump crew. Despite despising that Trump was rising the ranks for the GOP nomination, I also felt furious at the Left for demonizing those who dared to question the motives of extremists leading BLM or for calling Christians “bigots” because they didn’t want to participate in a same-sex weddings. Suddenly, if you believed America’s laws on immigration should be followed, you were xenophobic racist. On the Right, you had apologists for everything Trump said and did, and even saw places like Breitbart rising up as a shelter for white nationalists.
Political extremism was rampant everywhere and God was nowhere to be found in the midst of it.
I felt like a citizen without a Party or a movement and suddenly, I was just a Christian again. And that coat started to feel much more comfortable. Part of me wanted to leave politics all together but another part of me said, “If not you, then who?” I feel a responsibility to participate and engage as a civic duty — and I knew I couldn’t just walk away.
When I read Michael Wear’s “Reclaiming Hope,” it was like a cool drink of water after wandering the desert for months. I was excited because he was a Democrat — the last thing I wanted was to be preached at from my own choir. He was a Christian and a Democrat and he wrote eloquently and movingly about the intersection of faith and politics while working in the Obama White House. When I closed the book, I came away with a new perspective. First of all, you can’t put your faith in politics. If your last defense is politics or some kind of economic theory or policy, that’s not firm ground to stand on. I had been wondering how to stop getting so angry and offended and his book reminded me that, as Christians, we need not be defensive. We can stand in joyful confidence in our beliefs, hopefully come to by prayer and communion. I also got a totally new view of President Obama’s own faith journey and though I’ve never been a fan politically, it really softened some of the views I held of him.
Next, I moved on Dr. Russell Moore’s “Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel.” Moore is a conservative but like me, he did not support Trump. After seeing a news segment he was on one day, I suddenly realized this was a voice I could trust — and that he was speaking a faith+politics truth I wanted to learn more about. His book was instrumental in helping me overcome my negative view of the current state of politics and focusing on a much larger picture of life on earth God’s ultimate plan for his people in heaven. He had that same “joyful confidence” Michael had written about in “Reclaiming Hope.” I wanted in.
I’m done toeing the Party line. Conservatism, whatever it was, has shifted. I’m still a “conservative” but more importantly, I’m a Christian. I believe our first obligation is to love and serve our neighbors, no matter what government is or isn’t doing. I don’t want to lazily accept the current conservative line of thinking without asking God what He thinks about it first. I also want to look at people as people, not as movements or statistics. People can be wrong and I can still love them fully. I can be wrong without realizing it and I need to be humble enough to recognize that too.
Here’s the thing: I have joyful confidence in Christ now, but I have healthy humility when it comes the personal nature of politics, issues and policies in the lives of those around me. I can understand why lots of people I know in Indiana voted for Donald Trump. I can understand those who think Barack Obama was an amazing President. I don’t agree with either of those groups, but I love the people in them.
The conservative movement has forever changed. But God’s love and His truth never will. As my pastor said this past Sunday, here is our calling: Love God, love others. That’s it. I’m in.
Ericka Andersen Sylvester is a freelance writer and digital consultant. She was formerly the Director of Content Marketing at National Review. She also worked in communications for Vice-President Mike Pence and at The Heritage Foundation.