In a piece titled “Why I Left the Right”, writer and doctorate of religious studies Susie Meister shares how her faith changed her political views and party affiliation. Meister was a young conservative, who shared her Evangelical faith and GOP affiliation on the MTV reality show, Road Rules, and then went to work for the George W. Bush campaign in 2001, while double-majoring in religion and political science.
It is typically assumed that people ‘grow into’ conservative politics, per the popular quote incorrectly attributed to Winston Churchill: “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” Meister relates the opposite experience, and describes it as a deepening of her faith instead of an abandonment; she says that by studying Scripture, she gained a deeper relationship with Jesus, and could no longer square her faith with her politics.
From the essay:
What happened, however, wasn’t an abandonment of my faith, but a shift in my understanding of Scripture. While I had always read the Bible and knew large portions of it by memory, I had relied on the expertise of my religious mentors (some of whom were simply laypeople teaching Sunday School or Christian education classes) to help guide me through its interpretation. The more I read the text through unfiltered eyes and the more I learned about scholarly investigation, the less sense their point of view made. Their old Jesus looked nothing like my new Jesus.
I could no longer reconcile Jesus’s calls for non-judgment, loving your enemies, and taking up your cross with many of the Religious Right’s positions on social services, women’s rights, and the LGBT community.
Interestingly, Meister notes that she’s not alone in her shift, noting that Evangelical Christian faiths have a 65% retention rate, meaning 35% of members leave.
All of this is particularly relevant because of the focus on faith in the current presidential primaries, and the media attention on Evangelical voters and questions about which candidate they’ll support. Outside of Iowa, they seem to have gone for Donald Trump, who was endorsed by Jerry Falwell Jr recently.
This apparent support has caused popular pastor and best-selling author Max Lucado to speak out, breaking ranks with his brethren and his own personal commitment to remaining apolitical in the pulpit. He was recently interviewed on NPR about his article, which criticized Trump on the grounds of ‘decency’ and referred to the candidate as vulgar and mean; it has been shared millions of times.
From the NPR interview:
I would not have said anything about Mr. Trump, never, I would never have said anything if he didn’t call himself a Christian. It’d be none of my business whatsoever to make any comments about his language, his vulgarities, his slander of people, but I was deeply troubled … that here’s a man who holds up a bible one day, and calls a lady “bimbo” the next. Here’s a man who calls himself a Christian and yet just had the audacity to make fun of a lady’s menstrual cycle. … He didn’t just do this on occasion, but repeatedly, unrepentantly. Somebody sent me a list of 64 people he’s called loser. Just this week it’s continued.
It deeply concerns me that somebody who knows little or nothing about the Christian faith would hear Mr. Trump call himself a Christian and then make a decision based on the Christian faith, based on his behavior. And so I just felt like I should say something. I did not expect to stir up a dust storm that this blog post has stirred up.
Meister tackles ‘the Trump question’ by noting Evangelical support of Reagan and Romney.
From her essay:
Evangelicals do not represent a monolith, but they traditionally align with conservative politics. Much has been made of Donald Trump’s evangelical supporters due to his personal life reflecting anything but the “family values” they espouse, but Christians often choose the policy over the person. From Ronald Reagan’s divorce to Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, evangelical Christians give passes to those whose rhetoric is most in line with their philosophy and who they believe can win the election, even if that person’s biography isn’t in line with their religious doctrine.
Does Meister’s essay help explain the Trump phenomenon? Were you able to relate to her personal journey? Why *do* so many people attribute that quote to Churchill?
Photo from Susie Meister’s essay depicts the author, before her shift, as a campaign worker for George W. Bush