I’ll leave it to my colleagues on Election Shock Therapy to engage in rigorous, trained analysis of American politics. But I have reached one conclusion based on my observation of the 2016 presidential election campaigns:
Evangelicals need a political “third way.”
I’ve never liked the idea of evangelicals being too closely identified with either of our two major parties. But especially if the Republican Party remains the party of Donald Trump — and all the nativist, racist populism that attends his candidacy, then evangelicals can absolutely not remain the GOP at prayer. I’ve resisted call after call to abandon the old, honorable term “evangelical,” but I’ll do so if it becomes clear that the likes of Jerry Falwell, Jr., Robert Jeffress, and James Dobson speak for the vast majority of those American Christians.
I’ve thought aloud about the possibility of Hillary Clinton expanding the appeal of the Democratic Party to theologically conservative Christians, and Ron Sider just endorsed her in Christianity Today (his first such public endorsement in over four decades). But I’m not confident evangelicals will feel at home in a party that continues to move leftward on abortion and whose partisans tend to dismiss even reasonable invocations of religious freedom as encoded bigotry.
Some of my friends are considering seriously the third party candidacies of Jill Stein and Gary Johnson (who has even picked up some major newspaper endorsements and is doing especially well with younger voters). I find both more likable than Clinton and Trump, and if were ever to cast a protest vote, it would be in this election. (Particularly since I live in a blue state and need not fret my conscience about making it easier for Trump to gain electoral votes.) But I align even less well with the Greens and Libertarians than the Democrats and Republicans, and I’m not hugely impressed by a physician who indulges anti-vaccination talk and a would-be commander-in-chief who seems woefully ignorant of a major foreign policy issue.
But however important the decision that we face, politics will continue to churn after the election. So maybe the best thing that evangelicals can do at this point is vote as best they can on November 8th, but also to take the long view — and consider three alternatives that have either been born of this political cycle or given new energy by it.
A truly significant Christian democratic party
In August, I wrote at considerable length about this possibility for The Anxious Bench, noting that Europe and South America have long had centrist political parties that, while secular, were inspired by religious principles that caused them to lean to the left on economic issues and to the right on social ones — a combination that some have suggested would appeal to disillusioned evangelicals, Catholics, and especially African American and Latino Christians.
Now, this country’s current version of a Christian democratic party (the American Solidarity Party) has barely registered, and barring a significant political realignment (the implosion of the GOP, for starters), that doesn’t seem likely to change in the future. But I think it’s worth considering.
The AND Campaign and Public Faith
More impressive, if only because of the people involved, are two newer initiatives. In theory, they could grow into new political parties, but at least for now, they remain non-partisan groups whose members may continue to work within existing parties.
First, the AND Campaign, which describes itself as “an urban coalition that promotes the voice of human flourishing in the socio-political arena. We seek to assert biblical wisdom and restore the true narrative of humankind to its rightful prominence which is justice for all.”
AND Campaign emphasizes that “Urban Christians have a unique and powerful sociopolitical perspective that is not fully represented by either of the two predominant political ideologies.” And it is perhaps most notable for the prominence of Christians of color in its leadership. For example, hip-hop artist Sho Baraka, who advocated voting for neither Trump nor Clinton in Christianity Today‘s recent forum:
I believe that soon there will be a movement of folks who protest both police brutality and abortions without feeling disloyal to one party or the other. These Christians comprehend an unabridged concept of life, that it is to be protected from the cradle to the grave. This is a comprehensive outlook that seeks justice in community development, education, prison reform, and job creation. These people recognize honoring humanity is a service to God and not a partisan policy.
It would be naïve to think that urban Christians are the only people who feel this disconnect. Not all Republicans are callous legalists; not all Democrats are immoral despots. I find great utility on both sides. However, who better than Christians, who have experienced persecution of all kinds, to display both compassion and conviction? Out of that experience comes the capacity to love recklessly while inviting people to a new standard.
Overlapping AND is an even newer campaign, Public Faith, whose leadership includes both Democrats (e.g., former Obama administration official Michael Wear) and Republicans (e.g., leading #NeverTrump writer Alan Noble, editor of Christ & Pop Culture). Public Faith professes itself “particularly concerned with the persistence of racial injustice in this country” and also emphasizes “religious freedom for all as a bedrock principle that will be essential if we are to build a more inclusive America in this new century.”This week Public Faith issued statements on two issues that aren’t typically paired in American politics: criminal justice reform and abortion.
It’s not yet clear what Public Faith (or the AND Campaign, for that matter) might grow into, assuming it continues past this election. But for now, Public Faith is seeking Christians to sign its vision statement, “to work within political parties to advocate these essential ideals and to change parties or create new ones when reform is no longer feasible.”
If nothing else, I appreciate that the AND Campaign, Public Faith, and the American Solidarity Party are all:
- Trying to bring religious convictions into the public square in a manner that’s appropriate to a religiously plural society with a long-standing separation of church and state.
- Making racial justice central to their platforms, and looking to people of color for leadership.
- Pushing us to think of creative alternatives, rather than accepting an increasingly polarized, frustrating status quo.