Why Christians Should Go Nuclear for Democracy Reform
Evangelicals keep saying they want peace in our country and their churches. Here’s their chance to make some.
To say that being a Christian in the United States during the last five years has been hard would be an understatement.
Much like the rest of the country, the Church witnessed her own brokenness during the 2016 presidential election. Many Evangelicals supported a thrice-married, serial cheater who openly talks about having sex with his daughter, is a business fraud, and mocks their beliefs. Some did so fervently, gleeful that a politically-incorrect culture warrior was leading them into battle. Others held their noses as they cast their ballots, genuinely believing they were voting for the lesser of two evils.
Those Christians who decided not to back Donald Trump — which often included women, people of color, and younger generations — mostly kept their heads down, knowing that criticizing any aspect of the Republican Party inside their church would be met with various levels of contempt.
But if the 2016 election highlighted the divisions of generation, race, and gender in the Church, the 2020 election blasted them wide open. These mostly silent minorities were forced to speak out against the insanity of Christian support for the occupant of the White House and, more broadly, called into question the unholy marriage between Evangelicals and the Republican Party. The damage done to the Church’s witness and the country was just too severe. Failing to decry Evangelical support for a man who was clearly unfit for office and a rampaging political party just wasn’t an option.
Now we find ourselves on the other side of one of the rockiest presidential transitions in American history. Yet, for those of us in the Church who resisted Donald Trump the minute he came down the escalator in 2015, things don’t feel much better. Not because Joe Biden is now president, but because many of our churches are moving on like the last four years never happened.
The obvious question is why?
Like most things in the Church, the answer is it’s complicated.
There are certainly many Evangelicals who are bitter. I know more than a few. They haven’t moved on, but until Trump returns in 2024 or a new authoritarian strongman replaces him, the damage they can do to church unity and the country is somewhat reduced. Despite their chest-thumping bluster and rugged individualism, they are rudderless without an abusive leader attacking their perceived enemies for them.
Others genuinely do want to forget the last four years. Even though these Evangelicals voted for Trump, they never liked him. They feel much more comfortable with the Republican Party than they do its spiritual leader. They’re not happy Joe Biden is president, but they’re also not upset that Trump is gone.
Still, there are other Christians who avoid politics at all costs. For them, the last four years were a damaging distraction that pulled the Church away from what she should be. They don’t like how this has torn apart their community, but they also believe the best thing to do is hurriedly move on.
There is one final group: a diverse group of Christians who deeply desire peace. We are politically conservative, moderate, liberal, and progressive. We are men and women of all ages, and people of many backgrounds. Some voted for Trump in a fit of confusion in 2016, but not in 2020. Others of us passionately fought him from the beginning.
Deep down, we know that not dealing with the underlying problems that led to widespread Christian support for Trump is wrong. Moving on keeps the Church open to falling deeper into the pit of nationalism again in the future.
So far though, we haven’t had much to organize around. Many of our best leaders have already left our churches in exasperation. After five years of turmoil, most of our pastors and elders are willing to acknowledge problems behind closed doors, but fear rocking the boat any further by dealing with them publicly. And the pandemic continues to prevent people from being in the same room together, which is the best venue for hard conversations.
The good news is that there is something to organize around right now. It’s outside of the Church, but it will affect life in the Church in positive ways.
I’m talking about democracy reform. But before we get to that, we have to talk about why it is needed.
Our politics is failing us because our political parties, electoral system, and church leaders are failing us.
The right vs. left narrative endemic in Evangelicalism isn’t unique to the American Church. Turn on just about any news channel or read any article concerning national politics and everything is framed this way. Who is up and who is down. Republicans versus Democrats. This policy or that policy, or no policy at all. Culture war or substance.
There’s just one problem: right vs. left is not the actual issue. Our fractured politics centers around problems that run much, much deeper into who we are as human beings and citizens.
Right now, our broader political debate is really about fairness. It’s about the dual pulls of flawed nostalgia and the intense need for change. This moment is about deciding who belongs and who doesn’t. It’s about who we are as a country, and the uncertainty of where we are going. It’s that strange mix of dread and hope that we feel, atop the constant hum of anxiety around us.
These aren’t abstract truths, but hard realities. Seriously, look around you.
Over the last several weeks, state legislators across the country have filed a whopping 106 bills trying to make it harder to vote. In the Democratic Party, being a Christian who runs for public office is still met with some trepidation, even for those who support the entire party’s platform. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is so consumed by culture war, racism, misogyny, and xenophobia that it is virtually devoid of a respectable policymaking apparatus.
And then there’s the COVID-19 pandemic: a common enemy that should have forced us to fight together. Instead, the worst public health crisis of our time was used to drive us further apart.
But this goes far beyond the parties’ wielding of ideology. It’s also institutional. Decades of poor decision-making concerning our electoral politics — coupled to aging institutions that desperately need to be modernized— have swirled into a hurricane that is now tearing us apart. 2016 and 2020 were just a taste of how bad the storm can get, a grim lesson we all learned during the terrifying insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Right now in the U.S. Senate, Democrats hold 50 seats, despite representing over 41 million more people than Republicans do. In fact, Republican senators haven’t represented a majority of the country since 1996. The continued existence of Citizens United keeps gobs of dark money flowing in support of the worst kinds of partisanship. Even our plurality-wins primary system and winner-take-all general elections leave people feeling like their votes don’t matter, a reality best explained by watching this video (fair warning, it has some language in it).
Don’t worry, it gets worse. Gerrymandering has locked in much of this polarization. Even in states with more equal numbers of red, blue, and independent voters, partisan redistricting often guarantees that the party with a razor thin plurality takes a much larger majority of representation in state houses and Congress. The results are alarming: 91% of congressional districts were classified as uncompetitive in the 2020 general election.
These are crystal clear messages, from our institutions and political parties, telling us that certain Americans don’t belong because of who they are, and deserve to be treated unfairly because of it.
The story of how we got here is much longer than this, going back to at least the end of the Civil War, if not longer. Entire books have been written on the topic, perhaps the most useful being Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein. I highly recommend it.
Ultimately, this all feels gross because it meets the definition of corruption. But, specifically for us Christians, it’s more than that, isn’t it?
The downstream effects of these problems flow right through the doors of our churches. If you are not a Republican nor a conservative in a culturally Evangelical church, odds are you’ve been verbally abused at least once the past five years, probably more. If you are a conservative Christian, there’s a good chance you feel like the culture is changing way too fast, and the growing diversity of thought in the Church is a threat that needs to be dealt with.
One of the reasons we don’t have peace is because our two party system and electoral processes incentivize excessive combat. But so do our churches. Pastors and elders lazily point us to Jesus, vaguely claiming He is the answer to our problems. What they often refuse to do is specifically point to Jesus’s teachings and actions when it comes to making peace in fraught times. In Matthew 5, Jesus even goes so far as to say “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Jesus calls us to make peace as Christians, but our leaders often tell us we need to turn to Jesus and ask Him to give us peace instead. Praying for peace is fine, but Jesus is crystal clear we have a direct role to play that goes well beyond prayer. When our leaders don’t push us to take the teachings of Jesus seriously —or ignore real problems in the interest of not rocking the boat, as they frequently do— the rest of us become frustrated, because environments and problems that need to change don’t change. At that point, our only three options left are to fight, struggle for change under the radar and hope not to get caught, or leave.
Simply put, many Christians have been set up to turn on each other. Virtually all of us have been set up to fail. And we all have a right to be angry about it.
For the Evangelicals who say they want peace, now there is a chance to make some.
The most important legislation in Congress right now is probably something you haven’t heard of: the For The People Act. This bill is the most comprehensive anti-corruption reform in four decades, and believe it or not, there’s a real chance it can actually become the law of the land:
If you want more nitty gritty details, non-partisan organization RepresentUS has a great piece on their website about it. RepresentUS brings together conservatives, progressives, and everyone in between to pass powerful state and local laws that fix our broken elections and stop political bribery:
What's in HR1: The "For the People Act"
The U.S. Senate's first piece of legislation in 2021 will be a sweeping good-government bill called the For The People…
So far, I haven’t had a single conversation with a Christian interested in peace who had heard about this legislation and the good news about what it can accomplish. Frankly, that’s not surprising. Evangelical culture relentlessly primes the American Church to focus on controlling a handful of social issues, not improving government in hopeful ways that leads to greater human flourishing and helps solve social issues.
So, how will the For The People Act help us make peace? Let’s look at just three of the highlights.
First, at the heart of this legislation is an emphasis on improving our individual experiences in our country’s electoral process. Automatic voter registration will be expanded nationwide, unless you opt-out, so you can be more confident that you won’t have to jump through registration hoops just to vote. Just in case, same-day voter registration will also be required in all states. A minimum of 15 days of early voting will be mandatory across the country, which will help reduce long lines that keep people from voting.
Second, the For The People Act will restore our integrity in how we vote. It enhances election security by helping states gain access to up-to-date voting equipment and requiring individual, voter-verified paper ballots. This will help prevent foreign and domestic attacks on our elections, as well as take the wind out of the sails of self-serving politicians who seek to spread lies about the process for their own gain.
Finally, the For the People Act will help make our elections more competitive by making gerrymandering illegal in all 50 states. There will be a higher chance that you know your vote counts because fewer politicians will be allowed to choose their own districts and voters. Simply put, you’ll have a higher chance of being able to hold a politician accountable through an election.
These are just a few of the highlights of how the For The People Act will help us make the peace we need. For a much more exhaustive explanation, check out RepresentUS and their fact sheet about the legislation.
Even if the For The People Act becomes federal law, it won’t make our politics radically improve overnight. It will take at least a few years for the full effects to be felt in our everyday lives.
Enforcement will have to ramp up as federal agencies, states, and localities adapt to new rules and systems. There will most likely be a slew of court cases aimed at untangling gerrymandered districts across the country. America’s extensive network of civil society organizations will have to help educate citizens about the practical aspects of increased election security and renewed voter participation. And civil servants are people too: honest mistakes in implementation will be made.
This legislation also does not deal with every single problem in our electoral politics. The Senate will remain one of the most un-democratic legislative bodies in the free world. The urban-rural divide isn’t changing anytime soon. Culture wars will still be driven by various personalities seeking to enrich themselves and their networks within a fractured media environment.
And obviously the For The People Act doesn’t touch the very real, very deep problems plaguing the American Church. Unaccountable patriarchy will continue to give space for all kinds of abuse. The next generation of church leaders will still be largely ignored and not invested in. Racism, misogyny, and nationalism are problems that can’t be legislated away, although some of their destructive results can be.
But fighting for this legislation to become the law of the land can still help us live better as Christians, both with each other and with our neighbors who aren’t believers.
In fact, this is something people from all different backgrounds, both inside and outside the Church, are already uniting around: 67% of Americans say they support the For the People Act, and that’s after opposition messaging was presented to them. Peace is already being made just by bringing people together around this effort.
Why? Because the For The People Act is a step toward real peace in our country. It will help people feel like they belong and that they matter. This makes things a little more fair. It declares that we can do better than we are doing now.
And if enough Christians get behind this peacemaking effort, it may very well be all that’s needed to push the For The People Act across the finish line.
One thing is for certain: if the For The People Act doesn’t become law, we will remain trapped in this worsening vortex of political violence and extreme partisanship for the foreseeable future.
And that’s why Christians should embrace the nuclear option. Abandon the false right vs. left narrative. Push those who feel trapped by the culture wars to actually do something of substance. Stop praying for peace and actively pursue it. Hold your Senators accountable to voting in favor of the For The People Act. Join the fight here:
Tell your Senators to pass the 'For the People Act'
The For the People Act represents the most comprehensive anti-corruption reform we've seen in a generation. Call your…
Blow up the ways of the past so that we can all have a more just, more peaceful future. And remember that Jesus said those who make peace will be blessed for doing so.
I’m a millennial living in Memphis, TN. Married to an angel for 10 years with two wonderful children. We own a house and I like avocados.
Here, I explore parts of my life that collide: faith, politics, governance, generational divide, and radical empathy.
Views expressed here are not necessarily the views of my employer.