August 15, 2012
Jonathan Merritt (@jonathanmerritt) is author of A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars and Jesus is Better Than You Imagined. His columns appear regularly in outlets such as USA Today, The Atlantic, and CNN.com.
What's the Point of Politics?
On a steamy Thursday in July, a handful of women cobble together in a room just outside of Atlanta, Ga. Some nestle into the couch; others have chosen a chair or a pillow on the floor. They’re positioned in a circle, facing the center, as they engage in a study of the book of James. As each person discusses what they’ve learned in the weekly reading, they seem the perfect picture of an American church small group.
Two girls, Sarah and Tiffany, sit next to each other and appear to be close friends. As one offers her thoughts on the biblical text, the other supports her with smiles and the occasional “Mm-hmm.” Though Sarah is a child of South Korean immigrants and Tiffany is African-American, you might assume they agree on most things. After all, they dwell in the same city, are both in their mid-twenties and share the common bond of faith. Indeed, they share many similarities. Except when it comes to politics.
If the election were held today, Sarah says she would cast her vote for GOP candidate Mitt Romney. A University of Chicago grad with a degree in public policy, she counts immigration, the swelling size of government and the economy among the issues she cares most about.
“I’ve become more conservative in the last four years as I’ve considered the issues,” Sarah says. “I can’t get away from the biblical idea of freedom and what the founding fathers envisioned for America.”
Tiffany, on the other hand, would pull the lever today for Democratic incumbent Barack Obama. A chemist who considers herself a “conservative liberal,” the issues that matter most to her are education, women’s empowerment, religious freedom and the betterment of the black community.
“I come from a Democrat family who is also pro-military,” Tiffany explains. “We know that Democrats are more for the middle class, and that’s what we are. Plus, we associate the Republican Party with middle-aged white people who don’t know what we need.”
Despite their differing political perspectives, there are some notable commonalities. Both cringe at the phrase “anti-gay marriage.” They prefer to define their views as “pro-traditional marriage.” Both believe it’s important for politicians to share their religious beliefs. (Roughly 37 percent of Americans would say the same.) And they both hold a deep ambivalence toward the American political process.
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