Those two words would be the centerpiece of a campaign launched by the late Southern Baptist minister Jerry Falwell following President George W. Bush’s reelection, with hopes of turning out support among evangelicals again in 2008. The subtext was clear: for Falwell, “Christian” meant “Republican.”
In private conversations, Falwell was more direct about his intentions over the years, reportedly saying during the Clinton administration, “We need to do a better job telling people what will happen if liberal Democrats remain in control of the White House.”
As the founder of the Moral Majority, Falwell had endorsed Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush in their respective campaigns. For all his positive contributions to the faith, he worked until his passing in 2007 to convince Christians of their duty to support conservative candidates who would satisfy evangelicals’ concerns on a narrow set of priorities – like promoting prayer in public schools – while saying little on issues of poverty, compassionate immigration reform, racial reconciliation, and the like.
Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders have done important work in the years since to disentangle themselves from an alliance with a single political party. The convention’s public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has advocated on subjects ranging from criminal justice reform, to accountability for predatory payday lenders, to legal protections for the unborn.
More recently, SBC President J.D. Greear, a North Carolina pastor, criticized his own denomination for receiving an address at its annual meeting from Vice President Mike Pence, saying it sent “a terribly mixed signal” and adding that “commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do.”
In 2018, however, what’s old is new again and the same forces that all but flat out told us Jesus Christ was a registered Republican are back. This time, however, the shoe is on the other foot.
Organizations like Vote Common Good have emerged in the runup to the midterm elections with a clear mission: urge Christians to vote for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.
“We want to dislodge control of Congress from the Republican Party,” reads the advocacy organization’s website, offering a list of Bible verses to support its mission.
Even Falwell was less brazen in publicly describing his aim.
“By all means let us vote for the common good, but let’s also rely on a higher power than a special interest group to guide that decision.”
Vote Common Good is now crisscrossing the country with progressive Christian leaders like Brian McClaren and John Pavlovitz in tow, urging voters to “put our faith into public action” by opposing the GOP. Its executive director, Doug Pagitt, calls the group’s electioneering “a revival.” He’s right.
This is a revival of the political tribalism that has gripped our churches for too long, of using the gospel message to achieve a secular political goal, and of trying – against all evidence – to convince ourselves that either party has earned the unreserved support of the faithful.
While Vote Common Good offers an uplifting message at first glance, its mission encourages us to write off an entire political party – 63 million people if we’re using the results of the 2016 Presidential election – the merits of each individual candidate notwithstanding.
Among the candidates on the ballot this November that Vote Common Good would seemingly reject are leaders like Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA) – a champion for the disabilities community who has stood up to President Trump on everything from his incendiary rhetoric to his troubling tariffs policy.
McMorris-Rodgers is the founder of the bipartisan Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus, a mission that is inspired by her young son’s journey with the disease, and has worked to find common ground with colleagues and constituents who disagree with her positions, hosting regular “unity dinners” in her Eastern Washington district.
Another Republican in a hotly contested race that Vote Common Good would have its followers to oppose: Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO). She is the author of bipartisan legislation recently signed into law by President Trump to shut down the infamous sex-trafficking website Backpage.com. Earlier this year, she called on a leader of her own party to step aside amid credible allegations of sexual misconduct.
What about Congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), rated the fourth most bipartisan member of the House of Representatives according to the respected Lugar Center?
Or Congresswoman Mia Love (R-UT), who previously drew praise – and a $1,000 contribution – from a Democratic Congressman and, as a proud Haitian American, is part of a growing but still-too-small contingency of people of color in the 115th Congress?
When you judge candidates as individuals – as thoughtful citizens do – rather than solely by the letter that denotes their party affiliation, the reckless arguments made by Vote Common Good and others like it, on both sides of the aisle, start to fall apart.
Finally, if Vote Common Good wishes to solely support Democratic candidates, that’s its prerogative – goodness knows there are enough conservative special interest groups who do the same – but its members should recognize the flaws that exist in their party of choice, most notably its disappointing stance on the fundamental right to life, and use their influence to force an honest conversation about a better way forward.
The folly of these organizations – whether it’s Vote Common Good on the left or the Moral Majority on the right – is this: They attempt to shoehorn faith into the mold of a political party, instead of letting our faith be the mold through which we reach our political decisions.
This November, by all means let us vote for the common good, but let’s also rely on a higher power than a special interest group (or this opinion article) to guide that decision.