The Year the Republican Party Lost Me

Photo by Rasmus Landgreen via Unsplash

I wanted to write a rant. Instead, I’ll start with a story.

* * * * *

I grew up in a quiet, farming community. The first four or five years of my life were spent dashing from here to there around the country as my father chased a Bible degree and, later, a church to pastor. Springfield, Missouri. Laredo, Texas. Mesquite, Texas. In 1982, when I was five years old, we moved back to Lancaster County, PA, back to my twenty-some aunts and uncles and my thirty-plus cousins, back to the place where every generation before me has grown up, at least for the last 200 years or so. Though I had no memories to pull from at the age of five, coming back to Lancaster still felt like moving home. It was as if my DNA had a homing device on the location of my birth.

The place I grew up was decidedly white and conservative, unswervingly Republican. Lest you think this is an anti-Republican rant, let me say this: the community I grew up in was loving, cared for the poor, and taught me what true Christianity looks like. We were not perfect, not in any sense of the word, but it was a community full of really good people trying to make the world a better place.

My earliest political memories are not laced with dogma or disagreement. No, they are the simple recollections of a boy growing up in the middle of farmers’ fields. My parents rarely talked about politics. I remember January 28th, 1986, the day the Challenger space shuttle exploded. I’m not sure why I was home from school on that Tuesday – maybe I was sick. Maybe school was closed. Whatever the reason, I remember watching that explosion take place on my parents’ small television. I don’t know if I saw it happen live or not, but I remember the trailing tail of smoke, the emptiness in the sky, the queasy sense that something had gone horribly wrong.

That became a political memory for me because I would always remember the speech Ronald Reagan gave soon after. I was nine years old, and it was the first time I saw a President visibly upset, perhaps the first time I listened to a President speak, and it had a profound impact on me.

Another early political memory came in January of 1991. I was 14 years old. We arrived home from church one night to discover that the Persian Gulf War had begun. We watched the television as cameras captured the nighttime battle, the distant explosions. I was 14.

I realize that a closer inspection of history will always reveal the blemishes. I didn’t understand things like the Iran-Contra affair. I had no understanding of the policy that led to the Persian Gulf War, what our soldiers would experience, or its long-term implications on the Middle East. I’m not here to argue about trickle-down economics. I was 14. To me the Republicans represented a group of people who would at least try to do what was best for our country, encourage economic growth, and be our collective, public face in times of sorrow and heartache.

Oh, the innocence of youth. I was mostly unconcerned about federal policy. I was Republican because everyone I knew and loved was Republican. My friends parents joked and ranted and complained about the Democrats, and my childhood self categorized it the same way you categorize the hometown sport’s team. It’s who everyone likes. It’s who everyone follows. Get in line.

When Bill Clinton was elected, you would have thought someone beloved in our community had died. It was the end of a 12-year Republican rule, and now the world would surely fall apart. Actually, I kind of believed that it might. A Democrat had never been President, not in my memory.

* * * * *

During the last four or five years I’ve felt drawn ever closer to the life of a contemplative Christian, a life modeled first by Jesus and then by people like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Brennan Manning. Theirs is a kindness and a gentleness that is, paradoxically, powerful and world-changing. I’ve tried, through the practice of silence and solitude, to better align my spirit with the grace these men have exemplified. I’ve tried, and I’ve failed often.

This has, so far, tempered my response to Donald Trump. I have come to recognize that my reactions to the evil I see in the world are rarely in the proper proportion, are rarely aimed in the right direction. Too often, I wield my righteous indignation like a toddler driving a tractor that’s pulling a plow through a field ready for harvest, destroying the fruit and the weeds alike. I want to be less ruinous. I want to cultivate more.

Yet how can someone remain silent in the face of someone like Donald Trump, someone who leaves a wake of damaged humanity behind him, who inspires his followers to violence and fear? What can silence and kindness do in the face of such noise?

I’ve watched the rise of Donald Trump with a sort of fascinated horror. His campaign is the train wreck we cannot look away from, an over-used cliche, but it has never been such a perfect metaphor. I think about who he has shown himself to be during the last six months.

A man who publicly makes fun of a disabled journalist.

A man who claims the majority of Mexicans are troublemakers and rapists, and a man who continually refuses to immediately speak out against the KKK and other hate groups when given the chance.

A bully who makes fun of women and encourages his supporters to rough up people they disagree with, leading to THIS (a protester being sucker punched) and THIS (a girl being harassed) and many things like THIS.

“There may be somebody with tomatoes in the audience,” Trump warned people at a rally in Iowa last month. “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Okay? Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.”

A man who actually said these sentences: “I went to an Ivy League school. I’m very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words.”

A man who loudly embraces the Bible and Christianity but reads from “Two” Corinthians and says he’s never asked God for forgiveness, for anything.

A man who said his terror strategy is to kill the terrorists’ families.

This is the Republican front runner. This is the person the Republican party will most likely nominate as their most qualified to lead the United States of America. What can silence, kindness, and gentleness do in the face of such belligerent power?

* * * * *

Still, silence continues to be a willing teacher, if I will only listen. Silence is trying to teach me that it is possible to resist the evil in the world while still somehow loving those who unwittingly usher that very evil in. Silence is showing me how to be patient. Silence is trying to teach me how to speak in the right way.

* * * * *

I’ve actually been registered Independent for some time – I’m not sure that Christ or Christianity is served in any way by my affiliation with a particular political party, and the increasingly dogmatic approach of the Republican Party has not represented me or my concerns. But this is the year the Republican Party lost me for good. I’m sure it’s of no great concern to them, although I doubt I’m alone in this sentiment.

Our country is divided, that much is certain. This November we will decide if we are prepared to further that divide. Look no further than Donald Trump’s recent rallies, and especially his response to them, and you will find a man who has no concern with unity, no concern with bringing people together. It’s his way or the highway. Anyone in the way gets punched in the mouth.

As a nation, this November we will decide to act either out of our fears or our hopes, two things which are often hard to discern between, at least when we’re saturated by the noise of this world. Do we fear our neighbors to the south? Do we fear immigrants? Do we fear Muslims? Or can we find a logical way, a sensible way forward that isn’t rooted in fear, violence, and retribution?

We will have a new president in November. The peaceful passing of power is one of the most beautiful, poignant, and important parts of our democracy. No matter who takes the oath, I expect there will be a greater need than ever for truth-tellers, for kindness, for gentleness, and even for silence practiced in the right way, and at the right times.

15 Replies to “The Year the Republican Party Lost Me”

  1. Shawn, it’s funny that I read this the same morning I thought that maybe, just maybe, this year’s election will lead to Christians putting less faith in the political process and the Repubkicsn party. Unfortunately, I’m afraid this is wishful thinking.

  2. For me, it was the year when the pro-life party said that torture was okay. I’d probably never fully embraced a lot of Republican ideals, but that one mattered to me because it mattered to my parents. And while I had seen shades of pro-life not really being as pro-life as I felt like it should be, that was the final straw. If it isn’t easy to speak out against torture, then you don’t represent anything remotely approaching a pro-life ethic.

    But to your larger point, I also struggle with knowing when to speak and when to be silent. That’s not always easy to suss out. I’m a talker, so silence doesn’t come naturally. My hope will continue to be that I will find a way to remain kind when I do choose to speak – to not fall back on name-calling and exaggerated emotions.

  3. Shawn, you illustrate in this essay so well “silence practiced in the right way, and at the right times.”

    You waited in silence for these words, and they emerged as clear bells in the night.

    Donald Trump doesn’t have all the “best words.”

    It’s a good time to remember where the Word came from and where our faith lies:

    John 1:1-14
    New International Version (NIV)
    The Word Became Flesh

    1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

    6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

    9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

    14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

  4. Thanks for you words. I appreciate your struggle. I have pondered what action to take. Several years back, reading Bonhoeffer’s biography by Metaxis, I recognized traits and patterns that allow a bully to take power over the sheep.. I fear what will take place internationally for America. I wonder if God will use our next president to teach America a humility that we have forsaken. I know that action, hopefully discerned from a heart that honors God rather than mammon, is important rather than pasivity. I’ve registered Republican for the first time in my life so that I can vote in our Primary. I may be spitting into the wind, it is an action.

  5. Hi Shawn and thank you for sharing this and all of your writings. I appreciate your talent, hard work and clear voice conveying your convictions and what is important to you as a child of God. I’m sure these issues have been weighing heavily on many hearts, while we watch some of the candidates exhibit the most hateful competition of any campaign. Observing this, I ask myself, “why would anyone advocate and vote for a candidate who is certainly not exhibiting any behavior that even comes close to “Godlike”? I know many wonderful people who have close, intimate relationships with God but choose their president based on one issue… weather he or she is “pro-choice or pro-life” as it applies to abortion and not to the death penalty. I cannot understand why man believes he has the right to choose who lives and who dies. Isn’t God the only One who gives life and calls us home when He chooses? So often I hear Christians voting for the single issue of “pro-life” as it applies to abortion, while both Cruz and Trump support the death penalty which allows others to play God, condemn and take an accused’s life. Is abortion the single issue to choose a president by? Is the death penalty the single issue to choose a president by? What about the candidates who aim to kill thousands of starving people by choosing greed and wealth over equality and access to resources? What about the candidates who choose death over life by sending people back to war stricken counteries where they will surely die? Please, I urge everyone to consider and pray on all of these issues with an open mind and a spirit of discernment. Please, do not elect a candidate who is led by hate, greed, inequality, or Christian showmanship.

  6. This election cycle has made me see my own biases and prejudices more clearly. It has also pushed me back from the powers of this world into the arms of the One who has the whole world in His hands. I have really seen the power of love and wisdom in those around me that are as just appalled by the hate and discourse in politics as I am.

    At my church, Petra in New Holland, we are collecting items for refugee health kits. We also have listened, together, to Middle Eastern Christians tell amazing stories of redemption in the midst of unimaginable horrors. The whole church really seems to be alive with God’s vision- A vision of Grace.

  7. Wow, Shawn. Good article. It’s amazing to me what has happened in the political arena in the last decades, and I can’t make a public political stance because of my occupation, but I would like to say that your article makes me think, makes me wonder what the future holds, makes me contemplate my part in it.

    It also reminds me of Ecclesiastes 3, there is a time to be silent and a time to speak. I think of the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement and how history was greatly affected by times of silence and times when people spoke up. I don’t have an answer, but it makes me think and think more before I speak.

    Thank you for sharing what’s on your heart, although it may be controversial, and for always making me think.

  8. Thank you. Beautiful, measured essay. I am trying not to sink into the fears and anxieties this election – and specifically, Donald Trump’s campaign – has triggered for me.

  9. Shawn,
    I resonate with your thoughts. May God open the eyes of our hearts………….. I used to ask myself, “what would I do in 1939 in Germany?” Would I try to be “the quiet in the land” or???????????
    Thank you this is helpful . Al l

  10. Shawn, your history and journey sound very similar to mine (except for the moving around until you were 5). Thank you for putting into words the struggle and the reality. I’ve never been very politically active except for voting, but if Trump gets the Republican nomination, I will be very intentionally speaking to people I know about who he is in the effort to deny him as many votes as possible.

  11. Shawn, I’m on much the same path you are. I’m stunned by what I see. What is going on this year in no way represents my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. And that’s across the board. And I hear plenty of people saying things like me, and yet we are stuck with this. Where I guess I would quibble is where you talk about acting out of our fears or our hopes. I see nothing out there in this political field that gives us hope. I see nothing but people preying on our fears and hate, albeit in a variety of ways.

    And perhaps that is the lesson. We have been trying too hard to put our hope in people, which is where our hope doesn’t belong. Perhaps we’re being taught a lesson this year.

    I think about third party candidates, but see nothing there. We’re told opting out isn’t an option, but I’m not sure I agree. I used to fault people for not voting, at least if it was out of apathy, but what about not voting on principle? That’s still a form of voting, is it not?

    As I go through my own season of change and uncertainty, perhaps it’s time to give voice to that uncertainty in the election process.

  12. George, the Bonhoeffer biography by Metaxis was great and you are spot on in reference to whom Christians should be pointing. I think Bonhoeffer is a great model during this time.

  13. Great article, Shawn. There is so much noise and name calling during this political season. The bullying puts a knot in my stomach,

    Under my political view on FaceBook, I have not listed a party. I say “whatever person will be the best for our country” I’ve voted both Democrat and Republican.

    They say that Trump is getting much of the Independent & undecided voters. I saw today that the KKK is now backing Hillary

    I think our responsibility is to pray unceasingly. Pray in earnest Only God can change this.

    Having said that, regardless who wins, Our God is still on the throne. He is still in control and I will put my trust in him.

  14. Thank you, Shawn, for this poignant, personal reflection. Though I am one of those blankety-blank Democrats, you and I share many of the same fears and frustrations. I am a publicly elected official, a township trustee, a non-partisan position. I live in among the Amish in Holmes Co., OH. I have lived what you have described my entire adult life, and I’m a lot older than you.

    How and when do we speak out against such hatred as Mr. Trump has espoused? In my situation and locale, I’ve been careful to the point of being too cautious. No more. I’ve shared your marvelous article on Facebook and hope that my friends, many who are Republican and would never vote for a Democrat, other than me, will read it.


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