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An Evangelical Pastor: Bernie Sanders is John the Baptist
Listening to Bernie Sanders at Liberty University, this pastor sees him repeating what the bible says about the rich and the powerful and the poor and vulnerable. Jesus says nothing on abortion, gays.
Hi my name is Jim. I am the guy who recently posted onto Reddit under the Sanders4President Subreddit that I’m a Liberty University Alumni, and that I support Bernie, and think that he’s a good spokesman for justice.
I thought I would take a second to, sort of, unpack that, because I could tell there’s a lot of people, both Evangelical conservative folk and more liberal Bernie-supporting folk, who are very confused that I could occupy both worlds. So, I thought, I’ll take a few seconds and explain myself, and maybe that will be helpful for the conversation.
So a little bit about me. I am not a current student at Liberty. If I was, I actually wouldn’t have been able to post onto that Reddit board and say that I’m supporting Bernie. There is an Honor Code at Liberty University, and while it’s not always enforced, if you support a candidate who is pro-choice or pro-gay marriage, you can be punished by the University, up to and including expulsion from the school. So as a graduate of Liberty University, I’m in a good position to represent folks that might go there and people from the Evangelical tradition, but not be within the world that they can, you know, punish me for my opinion.
So I got my Bachelors degree in Religion from Liberty University, and I also got my Masters degree from Liberty University in Marriage and Family Therapy. In 2004 I worked for the George W. Bush campaign. I spent about 8 years as a Conservative pastor. And also as a schoolteacher at a conservative Christian academy. And today I serve my community as a therapist and also a pastoral counselor, somebody that folks from churches might go see to get counseling whenever they want to see somebody who’s both a clinical counselor but also a pastor.
So I serve all those roles. I think I’m pretty much a card-carrying Evangelical Christian. I still subscribe to a conservative evangelical theology. And what that means, a lot of people get confused when they hear the word ‘conservative,’ they assume you mean politically. ‘Conservative theology’ means that I believe the Bible is trustworthy, I think that God inspired it, Jesus was absolutely real, and really died on the cross, and really did resurrect three days later; and I am an Evangelical Christian in that way.
So, how did I come to find myself supporting Bernie Sanders? How did that evolution take place? How could it be that in 2004 I was working for the George W. Bush campaign, and today in 2015, as a double Liberty University graduate, under Jerry Falwell—when I went to school, Jerry Falwell was the Chancellor—how is it that I could be now supporting Bernie Sanders, who’s a very progressive, very liberal guy; he describes himself as a ‘democratic socialist.’ How do I find common ground on those two things?
Well a lot of people I think falsely believe that in order to do that you have to give up one of your sides. Either you have to not really be a progressive, and you’re just an Evangelical who just likes Bernie, or you have to not really be an Evangelical, and just secretly be a Progressive who’s faking it and pretending to be an Evangelical, but wouldn’t actually pass the litmus test of being an Evangelical.
I pass both tests, I am very much 100% legitimate in both camps, and I want to explain why that’s not a mythological thing, that’s not a disconnect. Some people call that a contradiction, or hypocrisy, it is absolutely not. I believe that my views are 100% consistent. And so I think that the shock value for that comes in beginning to appreciate that the Bible and Jesus, in my opinion and in my very moderate reading of the Bible and the words of Christ, leads us to a Progressive worldview. And that is shocking to a lot of people, especially folks back home in the Evangelical community, they hear that and go, “What are you talking about? That’s heresy—“ it’s like, hold on. Hear me out. There is a Biblical argument for voting for Bernie Sanders, believe it or not, and I’m gonna walk you through it really quick on some key issues.
So that first issue that I’d kind of point your attention to is kind of what Bernie brought up during his speech at Liberty. Basically, the wealth inequality problem—and see a lot of us, on the Evangelical side think that what Jesus really cares about is gay marriage and abortion. And of course, the great irony is if you read the red letters of Jesus, there are no statements on abortion. There are no statements on gay marriage. Now, that’s not to say the Bible doesn’t speak about these things, but it certainly is to say that Jesus, founder and master of our faith, did not see fit to make these high-priority topics. It’s not to say he doesn’t care. But it is to say that we need to be careful not to ‘major on minors.’ We should be focused on the things Jesus did talk about.
So what did Jesus talk about?
So here’s the interesting thing. When I was watching Bernie Sanders talk at Liberty University, I was just really shocked, and something kind of magical happened for me, because as I watched that guy stand up on that stage, here’s what I saw. I saw a wild-haired Jew crying out in a hoarse voice, in a very forceful and forth-speaking way, he was convicting the Christian leaders and religious leaders in that University and calling us out for being complicit in the abandonment of those who suffer: “The least of these.” And siding with the powerful and the rich and the masters of this world. And he was convicting us, and calling us out. And we scorned him, and we stared him down, and with sour faces we thought, “Who is this whacko? And why do all these people seem to follow him, seem to like him? This wild-haired Jew, crying out from the wilderness of the political Left, in his hoarse voice?”
And if you’re an Evangelical listening to me today, you already know where I’m going with this. When I heard Bernie speaking in that way, when I saw that guy on stage at Liberty University, I saw John the Baptist. I saw the wild-haired, roughly-clothed John the Baptist, eating honey and wearing camel’s hair, and crying out to the religious leaders, the Pharisees of his day, calling them corrupt and complicit with those who have all the power and all the money and all the wealth, and for abandoning the people that God loves, that God cares about. For the Pharisees, who were siding with those who already have power and wealth and saying that they will be the last in the Kingdom of God, and that the weak, and the meek, and the simple, and those who need help—they are first in the Kingdom of God.
And I saw that guy, that John the Baptist figure, who is standing up and saying “There is coming a messenger, there is coming a messenger who will bring equity and justice to the poor, and to the weak, and who will stand for ’the least of these.’” That’s the wild-haired Jew that I saw up on that stage. I saw, and felt, the same voice coming from the Bible when I read about John the Baptist, who cried out in the desert to the Pharisees, warning them that Jesus was coming, the messenger of God. And that he was coming to restore justice, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and to value ’the least of these’ when the Pharisees had failed.
And as I heard Bernie talking, and as I listened to his cries for justice, I remembered, suddenly, what Jesus had actually said in the Book of Luke, when he unravels the scroll in the synagogue, and he quotes the Book of Isaiah, which says that the Son of God was coming. And then he says, “This has been fulfilled in your presence here today.” He quotes the book of Isaiah which says that the Son of God is coming to bring justice, and Jesus says “it is now come to pass in your presence.” And he says, “I have come to bring Gospel to the poor.”
Gospel—is that word we Evangelical Christians have based everything on. Gospel means ‘good news.’ And Jesus said “I have come to bring good news to the poor.” To restore sight to the blind, to stand with the suffering, to set the captives free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
As I heard Bernie Sanders crying out to the religious leaders at Liberty University, in his hoarse voice, with his wild hair, this Jew, and he proclaimed justice over us. He called us to account for being complicit with those who are wealthy and those who are powerful and for abandoning the poor, ‘the least of these’ who Jesus said he had come to bring good news to. And in that moment, something occurred to me, as I saw Bernie Sanders up there, as I watched him I realized: Bernie Sanders, for President, is good news for the poor. Bernie Sanders for President is good news for the poor. Bernie Sanders is Gospel for the poor. And Jesus said, “I have come to bring Gospel—good news—to the poor.”
And lightning hit my heart in that moment. And I realized that we are Evangelical Christians, that we believe the Bible. We believe in Jesus. We absolutely shun those who attempt to find nuance and twisted and tortured interpretation of scripture that they would use to master all other broader interpretations, to find some kind of big message that they want to flout. We absolutely scorn such things. And yet somehow, we commit to the mental gymnastics necessary that allows us to abandon ‘the least of these,’ to abandon the poor, to abandon the immigrants, to abandon those who are in prison. I listened to Bernie Sanders, as he said he wanted to welcome the immigrants and give them dignity. As he said he wanted to care for the sick children, and mothers, and fathers, who do not have health care. As he said he wanted to decrease the amount of human beings who are corralled like cattle in the prisons. As he said he wanted to do justice for those who have nothing and live homeless. And I remembered the words of Jesus, who warned his disciples that there will be judgment, and on that day he will look to his friends, and he will say ‘Blessed are you, for you cared for me, for I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick, and you cared for me; I was hungry, and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was in prison, and you came to visit me; I was homeless, and you gave me shelter.” And the disciples said, “Jesus, when did we do any of those things for you?” And he said, “If you have done it for ‘the least of these,’ you have done it for me.”
And those words echoed in my heart. As I listened to that crazy, hoarse-voiced, wild-haired Jew, standing in front of the religious leaders of the Evangelical movement, calling us to account, as a Jew once did before. Telling us that he intends to care for ‘the least of these.’ To clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to care for the sick, to set the prisoners free.
Yes. I am an Evangelical Christian. I believe in the Bible. I follow Jesus. When I look at Bernie Sanders, and I hear the things that he’s saying, it’s like he’s ripping them out of the pages of scripture. I would have to try to avoid the meaning of those words. I would have to bury my head in the sand to continue to support conservative policies. I am religiously conservative but I am not politically so. And I think here is the heart and soul of it:
When we chose to follow Jesus, we decided that the Kingdom of God, and the men and women and children of this world, were more important than us. And that accidentally made us all liberals. The day we decided to follow Christ, and the day we decided that we value other human beings more than ourselves, we accidentally became liberals.
And so there is no contradiction between being a Bible-believing Christian and a Bernie Sanders supporter.
I follow the teachings of Christ: to care for ‘the least of these.’ And I believe that just as John the Baptist once cried out in the desert for justice, and called the religious establishment to account, and hearkened unto the day that Jesus would walk among us, and declare equity and justice and good news for the poor; and just as that day came, that Jesus stood in front of the multitudes at the religious institution and said “I have come to bring gospel to the poor,” I believe that Bernie Sanders now stands in front of us, wild-haired and hoarse-voiced, and he now declares justice for the poor. He declares good news for ‘the least of these.’ He has come to bring gospel. And I wouldn’t be much of a Christian if I didn’t stand on the side of gospel for the poor. Because the last time I checked, that’s where my master Jesus stood, and I’ll stand with him. And for now, that means I stand with Bernie Sanders.
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