A Bit of Background
Up to that point I had only examined my own views regarding anything remotely political in passing. The majority of my thought had been concentrated on things holy. Theological. Important. Oh, and baseball.
But as I sat in my seminarian apartment examining my inherited view of the death penalty for an ethics class at Beeson Divinity School, it occurred to me that I could not, in good conscience, support the taking of a life by the state regardless of the circumstance. For the first time I can place, my lived experience was challenging what I had assumed to be self-evident.
I was raised in a politically conservative home and atmosphere. In my first presidential election I voted for the Libertarian candidate. I voted against Barack Obama both times, if memory serves. At the beginning of my senior in high school (having been a member of the Young Republican’s Club- chapter founder Dusty Hobbs), I distinctly remember the feeling of fear and anger at Osama bin Laden and, for unknown reasons, Saddam Hussein. I remember fearing for my classmates, my baseball buddies, my friends, signing up for military duty in a time of impending war.
In my collegiate and seminarian days I studied realities far higher and grander than petty political squabbles. The men (and with very few exceptions they were only men) I read, listened to, and followed steered far clear of political talk. I did not at the time recognize the privilege I inherited, taking it largely for granted that my ignorance of the profane was due to my good and noble choices. After all, given the fact that I am a Christian who identifies as straight, white and cis-gendered male from the middle-class (more on each of those designations as time goes on!), the odds that any political decisions would change the outcome of my life have always been minimal at best.
And while certain writers whose work I fell in love with, from John Steinbeck to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Derek Webb set the stage for me to question why things were, in a word, unequal, it took an experience in a particular community to cause me to not only care deeply about the political conversation, but move far to the left.
A Particular Community
The first time I walked into Recovery Cafe in Seattle, my thinking began to shift almost immediately. Here was a community consisting of kind, quirky and beautiful people. Many were living on the streets. Some were battling demons ranging from mental illness to substance abuse. Some identified as gay, trans or queer. This was a community founded by a woman who radiates the love of Christ. His presence is unmistakable there.
Life at the Recovery Cafe did not line up with much of my existing ideology. And neither did my boss’ view of the world match my own. As I listened to him complain about the effects war on drugs, the shrinking social safety net, the devastating results of mass incarceration- much of what amounts to the criminialization of poverty- and as I saw the results firsthand, my heart and mind began to shift.
And as I dove down deeper into what I now see as the very design of a political system that sees corporations as people and money as speech while disregarding the voice of the poor, I began to listen to folks I had, frankly, never heard of before. I began to read the Rev. William Barber, to listen to journalist Amy Goodman, and support Bernie Sanders and in their witness, I began to hear echoes of the prophets of old. They were calling down the powerful from their high places. They were speaking out for the oppressed, even giving a platform for the forgotten among us, to the casualties of our collective choices we call government and politics.
My own ethical point of view has undergone a dramatic and slow metamorphosis since that night years ago spent wondering why I had never considered the ethical ramifications of capital punishment. And while I have yet to meet a death row inmate, I have met men and women who have done hard time in prison. Some for serious offences. Most for drugs. I have met and become friends with many in the LGBTQ community. I have listened to women share their stories of unthinkable choices they had to make while pregnant. And so I no longer have the luxury of shouting my ideology into the void. To me (and to many who may be present as readers here) each of the issues I intent to elaborate on have a human face. Each has a story.
My own journey may not seem particularly compelling to you. I wouldn’t be surprised if you wrote me off for being too experiential in rethinking my opinions. But I would add this. Most of what constitutes our accepted viewpoints, ideology and politics is given to us. Some of us inherit this from our parents. Some from others they trust. But none of us believe what we believe based on a cold analysis of competing views. All of it is personal, subjective, and open to the challenge of interacting with one another.
May this be a conversation in which we meet each other with kindness and curiosity.