Joel Wentz

contending for thoughtful Christianity

Why I Support Bernie Sanders

I am an Evangelical Christian, and I support Bernie Sanders. I am aware that this seems like a paradox to many observers, so allow me to explain myself. But first, a disclaimer....

As a Christian, my primary hope for the future is placed in God's Kingdom, as inaugurated by Jesus. As such, I do not place any hope (or fear, for that matter) in the Earth's Kingdoms. This includes the Empire of the United States, no matter who leads it after the next election. This perspective, I feel, gives me a healthy distance from the insanity of our deeply broken system, which has been on full display over the past year. Frankly, I wish more Evangelicals adopted such a healthy distance in their political engagement. So whether Bernie, Cruz, Rubio, or Clinton is commander-in-chief after the next 12 months, my fundamental hope for the future is unaffected.

Although, I must admit that the idea of Cruz being in charge does make me a little panicky...

That being said, I do plan to exercise my ability to vote in favor of Bernie Sanders. In fact, I'm planning on voting during the primary season, for the first time in my life, because I'm a passionate supporter of the Vermont Senator. Whether you find my stance confusing, infuriating, or agreeable, allow me to offer a few thoughts.

First, I do know about all the reasons the typical Evangelical doesn't like Bernie. I know that he is pro-choice and supportive of Planned Parenthood. I know that he has consistently supported same-sex marriage and liberal legislation for LGBT people. I also know about that minor scandal that was dug up some months ago regarding his donations. And, yes, I know that he's a socialist.

I understand why many Evangelicals find this track record reprehensible. Truly, I get it. And let me also say that I don't love everything Bernie does. I wish he was a little stronger on gun policy. And while he seems to understand the deeply problematic and ongoing issue of systemic racism in America, I wish he went a little farther. He's not a perfect, custom-made-for-Joel politician. But, no one is. So, why exactly am I supporting him?

Every citizen builds their own personalized prioritized set of public policy issues, which is informed by their life experience and/or education. This is unavoidable, simply because the list of issues is so long*, and no person can simply say, "Every issue is equally important to me," as that would effectively be the same as saying, "All issues are equally unimportant to me." We all have to prioritize, and we instinctively do this in every other area of our lives. We prioritize our finances, our time management, and what we do with leisure. In so doing, we are stating that, "This issue is more pressing for me than that issue." So, when I pay rent instead of buying a pile of board games (much as I may want to!), I am prioritizing the need for a living space over my desire to invest more into my hobby. I am not saying that my desire for board games doesn't exist, or that anyone who spends money on board games is an idiot. And this is where our political discourse has gone totally off the rails....

You see, the decision to cast my vote for Bernie is reflective of my own priorities in regards to public policy issues in America. My life experience and studies have led me to conclude that America is economically headed towards an oligarchic caste system**, that our vast military over-reach and imperial foreign policy are setting the stage even more disastrous "blowback" in our future***, and that our abhorrent history of racialized legislation and criminal justice are simultaneously oppressing our fellow citizens, undermining the very notion of American democracy and equality, and internally tearing our country apart domestically while we attempt to export our brand of governance around the world.****

These issues: an oligarchic economy, foreign policy and imperial overreach, and systemic racism are how I understand the pressing needs facing our country. These are my public policy priorities, and, for me, these priorities are formed directly by my Christian faith. I also believe they are well-informed, and Bernie Sanders is the only candidate speaking with clarity, authenticity, and consistency on these very issues. This doesn't mean, for example, that I don't think abortion is a problem, but simply that I've prioritized it in a different way than many Evangelicals have.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill & cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.
— Matthew 23.23

So please don't assume, especially if you are an Evangelical Christian on the more conservative/traditional side of the political conversation, that I've scrapped our whole value system and have been brainwashed by the liberals. Again, just because I spend money on rent instead of board games, doesn't mean I don't care at all about board games. I just have different priorities. And can we please talk about those priorities instead of shouting at each other and posting remarkably unhelpful internet memes? Can we talk about your priorities, how you reached them, and how a different set of priorities can be equally informed by the same faith you share? Isn't that a more interesting conversation?

If you're voting for a conservative, pro-life candidate who is also very pro-military,  specifically because of his stance on abortion, then on some level you have decided that abortion, as a public policy issue, is a higher priority to address than our military spending. Similarly, you may have decided that the wealth gap is not as urgent of a policy issue. You have also made priorities, and though I see things differently, at least we can have a conversation about those prioritized issues, which is much more productive and fruitful. 

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
— James 1.27

In other words, if you are a Republican, I will not make the assumption you are "un-Christian" because you "clearly don't care about the poor people in our country, the orphans and widows who are trying to escape the war-torn Middle East that we, in part, have created, or the orphans and widows in America that have been created by our problem with urban mass incarceration." You wouldn't think that a fair assumption, right? I ask you to withhold making the same assumption about me, a Bernie-supporter.

My deep desire for racial justice, economic justice, and yes, my belief in the sanctity and dignity of every human life, which includes the lives of immigrants, criminals on death row, and the unborn, are a direct result of my belief in the Kingdom of God, as inaugurated specifically and particularly by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

So let's extend grace to each other, as we prophetically urge the leaders of America to take seriously the witness of Jesus and His body, the church, as they make decisions that will form the future path of our country.


*This list of issues includes, but is not limited to: foreign policy, immigration legislation, health care, gun and weapon legislation, environmental policies, finance reform (public and private), military spending and policy, prison and criminal justice legislation, marriage legislation, abortion (though this is arguably a sub-set of the health care category), racial issues including the conversation around reparations, and so forth.

**See the work of Thomas Piketty, for a comprehensive economic argument that this is exactly where America is headed, specifically because the value growth of inherited wealth is outpacing the growth of earned wealth.

***See the work of Chalmers Johnson for a scathing, but well-informed indictment of overseas American activity.

****Michelle Alexander's book on this topic, the New Jim Crow, needs to be required reading for all Americans, in my opinion.