As GOP presidential candidates make their final plea in South Carolina, and as the Texas governor resigns from the race, Christian evangelicals are making their rounds for endorsements.
James Dobson and the Family Research Council endorsed Rick Santorum, while Mitt Romney finds resistance and concern over his Mormon faith. While candidates fight for potential voters, there exists in all their campaigns a common refusal to welcome the stranger.
Over the past 30 years there has been an increasing divide between conservatives and liberals. This divide has grown not only in politics, but in religious identity as well. The liberal or conservative label defines not only someone’s identity, but also their foe, best exemplified by the fever pitch of Tea Party partisanship. From the church house to the statehouse animosity between ideologies has reached an unhealthy level.
Sadly, much of this partisanship has been fueled by organizations that identify as “Christian.” The Family Research Council, the same one that endorsed Santorum, says that it is “Advancing Faith, Family, and Freedom.” Though it sounds comforting and in line with “traditional” American values, the FRC has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its defamation of gays and lesbians.
All this prompts the question: Can conservatives welcome the stranger?
The stranger is more than the person who appears on the doorstep needing food. Peddled and pushed as “true conservative values” are attitudes fueled by demonization and defamation. They are attitudes that devalue the stranger and provide no space for hospitality.
Welcoming the stranger is central to all three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — yet today I find myself ashamed of fellow Christians because of their lack of hospitality.
For evangelical groups to endorse a candidate that defames gays and puts the least of these in harm’s way makes a mockery of the life Jesus lived. If conservatives want to endorse a truly “Christian” candidate, they should endorse the candidate that fights for the poor, speaks out against hate speech and seeks to transform humanity — not debase it through petty, shoddy and divisive rhetoric.
All Christians have a responsibility to seek to welcome the stranger. In America the greatest strangers are not Muslims, Jews, Buddhists or even gays, but other Christians. If we cannot even welcome each other, then what hope do we have of ever changing our world?
As a young Baptist trying to make it in a pluralistic, globalized and postmodern world, I read vitriolic comments from others about Muslims or see hateful words spouted at those that look different. Yet I have not lost hope, because I believe in the powerful, transformative love of Jesus.
Politicians alone do not offer solutions. Communities together change our world. We complain because we realize how lacking our communities are. The love of Jesus we are called to embody demands transformation — including love of self. Facing who we are only becomes possible when we can love and embrace our total self.
That goes for societal change as well. If we cannot love the stranger in our own self we cannot love the stranger in society. When we begin welcoming the stranger individually we can welcome the strangers in society — and together we transform.
But that will require that people are more interested in following Jesus than endorsing the pandering politician.