by Linda Seger, Th.D. – author of Jesus Rode a Donkey: Why Millions of Christians are Democrats
By the time we are born, we have already been impacted by the political decisions that our parents and their parents and the founding fathers have made. These choices determine the opportunities we have, the visions and dreams we follow, the philosophies we will accept, and our understanding of what needs to be changed. It doesn’t take long for us to become little political beings with opinions about how we’re supposed to vote and what party we’re supposed to belong to.
I grew up as a Republican. I remember being a grade school student in the 1950s when everybody liked Ike Eisenhower. When we had our grade school mock elections, there were only two people in my grade school class who voted for Adlai Stevenson. After staring at them for a few moments, I reached the conclusion that these two people were not like us. Many years later I discovered that my uncle, who was an author and a renowned university professor in history, felt Stevenson was one of our truly great Americans. He had been an avid supporter of Stevenson, and was a Democrat. But I knew nothing of that at an early age. By the time I could think further about politics, Nixon and John F. Kennedy were running against each other. I was told that if Kennedy won, the Pope would move into the White House and govern our country. It didn’t happen and Kennedy won me over. His vision of putting a man on the moon, his creation of the Peace Corps, and his strength and charisma made me excited about political leadership.
In my developing adolescence, I almost became a Democrat in my mind, even though I was not able to vote. I moved back and forth for some years, and finally, with the corruption of the Nixon Watergate scandal, I registered first as an Independent and then as a Democrat. When I went to seminary in the 1970s, even though I worked three jobs, studied all the rest of the time, and had some scholarship help, I was so poor I couldn’t afford to park at a parking meter because I didn’t have an extra dime. I went on the food stamps program and food stamps saved me. They made it possible for me to stay in graduate school and to eventually get my Th.D. Experiencing what it was like to be poor changed how I thought about government assistance. No matter how hard I worked, I still needed help. I believed it was to the benefit of me and my country for me to complete graduate school. At one point, one of my jobs gave me a raise of $20.00, which disqualified me for food stamps. Within two weeks, my employer illegally fired me. It took me six weeks to get back on the food stamp program. The day before the food stamps arrived, I looked through my cupboard. All I had left was dry cereal, which I ate that day with water.
During this time, I was also grateful for free women’s clinics which gave me the opportunity to see a doctor when ill and to receive medications, if necessary. Now that I’m over 65, I am grateful for Medicare and for the Social Security check.
My developing view of the government’s role in helping its citizens was reaffirmed in 2004 when my sister became ill with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). She was eligible for Medicaid because ALS is one of those few diseases where one can get Medicaid before 65, but the social service agencies were not responding quickly. I was told to call Holly’s representative from Long Island, New York, who was Steve Israel, a Democrat. His response changed my sister’s life. He and his office staff helped her get a Medicaid card within a week. They were compassionate, efficient, caring, and on top of the problem. Although she died several years later, the political policy that allowed her to get the help she needed made it possible for her to die with grace and dignity. This assistance from Steve Israel made such a powerful impact that her daughter, who had never voted anything but Republican, voted for him, and said, “I voted for him because he helped my mom.”
The big issues of the day, such as racism, sexism, classism, ecology, war, rights and equality for others, began to push me toward registering as a Democrat. I learned that those who needed help were far beyond a stereotype of “takers” and “dependents.” The help was usually not a hand out but a hand up. At the same time, I became clearer about my own identity as a Christian, affirming the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the involvement in our world of Jesus Christ, and the necessity for me to develop a more social and global consciousness.
Originally, it was an assignment from Adams Media Publishers, who wanted a book from someone with a background in theology, who knew Scripture, and who was an experienced author who could respond to the oft-repeated idea that the Christian vote was the Republican vote. I fit their need, and also wanted to correct this inaccurate perception.
When I was first asked to write this book, I was concerned because politics and religion can be such divisive issues. I’m a Quaker, and we look and work toward unity. We want to resolve conflicts non-violently. I had to think about going into the fray, as opposed to my usual desire of staying out of the fray.
As I pondered this decision, I called a Quaker Clearness Committee. This is a process where a Quaker asks several wise Quakers to sit down and hold the decision up to The Light. They try to help the person discern the best decision and listen to the Holy Spirit. One of the Quakers said, “It might be better for a Quaker to write this book than someone with an axe to grind. Maybe you can take this difficult topic and not add more fuel to the fire but increase our understanding.”
Originally the publishers wanted the title “Jesus Was a Democrat.” I said I couldn’t write that because I presumed Jesus was an Independent. They agreed to change the title, gave me several alternatives, and I chose Jesus Rode a Donkey because it had a certain humor to it which I felt dissipated the divisiveness.
I hope this book might break down some of the barriers and divisiveness that exist between parties and people. If you are unsure about which party and which policies best express your values, perhaps this book will bring you to some new decisions about who you are, what you believe, and what actions you can take to help create a society that is an expression of God’s grace, the love of Christ, and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit.