By S.A. “Sam” Jernigan
Becoming a Christian at 19 was a seismic event in my young life―I was the only one in my family who was a believer so this was very much a personal journey of my own.
My independent streak began a number of years before that though as, raised by my from-the-South dad, I nevertheless experienced a profound awakening to the cause of social justice when hearing Bobby Kennedy speak while still a young girl. That single speech hooked me into his 1968 campaign and I hoped with all my heart he would follow Jack into the presidency. But it was not to be―his assassination at the Ambassador Hotel can still bring tears to my eyes today and was keenly traumatic at the time.
On the other hand, my dad actually voted for George Wallace that year. Even while still in junior high, we often had heated dinnertime debates about politics.
And my devotion to the Democratic party only continued to blossom, including high school related political activity with the local City Council which lead to declaring as a Poli-Sci major once enrolled in college, during which I became a staffer for a California State Assemblyman.
So when I came to understand the significance of Jesus and learned I could have a relationship with God because of His finished work on the cross, I did wonder how this was going to impact the life I’d envisioned of climbing the political ladder. Interestingly though, as I began to read the Bible for the first time―especially the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) recounting Jesus’ own ministry and teachings―I realized how “democratic” His teaching were, especially what’s known as The Beatitudes (His “Sermon on the Mount,” Matthew 5:1-10). Whew-w, what a relief.
But although my life subsequently pivoted onto a non-political path, decades later I was rattled indeed when the “pro-life” movement erupted―especially because both Old & New Testaments are almost completely silent on the value of an early-term fetus. So this feverish defense of the unborn which, to me, seemed to callously override any concern for the unwitting would-be mother, was more perplexing yet when I came to learn how the Right was using this as an emotional lure into their party for Christians. This of course includes Ralph Reed and his ilk―in fact, due to the owner of Domino’s Pizza being a cohort of his in that effort I’ve yet to purchase a pizza of theirs.
So, over the years, I’ve had to make my own way in dancing around the increasing stronghold of the Right on fellow believers, including my closest friends. And I’ve continued to be grieved and increasingly alarmed by those who have a profession of faith, but in terms of their actions, more closely mirror the Pharisees, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who paraded their power publicly in order to gain esteem among men―as that was, in actuality, the god of their idolatry. They’re the ones who were behind the death sentence for Jesus and whose inwardly-foul thinking He regularly rebuked.
But this current occupant of the Oval Office―for whom there is simply No civil description―has made a mockery of all Scriptural teachings that we followers of His profess to embrace. From Trump’s theatrical glide down the escalator and ensuing first volleys of the racism that would define his administration, to the Access Hollywood bombshell confessions of misogynism in his own snide voice, it has become unconscionable to me that a fellow Christian could actually support this morally-bereft and ever more boldly corrupt individual. For those of us who think of the New Deal and The Great Society as benchmarks of historical small “d” democratic glory days, the mire we’ve sunk into in the past 3.5 years has very nearly snuffed out all that we hold most dear―including increasingly quaint remembrances of things like presidential stature, American leadership on the global stage, the commitment to defend and expand democracy internationally, Civil Rights, caring for the poor, and on and on. All the things I’m sure Bobby’s long-ago speech touched upon which had such a lasting and profound effect on yours truly.
But this virus fiasco and the criminally inept “handling” of this pandemic at the federal level, including the mind-boggling politicization of masks as were utilized in combating the 1918 Spanish flu which killed 675,000 Americans in its day…well, there is simply NO apologetic that can be made for Christians who continue to stand with this wantonly irresponsible, willfully ignorant, and now life-endangering president. And don’t even get me started on George Floyd and the massive awakening underway which is finally bringing about tangible change for our black and brown brothers and sisters who’ve lived with the scourge of racism all their lives, especially at the hands of those we citizens pay to protect and defend which should include ALL of “us.” And yet there is only silence or derision at the presidential level.
And then came the shocking blasphemy of this reprobate holding up a Bible in front of St. John’s Church after the brutalization used to clear Lafayette Park from its peaceful BLM protesters. For me as a Christian, this brought to mind “end days” prophecies in Revelation, even though, rotten as he is, Trump surely isn’t the Antichrist. But it was nevertheless one of the most chilling spectacles I’ve ever witnessed. Hard to fathom how his hand wasn’t scorched IMHO.
As a result and because their blind following is now endangering their own health re: this no-mask nonsense, I have of late been more willing to be confrontational with fellow believers who have continued to drink the dangerous Kool-Aid being proffered by the Right under Trump. This included a pointed “reply all” response to an email I received in May decrying reports of license plate numbers being copied down in church parking lots. In my diatribe response underscoring the global pandemic and the issues re: ALL large gatherings, I also told them what a disgrace this sort of thinking is, “…which, makes Christians look like ignorant and paranoid nut jobs, frankly―so STOP sniffing the Fox News glue, it’s 100% toxic!”…as of course churches were NOT being “targeted.” But as you’re surely well aware, paranoia is one more taste profile sprinkled generously and served up on the GOP and far-Right’s (pro-fascist) menu of offerings, each more ptomaine-laden than the next.
So although I’ve not yet been able to obtain as much mainstream media exposure for them as I’d hoped as an Advisory Board member for Christian Democrats of America (ChristianDems.org), I’m pressing on in my pro bono capacity on their behalf as time permits. The grassroots nonprofit numbers appx. 200K―and more and more former and disgusted Republicans as well as Independents have been joining their ranks as well during the Trump reign, especially their #ChristiansAgainstHate campaign. By the way, another Board member is Linda Seger, a theologian and speaker who authored the book, “Jesus Rode A Donkey: Why Millions of Christians are Democrats” (third edition published in 2020).
Just please know that deriding ALL Christians as hopelessly under the GOP’s thumb paints (e.g. snap-profiles) those of us who instead share your core values with the same too-broad brush―just as those declaring proudly Black Lives Matter chafe under stereotyping and racism. Not all who worship the Lord and claim adoption by His blood have opened wide and allowed themselves to be spoon-fed by the Right. And I for one am still ardently praying for the rescue and restoration of my beloved country to its democratic foundational creeds and ideals. And that includes regularly praying for Joe’s safety, health, and protection…and ditto for R.B.G.!
This recent Politico article includes quotes by the executive director of Christian Democrats of America who was interviewed for this piece addressing the role of Christians in the upcoming elections: https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/08/03/evangelical-democrats-390976