Religious and Political Labels

By Graham Glover

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Maybe it’s just me, but I think asking someone their religious preference and political party gives you a keen insight into who that person is and what they believe. Perhaps more than anything else, these two labels offer the best description of how an individual views the world in which we live.

We here at The Jagged Word are a homogenous group when it comes to our religious identification. All of the authors are members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a very conservative Christian denomination. As for our political party, that’s another story, as we represent both major American political parties and possibly a few smaller ones. What does that mean about us? By and large we are a “conservative” bunch. This is certainly the case theologically and despite what some of you think, I think it is also true about our politics. We cover a healthy range on the conservative theological spectrum, evident in our articles and our comments. And despite some of our political leanings, I don’t think I would label any of those who write for this blog as political liberals.

But what about you? What denomination or faith group do you belong to and what political party do you claim? Do you think your “label” matters?

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I know it’s trendy to claim political independence or to say one is spiritual but not religious. Many Americans criticize both political parties, evident in the recent rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. One of the most popular religious identifications I encounter in the US Army is, “No Religious Preference”. So on the one hand, it would seem that asking someone their religious preference and political party wouldn’t give you much insight into who that person is. People these days are all over the political and religious map, and they don’t fit into the traditional Democratic/Republican and Lutheran/Roman Catholic/Methodist/Episcopalian/etc. or Christian/Jewish/Atheist/etc. labels. For an increasing number of individuals, these labels don’t carry the weight they once did. So yes, asking these questions may not be as simple as it was 30 years ago.

All that means is that we have to ask a few more questions, dig a little deeper, and the same results quickly become evident. You may be a registered Independent, but if I ask you about your stances on national health insurance, abortion, gay marriage, tax rates, the Global War on Terror, etc., I get a good idea about where you fit on the political spectrum. You may claim no particular faith group or if a Christian, no denomination. But again, if I ask who you think Jesus is, what is authoritative with respect to your faith, how you understand worship, and what rites and ceremonies define your faith, I can make a decent guess about where you fall on the theological spectrum. This is not a perfect science, but it’s not rocket science either. Figuring out people’s religious and political labels, even when they don’t claim one, is not a difficult thing to do.

So what? Why should the readers of The Jagged Word care about what denomination or faith group we belong to or what political party we support? Maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe you don’t. But I think you do. I think we all do. Some may run from labels, but deep down we still want them. We need them. We turn to them to help us make sense of the world in which we live and the people that we encounter. This is why so many of you try to pigeon-hole the authors of this blog with the ideas we advance in our articles. If we challenge what you think it means to be a conservative, a Lutheran, a Christian, etc., you go bat-shit crazy. You want these labels. You need them. You can’t comprehend politics or theology without them. When someone challenges these labels, your head spins in confusion.

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But don’t worry, you’re no different than most, to include yours truly. And that’s ok. In fact, it’s why The Jagged Word is here: to challenge, to question, to push. We do this not simply to be contrarian. We do it because it’s what theologians and political philosophers do. It’s what we as thinkers, scholars, pastors, parents, and students should do on a regular basis. I think it’s what we should all strive to do, even when it’s uncomfortable or uneasy. And I assure you, it’s what we will continue to do as we tackle issues whose arguments are tired, boring, and stale – issues that are critical to our understanding of who we are as persons, Christians, Americans, and neighbors.

So don’t tell me that being a Missouri-Synod Lutheran pastor that longs for unity with Rome, who proclaims Christ as Lord while earning a paycheck from the U.S. Federal Government, who is a registered Democrat that is pro-life and a political scientist that has yet to finish my dissertation, who loves America while questioning our founding principles, doesn’t make sense. It most certainly does – just not by the labels you want or the labels you know.

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