As I drove during a recent rainstorm along I-40 west from the Memphis area toward my home in Jackson, Tennessee, I thought about how many times I would cover this same route if I were elected to Congress in Tennessee’s eighth district to replace the departing Stephen Fincher.
I began to calculate the days away from home, the time in the air, and considered the steep learning curve of the campaign. Although I’ve spent my adult life studying, teaching, writing, and speaking about politics, I knew running for office would be a different world.
When I got into the race, everything changed. I went from being an outside observer—an academic who is trained to tear things apart—to being something of an amateur in a new arena. People have told me I am crazy, that there is no reason to bother unless I have three-quarters of a million dollars, etc.
The bizarre thing about it is they seem to think this is information I don’t already know. It makes me think about the film “Cinderella Man.” A boxing promoter shows Russell Crowe’s character a film of his upcoming opponent physically destroying the men who face him. Crowe’s response is classic. “What are you trying to tell me, something like boxing’s dangerous?”
Politics Isn’t Glamorous or Attractive, Really
After I entered the race, I felt a powerful wave of anxiety hit. I wanted to quit, wanted to choose an opponent who seemed worthy and enlist in his cause. But I didn’t. That’s the advantage of being 45 instead of 12. I remember how I felt when I quit a football team as a kid. I didn’t want to feel that way again.
I got through a tough weekend and stopped worrying about the naysayers. I’m not running for anyone’s affirmation. I’m running because I see a crisis developing. It’s up to the voters to decide whether they want to send somebody like me to address it.
Why am I running? I’ve been around politics enough to know there isn’t much glamour, especially for most members of Congress. I’ve seen an awful lot of staging for media so the audience doesn’t see how few people attend some of the events and rallies. I’ve squeezed into tiny rooms so they would look full for the cameras. Dan Boorstin was right when he characterized a lot of what goes on in politics as “pseudo-events.” They aren’t real or spontaneous. Most are just planned happenings designed to give the press something to cover.
So, no, I’m not running for Congress like some guy who just binge-watched “The West Wing.” My eyes are wide open. The reason I’m running is simple. It’s about the names. It’s about the names and the machine trying to crush them.
These People Are the Reason
Brendan Eich is a co-founder of Mozilla, which created the Firefox browser. He was CEO of the firm until it was revealed he contributed money to a traditional marriage referendum in California. Mozilla fired him from the company he founded.
Kelvin Cochran was a fire chief in Atlanta until it was discovered that he had written a men’s Bible study endorsing Christian views of sexuality. He, too, was fired.
Dr. Eric Walsh was hired as a deputy health director for the state of Georgia. Some members of the organization went to hear him preach as a bi-vocational pastor, and retracted his job offer because of his beliefs.
Barronelle Stutzman, a florist, happily served one of her gay clients for years until he asked her to provide the flowers for his wedding. She politely declined on the basis of her religious beliefs about marriage. In return, she has been fined and sued.
The Susan G. Komen Foundation, well known for its work in breast cancer research and education, was brave enough to stop giving grants to Planned Parenthood a few years ago. Planned Parenthood does little to further Komen’s goals, yet Planned Parenthood immediately launched a PR offensive against Komen and bullied the organization into restoring its funds.
Many of you followed the recent undercover operation involving the question of whether Planned Parenthood has been trafficking in fetal body parts. Two individuals who helped initiate that expose have been indicted in Harris County.
Two Roads Stand in a Wood
An aggressive secularism is developing among elites in American society, and it’s ultimately hostile to the Christian faith and fiercely protective of the new sexual orthodoxy it is bringing into being. Something like a Fortune 500/Beltway/Hollywood nexus is forming around this orthodoxy and a new view of human beings.
Proponents are far from satisfied with opening doors for alternative modes of life. Rather, they insist on conformity and obedience with their view. These names I’ve reviewed are on the front lines taking fire and losing. If more of us don’t jump in and demand that this odd ideological purge come to a stop, it will continue to expand and seem normal.
The Georgia legislature (like others in the last year or so) recently passed a religious liberty bill. Gov. Nathan Deal, clearly influenced by a blizzard of pressure from political, corporate, and entertainment elites, cravenly vetoed the bill. He offered empty assurances. But I heard a warning. Republican Party elites value approval from the Fortune 500 and Hollywood more than they do approval from the serious evangelicals and Catholics in their ranks. They don’t even seem to care about protecting simple rights of faith and conscience for such people.
It must be countered. I have spent my adult life on that project. It seems to me that to really fight this battle, I have to go out beyond the lecture halls and the pages of books to enter the fray more directly. We desperately need people who understand things like religious liberty in politics. We can damage religious liberty just as surely with bad legislation as we can by pretending the problem is already settled.
We Can Win This
There is reason to believe we can affect the current direction. That is part of what motivates me. When Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A affirmed traditional marriage, a media storm followed. Mayors of Boston and Chicago said the company shouldn’t be allowed to do business in their cities. But instead of leaving Chick-fil-A vulnerable, millions of people rallied to its support. A huge show of solidarity and the company’s simple dignity changed the story.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker tried to silence pastors in the city by issuing subpoenas demanding they turn over their sermons so they could be examined for any mention of a controversial local equal rights ordinance. The response was overwhelming against such a move. Parker backed down.
These two examples show we can stand up to those who demand conformity to the corporate/DC/Hollywood party line. We deserve to have rights of faith and conscience protected. But every time a Republican office holder runs scared, the task becomes that much harder. We need people in office who are able to offer a simple, reasoned defense of religious liberty. It isn’t difficult to do. But politicians need to have the willingness to educate themselves on the issue (Hello, Robby George, Ryan Anderson, Frank Beckwith, the Alliance Defense Fund, and others) and to stand fast. Anything would be better than this sad metaphorical hiding under the desk.
American Christians (unlike many in the world) are blessed to possess the power of citizenship. We use it to elect representatives. In Christ’s parable of the talents in Matthew 25, those who took what they were given and invested it gained praise. The servant who buried his gifts in fear failed in stewardship. We should use what we have been given to protect freedom and to help neighbors who may soon be hard-pressed when they are scrutinized by bureaucrats and regulators.
The Window Is Open
There is a window of time open to us in which we can try and turn the tide on a situation rapidly turning noxious to liberty. Our groupthink is more “Brave New World” and less “1984,” but the result is equally undesirable.
C.S. Lewis may have most accurately diagnosed it in “The Abolition of Man.” Having denied any essential characteristics of humanity, we have opened to door to a tournament of power to be won by those who will become our conditioners. They will bring about their preferred reality unless we manage to put up some meaningful resistance.
I love the life I strived to achieve and now enjoy, in which I am able to teach young people, write, and speak. But I am convinced that we have to do something immediately to combat the ambitions of the aggressive secular statists and their new American cult of sexuality. The current Republican establishment is not up to the task. And I doubt that many of the really good fundraisers (and future lobbyists in training) who would like to join them are, either.
That’s why this professor is running for Congress. We’ll see if it’s possible to change the game.