Note: This is the fourth of a series, “Brainwashed, Incurious, Hard-Hearted or Bamboozled?” The previous installments can be found here.
I have often recounted that my conversion to conservatism began in my late teens, after I left home and began to examine what I believed and how that compared and contrasted with the platforms of the predominant American political parties.
I concluded that the values instilled in me by my parents, who were and are lifelong and loyal Democrats, were more representative of the Republican Party than the Democrats. My parents responded to my question about this dichotomy with the statement, "Republicans hate black people," a statement at odds with history, my own personal experiences and even my parents' history since they grew up in a South that was Democrat and hostile to black freedoms and aspirations.
I decided I couldn't compromise my integrity in that manner, and reached my own conclusions. I've learned and experienced so much more since then, but nothing has caused me to deviate from my decision to live out my values in every area of my life, including the political arena.
What astonishes me is how vicious black people on the other side of the political divide can be toward their brethren who don't toe the party line. It makes me wonder about the values with which they were raised. After all, my parents were quite typical for working and middle class black families of that era, so I don't think their instructions to us were much different than what other black parents taught their children. If that is the case, then why do they seem unconcerned about the lack of intellectual coherence between the values with which they were raised and their political and philosophical allegiances? Or did they reject their parents' teachings when they got older?
I guess a good place to start is to present to you what my parents raised me to believe. I think you'll see why I was quickly confronted with the dissonance between what they taught me and what the political parties profess to believe.
I think the first and most important lesson my parents taught me is to put God first. This lesson was reinforced by my grandfather, who I write about in my book as a major influence in my life. He was a deacon at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana for as long as I knew him, and my great-grandfather was a deacon there as well. My grandmother and great-grandmother were deaconesses in the church. While we traveled often as a result of my father's military service, and I didn't spend a lot of time at Mount Calvary, it was there that I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior at the age of nine, and it was there that I was baptized.
Every conversation in my home referred back to the Bible or spoke to God's power, love and grace in our lives. They ingrained in me the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 6:33, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Nothing came before God.
The second lesson grew from the first; we are all equal in the sight of God. It always shocks me to see and hear the bitterness and hatred coming from people toward one another based solely on race, because that animosity simply didn't exist in our home. After I came of age, I learned that some of the adults in my life had done a great job of hiding certain prejudices they harbored in their hearts, but I never heard or witnessed them as a child, and so I grew up without a shred of malice or resentment toward anyone, believing that none of us are more worthy of glory or more deserving of shame when standing together before a holy God.
My experiences as a military dependent traveling around the world only reinforced this lesson, because my exposure to people of different races and backgrounds was broader than that of many of my peers, and with few exceptions, we lived in harmony with everyone. Even after I grew up and witnessed some of the evil that people are capable of inflicting upon one another, I remained steadfast in my beliefs because I was taught to measure people not in relation to one another, but in relation to God.
The third lesson is a derivative of the second, which stems from the first. In that regard, these first three lessons established what my pastor calls my "positional relationship" with God and mankind. The third lesson is best illustrated by one of my favorite Bible verses, Romans 12:18, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." My father's way of putting it was more quaint but no less accurate; "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Try not to focus on the reasons why anyone would want to attract flies, or the fact that vinegar apparently attracts fruit flies! It's a metaphor for how human beings should respond to each other.
Incidentally, some would question whether or not I've fully embraced this lesson since I've become a political pundit, which often puts me in the position of criticizing policies and people with whom I disagree. In examining the life of Christ, He demonstrated a boundless compassion and love for everyday people. In Matthew 9:36, it's written, "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."
Like my Lord, I strive to show the utmost compassion for everyday Americans of all persuasions as they endure the trials and challenges of this life. In fact, I believe God has taken me through my own dark valleys so that I may empathize with those who are hurting and hopeless.
The religious and spiritual leaders of Jesus' day, however, were not spared His wrath:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” ~ Matthew 23:27-28
In Luke 12:48, he says, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." The Bible is clear in both the Old and New Testaments that it is God that grants rulers, regardless of their sphere of influence, their authority, and they are expected to exercise that authority in accordance with His will. Jesus did not hide his anger and disgust for the leaders of His day because, in His words, they "shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces." For those of you who believe Jesus was a spiritual hippie speaking peace and love to everyone, I recommend reading the 23rd chapter of the Book of Matthew in its entirety.
Jesus did not tolerate those in authority who led the people astray, and His language was more harsh than what I typically use. He is entitled to speak as He wishes, of course - He is the Lord!
So with this strong spiritual foundation I inherited from my parents, they instilled in me the practices and principles that would ensure for me a good life:
Education is the key to success
My parents dreamed that I would be the first in the family to graduate from college, and they stressed education throughout my life. They admonished us to stay in school, get the best grades we could, and never stop learning. I never doubted that my destiny was to go to college and get my degree, and their support and encouragement shielded me when my peers accused me of “acting white” because I was studious, spoke well, and respected my teachers and school authorities. I got my bachelor's and master's degrees because they gave me a gift that continues to give, the love of lifelong learning.
Work is its own reward
My parents always worked, and worked hard. They emphasized to us that we owed our employers an honest day's work for an honest day's wage, and welfare was only for people who weren't able to work. Charity was for those who really needed it. Even now, with my father past retirement age and in declining health, he still puts in his hours at a local general store. I don't think he knows how not to work. The genuine devotion my father's employers have always had for him is directly attributable to the fact he shows up on time, works hard, never stole from his employers, and built a reservoir of good will and trust. Even at this late stage of his life, the owners of the general store made him a manager, and they trust him to mind the store while they are on vacation.
My parents, especially my mother, instilled in me the belief that only God comes before family. "Blood is thicker than water," my mother would say and, although sometimes that devotion to family led to my parents being exploited by their own flesh and blood, they never wavered on the importance of marriage, parenthood and children. in that order. We didn't need a politician to tell us what marriage, parenthood or children looked like. When someone was pregnant, we knew their unborn child was a baby, not a fetus. We knew that a boy wasn’t a father unless he took care of his children and their mother, and when someone said they were married, we knew that meant their children would have a mother and a father.
No one owes you anything
Life isn't fair. Jesus said, "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45)." Read the Book of Ecclesiastes and the Book of Job to get the unvarnished truth of what it means to live on this planet. It doesn’t matter how good or wise or deserving you think you are, for the Lord promises that “in this world, you will have trouble (John 16:33).”
Jesus Christ was the only perfect man to walk this world, and he spent three years wandering the Holy Land as a homeless preacher - “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58).” He was reviled by the authorities, and eventually by the masses who once adored Him, and for whom He professed His love, and they arrested Him on trumped-up charges, beat and spat upon Him, and executed Him.
He didn’t complain about the unfairness of the world, however. He simply overcame the world. My parents taught me that it didn’t matter what other people did – "If everyone else jumped off a bridge,would you do it too?" Your parents said it to you, too – you know they did! They taught me to do the right thing, regardless of what happened around me. Jesus taught his followers the same thing. When Jesus was describing to Peter the hard life upon which he was to embark in His name, Peter looked at John and asked, “Lord, what about this man?”, to which Jesus said, “…what is that to you? You follow me!” In other words, it doesn’t matter what other people do – mind your own business.
There were other lessons as well. I learned through my father’s military service a deep and abiding love for my country, and it was his example that led me to serve as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force. My parents were descended from people who farmed and hunted the land in southwestern Louisiana and east central Georgia, so from them I learned about our right to acquire and possess our own guns. As I recounted in my book, “In short, if you stripped away race, we would be considered a staunchly conservative family.”
I am so blessed to have had parents who not only taught me valuable lessons, but modeled those lessons for me. My parents have been married for 52 years, and in all that time, I watched them work and sacrifice to give us the best life possible, I watched them love their family, their friends and their neighbors, and I watched that love come back to them from so many people, black and white and everything in between. Everyone who knew my parents loved them, and they loved me, and still do. As the years have passed, my experiences have multiplied and my faith has deepened and broadened, the lessons my parents taught me are constantly validated, as is my decision to practice the politics that most align with my upbringing.
My mother has always been especially puzzled by my political alignment, so I used to walk her through a quiz where I’d ask her a series of questions about where she stood on specific issues. When I would tell her at the end that she had just agreed with the major planks of the Republican Party platform, she would always get annoyed with me!
Nowadays, when she asks me why I’m a conservative, I simply say, “Mom, you raised me that way.”