My dad told me he regretted paying for my college. He said this because he saw my college education at a secular school as the gateway to political beliefs that no longer match up with his.
He’s never had a real conversation with me about what I believe or why. Or how much my faith–not my college degrees–has to do with how I vote the way I do.
It’s really not a conversation we can ever have, it’s not safe or respectful. It will do more damage than good so I’m not interested in having it with him.
But I would like to have it with you.
I entered undergrad and exited undergrad voting the exact same way. If I didn’t know anything about a candidate on the ticket–normally for a local election– I left it blank. I understood the importance of carefully voting after research, but I voted similar to my parents.
After college, I interviewed at a few schools for a teaching position. I interviewed at a private, Lutheran high school where the principal called me later and said he thought I was meant to work with a different type of population than his private school kids.
I found my way to a school district less than 15 minutes from where I grew up. It was close to my White community, but not very White. Kids came from government housing and apartments. We had a high rate of free and reduced lunches, a term I didn’t know as a student, but knew well as a teacher.
Here’s what happened when I spent ten years teaching kids who, for the most part, lived and looked very different from me:
I started to learn that many of my political views directly hurt my students and their families. I saw firsthand how lack of medical care influenced their learning. How costly childcare meant they often cared for siblings in the evenings instead of doing my homework. I witnessed kids in foster homes that hurt them more than helped them. I had more than one student miss first period, because they needed to use the locker room showers to bathe and brush their teeth. I had parents skip parent-teacher conferences because they couldn’t miss work, no matter how much they cared about their child’s education. I learned some kids don’t celebrate Christmas in December; they celebrate it when the tax return comes in February because that’s the only time they have extra money.
Teaching kids who didn’t live the same life I did made me start questioning a lot of my beliefs. It didn’t make me more confident in the way I was taught, it made me start to realize something in my thinking was wrong.
I see the need for some people, especially Christians, to want their kids to go to Christian colleges. On the surface, it sounds safe and insular. Christians are taught to fear the big bad world outside their door. They’re taught people who don’t think like them were made specifically to trip them up.
This isn’t an actual Biblical principle—the Bible doesn’t mention college or higher learning once. It also doesn’t mention sticking to the people and places we feel most comfortable with. But we’ve been able to twist His words enough to make it sound like being around people only like us can keep us the safest. We’ve disregarded the parts of the Bible that tell us to be salt and light and latched onto the lie that safe and comfortable is the reward for following Christ. A reward we should reap in the here and now.
I went to a secular college and somehow managed to not sleep with 400 people, get pregnant, do drugs, or become a prostitute. I know this might shock the church people. My husband spent a semester at a Christian college, dropped out, then came home to begin a 15 year+ drug and alcohol addiction.
I’d say our responses to college have more to do with family life, trauma, support systems, and mental health than the “good” or “bad” college we went to.
That’s the same with so many of my students. Their responses to their environments weren’t based on their education or lack of, it was based on their family life, trauma, support systems, and mental health.
Because when we don’t have to worry about basic needs like food, shelter, and safety, we are able to do more things, able to make better choices, able to be more successful in relationships and careers.
So I began to vote in a way that matched with my evolving belief: if we want better citizens, maybe we should create better lives.
That means I vote for:
Healthcare for all
Affordable mental health access
Abolishment of the death penalty
More taxes on the wealthy
A more equal distribution of wealth
Freedom to make choices about my body
Care for immigrants
Legislation guided by science and data
An end to privatized prisons and mass incarceration
If I believe all humans are created in the image of God—imago Dei—I vote for their respect and care and benefit.
I was trying to educate kids in an environment set up to fail. We expect schools to fix all of society’s problems instead of understanding school is just a reflect of society. If we want healthier, engaged kids to show up at school every day, we have to start by fixing things outside of school.
Schools reflect their community, not the other way around.
My college degrees didn’t change my voting habits, getting to know people who were different than me did. Suffering and injustice is easy to ignore when you don’t know anyone who doesn’t have the exact same problems as you. If you’ve never been hungry, you don’t understand what someone will do for food. If you’ve never experienced housing instability, you don’t know how far someone would go to have a safe place to sleep.
These are not character flaws. They are basic human needs we all have. And we are failing large, vulnerable groups of people by the way some of us vote.
I’ve had lots of conversations with people who can’t imagine giving people something they didn’t earn. “I work for my things and so should everyone else.”
If we all started on a level playing field, that might make sense. If we all started off in safe homes with plenty of food to eat and clean clothes to wear, maybe that would work. If we all had loving, healthy parents to protect us and guide us. If we all had homes where drugs weren’t present, where addiction wasn’t lurking, where we learn healthy self-esteem instead of how to carry our parents wounds.
And until that happens, we look for the people who need help and we help them. Will there always be the people who take advantage of the help? Of course. But we help anyway. We can’t control what other people do, but we can also not actively make choices to hurt them more.
Last year, my Thursday morning Bible study girls and I read through the Gospels. We learned a lot about Jesus, obviously. Sometimes we read the same story repeatedly and that was a little annoying, but that’s just my need for efficiency getting in the way. Reading the same stories, especially from different perspectives, often taught us new things about Jesus and following him. The point was the story-—of course—but the point was also the different perspectives. We saw new or different things when we read the same event from a different author. We saw different details, different parts of the same truth.
We have to have different perspectives, different points of view, different accounts. We have to have people who live differently than us, who grew up differently, who see life differently. Because it changes us. It makes us kinder and more aware and more merciful and more generous. We have to know how others live, what they struggle with, what hurts their hearts, and what keeps them up at night.
We have to know things outside our bubbles. It’s the way Jesus lived, and it’s the way his followers have to also. When we sit with the woman at the well, dine with the tax collector, or touch the sick, it changes us. It shapes our hearts to be more like his in a way surrounding ourselves with people who only look and live like us doesn’t.
We lead sheltered lives because we believe it keeps us safe, but really it just keeps us away from the suffering of others. We tithe our ten percent and trust the church to do some charity work instead of finding people who are worth being friends with and then meeting needs when you see them. (And realizing others can help meet our needs too; we are all needy in one way or another.) We sweep into situations trying to save people instead of just being with them. And we do it while failing to acknowledge we also need saving.
I’ve spent a lot of my thirties around addicts and alcoholics. I sleep in the same bed as one; I’ve sat at tables with them during rehab visits; I meet them in the stories my husband shares; I shake hands with them at AA meetings; I welcome them into my home. This is a world very different from the one in my twenties. I got pushed out of that comfort zone kicking and screaming when I realized the issues Chris had brought to our marriage. Learning about addiction showed me programs and laws and rules and facilities set up to help some people and punish others. I got to witness firsthand how the world handles sick people we don’t deem worthy of grace, mercy, or respect because of their disease.
I got to see hurting people who have to rely on the help and support of others to survive. I got to be a hurting person who had to rely on the help and support of others to survive. That changes your heart, your understanding of what mercy is, your awareness of who God is.
And it changes the way you vote.
My college education didn’t make me more liberal, as my father has inferred. It didn’t teach me to vote for socialism or Marxism or any of the other terms people like to throw around but don’t really understand. What changed my political views was Jesus and relationships and compassion and hurting people and reading the Bible to learn better ways as opposed to find support for the ways I already believed. What changed my heart was praying “Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours” then following that pain to people.
If we are Christians, the goal of wisdom and maturity tells us we will continue to get uncomfortable with our beliefs, continually be changed and challenged to be more like Jesus, and continually see areas of our dark hearts that need Jesus. If instead, in aging, we’ve found hard hearts, a political home with no wiggle room, and easy answers to every question, we have failed our God, we have left Him behind. We have created a new god, one who closely mirrors us.
Reading about the life of Jesus can be frustrating because so often he answered peoples’ questions with other questions. JESUS, JUST TELL US THE ANSWER, I want to scream during my morning quiet time. Give me black and white so I can feel secure and doubtless in my faith.
Time and time again, I’m reminded Jesus is often found in the gray, in the questions not the answers, in the faith to continue for the next moment, not the next five years. He is found in loving people well even when it doesn’t make sense, when they don’t deserve it. He is found on the other side of fear and scarcity. He is found in generosity and open hands and trusting that He will take care of all of us, not just some of us. He is found in the places the world tells us we shouldn’t go and with people the world says aren’t important.
And if that’s where I find Jesus, that’s how I vote too.