I once heard that the only things necessary to succeed in Arkansas politics were a high school diploma and a certificate from a six-week preaching course. That joke is not so funny now that we are firmly entrenched in a period marked by style over substance and appearance over works. It seems to be enough to win an election in Arkansas by proclaiming to be a conservative Christian, lamenting the loss of schoolsponsored prayer and promising to outlaw abortion. A campaign photo taken in full camouflage while holding a gun also seems to help sway Arkansas voters.
Politics and religion are similar in that we must seek out the small and quiet truths in addition to the broad themes. One truth is that so many of these legislators, especially Republicans, who love to loudly proclaim they are serving Jesus, quietly support policies that do the most harm to our children and families. Clearly there is a disconnect between the average Arkansas voter and the legislative process. Most Arkansans are either too busy or do not know how to check to see how his or her state representative or senator voted on a particular issue. Often I see friends, especially teachers, who are outraged over the decreased funding to services for children and schools, yet continue to support the very GOP candidates who support and propose the cuts. As long as our state legislators say the right things on the stump about religion, abortion and guns, it seems they get a pass on their actual votes when they get to Little Rock.
This disconnect is further compounded by many of the right-wing evangelical preachers who use the power of the pulpit every Sunday to further intertwine fear, religion and patriotism. I argue that these men are the most powerful men in Arkansas politics, not our legislators. Just last month, the preacher at my hometown congregation posted an article to the church Facebook group claiming that we should not judge Donald Trump for his words and behavior toward women. A few years earlier, he pointed out on Election Day that a particular GOP candidate was a "good man." It does not take a genius to understand that, by these postings, he is encouraging his congregants to vote a particular way. The few who spoke out were quickly made to feel like lesser Christians because of their different political beliefs.
It is time to end this false claim that right-wing evangelicals have the moral high ground. How is it moral for many Republican legislators to argue that our children should be protected from imaginary threats while using the bathroom while causing real harm by refusing to adequately fund our public schools and therapy for special needs children? These same legislators loudly cry they want to end abortion, yet they deny funding for policies that are proven to drive down the abortion rate, such as better access to birth control, paid family leave and affordable daycare.
It is time for the Christians and non-Christians on the left to speak up when we are criticized and made to seem immoral. My liberal friends fight to help families in all sorts of ways, including advocating for better safety nets when a parent becomes unemployed, welcoming refugees with open arms and hearts and fighting to fund early childhood education. It is time for Arkansas evangelical voters to remember that we are to love not in words, but in deeds and truth. It is time for those of us on the left to stop allowing the right to believe they have seized the high ground. We need to fight to take it back or at least be allowed to share the space. WWJD indeed.