Jessi Bohon, a public school teacher in Rutherford County, Tennessee presented the Christian argument for single-payer health insurance at U.S. representative Diane Black’s town hall on February 9, 2017. Her argument appeared to be well received with approximately 50% of the audience applauding her words. Rutherford County is very conservative; Trump won 65% of the vote (Romney won 66%). The clip of Ms. Bohon presenting her argument has been widely shared on social media and by news agencies, and I wonder why.
It is quite a commentary on our country, its priorities and its morality, that it seems novel to say that Medicare or Medicaid for all is the morally right thing to do. That is truly amazing. We have all become so accustomed to the convoluted religious justifications of conservatives that we expect to hear professions of Christian beliefs accompanied by pro-corporate/anti-social justice policy positions. In fact, for many on the left, the term Christian has become shorthand for someone who espouses this seemingly hypocritical pairing of religiosity and politics. It made me wonder where someone who is pro-social justice and Christian fits in America’s political system.
I feel like I need to offer a little clarification before I go any further – I am white, almost everyone at Diane Black’s town hall was white, and the people who I was thinking about when I wrote the last paragraph were all white. Black Christianity, overall, seems to be far more consistently pro-social justice than its White counterpart. For the remainder of this article I may need to refer to White Christianity and Black Christianity as separate cultural constructs.
One way to conceptualize how morality interacts with politics is to imagine moral values as axes. Morality that is high in social justice values, generosity, and concern for others, as opposed to morality that is high in purity values, chastity, and “clean” language. These axes of moral values intersect to create the four types of morality that, to a large extent, determine our political leanings. If a person strongly values social justice (health care should be a right) but does not place high value on purity (have sex with whomever you choose), they are Progressives. If a person does not strongly value social justice (sides with corporations over people) and does not place high value on purity (sexuality is good, not dirty), they are Corporate Democrats. If a person does not strongly value social justice (not everyone deserves health care) and places a high value on purity (modesty and chastity are very important), they are Conservatives.
If a person strongly values social justice and purity, however, they do not fit neatly into any of our current political categories! This is strange. How are the people who fit into this category voting? I imagine that a number of Black Christians fall into this category, and support Progressives (or at least politicians that talk a good Progressive game) even though they are uncomfortable with the permissiveness of Progressive ideology. And I imagine a number of White Christians fall into this category, and I don’t know how they vote. I imagine that Progressives being called “far left” doesn’t help them win the votes of this group. And white people who fall into this group face considerable pressure from their churches and peer groups to vote their (purity) values.
It seems that every thought I have these days is filtered through the lens of “what does this mean for getting non-corporate candidates elected in 2018,” and the thoughts presented here are no different. Basically, if we are going to separate from the Corporate Democrats, we are going to need to pick up some of these pro-social justice/pro-purity voters in order to win seats. Will the Justice Democrats attract these voters? What about the Democratic Socialists? I think the People’s Party are most likely to be able to do so if they are successful in recruiting Bernie to lead the party. Or would it be best to run a bunch of Independent candidates through Our Revolution who can run on Medicare for all and getting money out of politics, but are not tied to a full Progressive platform, which could be problematic in red states?
I do not have the answer to these questions, but I think we need to be giving them serious consideration. Our Revolution has Bernie’s email list, right? A good place to start might be sending out a questionnaire asking his supporters about their values and what kinds of candidates they would support, and pay particularly close attention to responses from red states where we desperately need to make inroads.