Members of House, Senate have ties to Churches of Christ
When former U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, got to Washington,…
An acrimonious joint session of Congress was just beginning with the dark promise of 24 combined hours of debate over objections to electoral votes from six states. Then riots breached the citadel of democracy.
Six hours later, the Capitol was defaced, its windows smashed and hallways soiled. The joint session continued, no newfound unity in sight.
U.S. politics have never been nastier than on Jan. 6, 2021.
Christians in politics should be all about unity, right?
“If we are not the leaders in being able to draw a line in our politics when they get downright nasty, then who is?” asked Jane Hamilton, a Dallas West Church of Christ member who helps get Democrats elected in Texas.
Also discussing the dilemma in interviews with The Christian Chronicle: U.S. congressmen — all conservative Republicans — who are members of Churches of Christ.
“When you get to know people and know where they’re coming from, it is possible to be friends with people who are so different in political beliefs, though sometimes that’s difficult for constituents to imagine,” said Rep. Lance Gooden, a member of the Rockwall and Brin Church of Christ in Terrell, Texas, east of Dallas.
Gooden is joined in the U.S. House by Kentucky Rep. Brett Guthrie, fellow Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson and Tennessee Rep. John Rose.
Just days after the Capitol riot, Guthrie, a member of the University Heights Church of Christ in Bowling Green, Ky., recalled being at the airport.
He saw Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, surrounded by a hostile crowd.
“People started screaming at him. Al had filed the impeachment articles, but it was like …”
Guthrie’s voice trailed off in thought.
“I just want to call for people to be civil. That doesn’t mean you have to agree,” the Kentucky congressman said. “The founding fathers were passionate and stood firm on their beliefs, but you have to absolutely treat people civilly regardless.”
Hamilton served as director of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign in Texas during the 2020 Democratic primary.
“I started in politics right out of undergrad,” Hamilton said. She worked for longtime Texas Congressman Martin Frost, then was chief of staff and campaign manager for Congressman Marc Veasey of Dallas. Both are Democrats.
She ran a 2006 campaign to turn Dallas County blue and more recently managed the campaign of Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. While none of those candidates are members of Churches of Christ, Hamilton does not see an absence of Democrats within the church.
“I think there is a very strong presence on both sides of the aisle,” she said.
She believes “we have many differing views and affiliations. But we strive to always remember we are one in Christ.”
According to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, 50 percent of members of Churches of Christ identify with the Republican Party. Thirty-nine percent of members of Churches of Christ identify as or lean Democratic, that study reported. The remaining 11 percent indicate no political preference.
“We have many differing views and affiliations. But we strive to always remember we are one in Christ.”
As an African-American woman, mother and “someone who holds strong to my faith,” Hamilton said the things that matter to her are healthcare for all, resources for the poor and nondiscriminatory workplaces, all causes where her faith “is absolutely consistent with my political views.”
Mel Hailey, a political scientist at Abilene Christian University in Texas, said the country has been this divided before.
“During the Vietnam War, the country was badly divided, and it took a long time for the healing process after Vietnam and Watergate — to move beyond that,” said Hailey, a member of the Sunset Ridge Church of Christ in San Antonio.
Going through a traumatic experience can bring people together. Whether the Jan. 6 Capitol riot has that impact remains unknown.
Even when members of Congress manage to build the relationships necessary to find common ground, voters back home may not understand.
Gooden, an ardent Trump supporter, said he has built relationships through out-of-the-building activities because inside the Capitol the parties are isolated.
One congressional trip brought a surprising friendship.
“I spent 10 days on a Middle East trip with Maxine Waters,” Gooden said, “She’s about as far left as they come, but we became friends.”
Waters, a California Democrat, is also a believer, he said.
On Jan. 6, once out of the chambers and situated in a safe location, Gooden said he became angry.
“So much good Trump had done — and so many people believed in the work he had done — was tainted by the radical thugs that invaded the Capitol,” Gooden said. “Now all we’re talking about is how the entire movement is out of touch, and we’re all being made out to be the lawless ones, and it’s a real shame.”
Rose, who is a member of the Jefferson Avenue Church of Christ in Cookeville, Tenn., said his district overwhelmingly supported Trump’s re-election.
Many of his constituents participated in the protest, he said, “to vindicate the views and ideals they have.” He called the violence regretful and said he hoped none of them participated in that.
Guthrie reflected on the riot’s impact more broadly.
“Just the image of Congress meeting to confirm an election, and people breaking into the chambers is embarrassing, and, number one, it’s criminal,” he said. “The Russians or Chinese couldn’t have planned any more to make us look bad on the world stage.”
Like the day President John F. Kennedy was shot or the day the World Trade Center towers fell, Americans will long remember where they were when they saw rioters breach the Capitol doors or carry a Confederate flag through the Rotunda.
“It was one of the saddest days I’ve ever experienced personally,” Hailey said, “to see individuals who do not respect the process and see the president of the United States telling those who were vandalizing and engaging in criminal activities that he loved them.
“We all know the difference between right and wrong at our core. What we saw in the last few days was absolutely wrong.”
“I just can’t get my arms around that as to the depth of what that does to efforts to help heal our country.”
Hamilton called it a dark, evil day.
“We all know the difference between right and wrong at our core. What we saw in the last few days was absolutely wrong,” she said. “Democrat or Republican, you know if something is just simply wrong.”
Or dark. Or evil.
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