In the days after the presidential election, I kept having the same conversation over and over again with friends of mine. They kept saying the exact same thing—we have to do something. For some, that meant get involved in protests, groups, calling their senators, that sort of thing. I’m one of those go big or go home types of people. That’s just my personality. But at the time, didn’t know what that looked like, or what that meant for me.
It was on inauguration day when that picture first took form. My wife, Vanessa—she’s been my co-pastor at the Vintage Fellowship for the past 12 years and my partner in life for 21—she’s an avid listener of the RobCast, a podcast by an incredible man named Rob Bell. (I’m Robb, he’s Rob B.). Rob used to lead the fastest growing evangelical megachurch in America, but eventually concluded that the mainstream evangelical movement was not invested in shaping people to be more loving and compassionate. He says he is frustrated by “very narrow, politically intertwined, culturally ghettoized Evangelical subculture.” I can’t say I disagree.
So, Vanessa was listening to the RobCast, specifically episode 135 –“Zack Exley has a plan to save U.S.” She listened to Zack talk about Brand New Congress, this incredible, post-partisan movement to fix and move our country forward. That really clicked with her, because we use post-denominational as a way to explain what we do at our church. She heard something simple, practical, hopeful, that appealed to the best parts of all people. She calls Zack “super liberal, almost more liberal than my most liberal friends.” But on the podcast, he described meeting his wife, and exploring with the same sort of curiosity the conservative, Christian world that she knew inside and out. By making space for people to come and talk in the middle, by trying understanding this world of religion, it made it okay for her to explore his world of liberalism.
And it was like a light had switched on for her. I came home from work that day, and she put her phone in my hand and said, “You’ve got to listen to this. You’ve got to do this.” She was asking me to run for US Congress.
That was kind of it. I laughed a little bit. She says she expected me to come up with all the reasons why it wasn’t practical, why I shouldn’t do it, why it didn’t make sense. What happened instead was I was pretty intrigued by the idea—especially because she was the one suggesting it.
I need to explain a bit here. My wife—she’s someone who is really pretty cynical in general, but especially about politics. Here’s an example: there’s this classic sermon illustration that I told as a pastor, that many of you probably know. A little kid is on a beach, and he sees thousands of starfish that are dying. He’s grabbing them one by one and he throws them in so they can survive. An adult comes by and tells him that he can’t possibly make a difference. So, he throws one in the ocean, and says, “made a difference to that one.” It’s supposed to be a metaphor about how every little, positive action is meaningful.
She thinks that sermon illustration is stupid.
Generally speaking, she is pretty pessimistic about politics and politicians. She doesn’t wait around for the politicians--she’d rather act herself instead. So for her to have her imagination captured by Brand New Congress, that meant a lot to me. She’s someone who is skeptical about politicians in general, and the ability of politicians to make a difference in our lives. So it was a really big deal that Zack and Brand New Congress captured her imagination and gave her hope, to the point of telling me to run for office. That meant a lot.
So I listened to the RobCast. I talked a lot with her, talked a lot with friends about it. Many of them listen to Rob Bell’s podcast as well. I had these conversations with friends about the feasibility of it, and does it make any sense. I have one friend who is a locally active in the Republican party. He had three pages of notes on why it wouldn’t work, and why it was a terrible idea. But none of that resonated with me. What did was—here’s something that can give us hope. This is way better than giving up. It may not be possible, but we’ve done the not-possible before when we started a church. 80% of new churches plants fail, but we’ve done it for 12 years with no outside support. Sometimes the really crazy thing is the thing that works, because it is so outside the norm. It’s like Zack said: Trump got elected, and that shouldn’t have been possible. But that happened—so why not this?
One of the things that people love to tell me is that “I’m not a Republican.” Well, they’re wrong, and I can prove it. When I was a teenager, I had two magazine subscriptions: Sports Illustrated and National Review. In high school, I had photos of Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole hanging on my wall—and that was back when Gingrich was a freshman Congressman that nobody had ever heard of. I went to Teenage Republican School in Albany, New York. I’ve been on the air on the Rush Limbaugh show five times. The first time, when I was 16, I skipped school to call in. I’m actually a Republican.
But, I’ve watched the Republican party change over the past decades. Part of it is I’ve gotten older, and more mature. But part of is that the party has changed—drastically. I was 15 years old when I read Conscience of a Conservative. Barry Goldwater wouldn’t be welcome in today’s Republican party. I think the same is true of Reagan. I see what’s happened to the larger Republican party, and I want no part of that—which is why I’m calling myself an independent Republican.
The question I face is: do I want to give up and walk away? Or do I want to fight for the historic values that will make the Republican Party strong in the future? These values are simple. Liberty and opportunity for all – the Republican party used to be known for who it is for rather than who it is against. Today it’s known for who it opposes – and it shouldn’t be that way. Wise and competent spending, in a way that is going to benefit the most Americans possible, rather than helping big businesses and the ultra-wealthy. Meaningful tax reform – because somebody hasn’t been paying their fair share for our government and society, but the poor and middle class certainly are doing their part. Those are the sorts of things that Republicans should be standing for, because those are our historical values. The Republican party should never be legislating what happens in bedrooms and bathrooms. That is wrong.
I know I’m probably not what you expect. I’d like to change your expectations. So, please, ask me anything.
Want to know more about my campaign? Visit http://Robb2018.com.. Facebook. Twitter.
Want to know what I believe in? I support the full Brand New Congress platform. All of it. Visit http://brandnewcongress.org/platform.
Want to know how to donate? Unfortunately, ActBlue isn’t too fond of me. So, come donate to my campaign at CrowdPAC instead.
Want to join our Reddit community? Head on over to /r/BrandNewCongress, or check out my subreddit at /r/Robb2018.
Are you a progressive Republican too? Get in touch. PM /u/Repeal_Replace_535. We want you to run too.
tl;dr: I’m a Republican. Yes, seriously. No, no, not like that. Please donate to my campaign here.