I grew up in a firmly Republican household. We were also a family of debaters. My parents were debate partners in college and despite the fact that most debate partners loathe each other, they got married. They then had two of their three daughters enjoy and excel at competitive debate, myself being one of them. I also coached high school debate for a while when I was in undergrad. The art of argumentation and conservative politics was normative growing up; however, I joined the Navy at 18 and became politically apathetic. Most active duty folks know that it is the Republicans who give them a bigger paycheck, so that is how most of us voted, not all. Political activism is pretty much forbidden while on active duty and it wasn’t an issue when I was serving, like it is now. We worked long hours and fought wars. That was our focus.
I did absorb some military ideology that took me years to shake out and discard. Much to my shame, I supported the use of torture. Since I had personally witnessed the aftermaths of terrorism I felt that it was perfectly acceptable to use whatever means necessary to save lives. In all honesty it was tinged with a bit of vengeance for the family members I had served in 9-11’s wake. I worked in a field that demanded total allegiance and in my youth and naivete, I gave over willingly. While my particular job was not unethical, I had friends who worked in questionable missions. It didn’t matter. It was for God and country, right?
I did my 6 years in the Navy and got out when my first contract ended. I was burned out and sick of the politics. Plus, the whole point of my military service was to go to college, so that is what I did. While in undergrad I discovered my love of politics and current affairs once again. A good friend of mine volunteered and worked in various capacities for Montana Republican candidates. I got involved. I started to remember that abortion is the supreme human rights issue of my generation and I believed the lie that Republicans would follow through on their promises. I finished undergrad and was given a prestigious internship at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. This was a dream internship that would launch my career in politics. I was the National Defense Intern because of my job in the Navy. I understood the military, budgets, and the need for a strong national defense. I was willing to do what had to be done. That was in 2009.
While I was in my internship, something began to change. I remember when the scales fell from my eyes. I was sitting in a roundtable discussion with the Policy Analyst I interned for, Mackenzie Eaglen, high ranking Marines from the Pentagon, and a couple of Congressional Aides. We were discussing linguistics and the need for linguists on the ground. I knew this topic well. I had been a military linguist. We were carrying on an interesting discussion when the Congressional Aide began asking questions solely from the view point of statistics. I could see very quickly, he was also a Veteran, that people on the ground were merely numbers to him and whoever he worked for. He had no concern for their welfare. He had lost sight of his own service. It did not matter if people died. I left sick to my stomach.
Things went downhill from there. As I sat in Senate and House hearings I could see that nobody actually cared about people. It was all an abstraction, while I still remembered the faces of my friends who had been blown apart in Iraq. The friends I had wheeled around or walked with who had endured IEDs and gunshot wounds. I remembered my Marine friends at National Naval Medical Center, now Walter Reed, who had given everything only to be shoved in a broken down barracks with apathetic doctors. And now I was sitting in Congressional buildings looking at the same apathy. An apathy that had trickled down into the ranks. I couldn’t do it. People I loved, family and friends of mine, were still on active duty.
I knew that I was pigeon-holed into defense policy by virtue of my intelligence background. I would have to start from scratch if I wanted to shift into religion or education policy. I realized very quick that I wasn’t cut out for politics. I don’t have the patience or stomach for it. I was also starting to question the talking points that I had ingested so willingly.
I can say that my Heritage internship was a great blessing and amazing experience. I was a bit old for it at 27, but I made the most of every opportunity and did find a niche for myself in attending the Tocqueville Forum at Georgetown University; the only vestige of orthodox Catholicism on that campus these days. I also came back to the Catholic Church during that internship after experiencing the Sacred Triduum at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on Catholic University of America’s campus. Thankfully the Basilica is right off the red line on the Metro, so I could easily attend Mass there on Sundays. Much to my own surprise, I left politics for good when I left DC after that internship.
In the last few years an even greater shift has taken place in me. Yes, I got married and began living my faith seriously, but I also became distanced enough from my military service and my time in politics to begin analyzing what I had accepted. I started to shift to a Catholic perspective and realized that much of what I believed was because of my anger following my 9-11 relief work experience. I had wanted justice and retribution for the people I had served, but it really was vengeance I wanted. I had accepted the vast expanses of government in the wake of 9-11 and now realize that who I worked for has taken those policies to frightening extremes. I also now see that the greatest threat to my family is the attack on religious liberty in this country.
In changing my opinion and heart on these matters, I began to dislike ideology. I started seeing how divisive it is within the Church at a time when we must come together to face the growing threat of persecution in this country and the very real persecution going on overseas. This has been reinforced by my graduate studies. Our faith is not contingent upon our political leanings or preferences. Our faith rests in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church that he established 2000 years ago. What I believe comes from Him, not me. What the Church teaches comes from Christ, not me. In the end the only choice I have is to follow Him or follow myself. When we choose ideology over the faith, we choose ourselves. We choose division. I know. I used to put my politics above my faith.
I still agree with many things that The Heritage Foundation works on. They are doing great work on religious freedom, education policy, and traditional marriage. Many of these shifts occurred after my internship. I just don’t agree with the rugged individualism that they espouse. I am also firmly opposed to socialism in all forms. What this means is that I hold a thoroughly Catholic belief on economic and social issues. I have an obligation to help the poor. I must fight for the end of abortion that has taken 1 billion lives on this planet. If I want to see change then I must raise my family and serve my community. The lowest level is the best solution and pure capitalism uses people just like socialism. I am also proud of my military service and the friends of mine who still serve. All four of us who served in my family got out before doing 20 years. We all got out for the same reason: We hated the politics within the ranks.
Politics are important for bringing about change, but politics are inherently flawed and fallen by nature of the people involved. Politics can never supersede theology. I say this time and time again and many days feel like I am whistling into the wind. Our theology is supreme. We must usher in change and the Gospels through our faith first. Our beliefs, political and otherwise, must be shaped and formed by our Catholic faith FIRST. That means saying no to torture, unjust wars, pure capitalism, rugged individualism, expansive government, socialism, redefinition of marriage, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, etc. You will notice that these issues cross party lines precisely because whatever political party we are a member of is doing one or more things immorally. Yes, abortion is the supreme issue of our day and we must vote accordingly, but we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that our political party is the one of the Catholic Church. Quite frankly, the GOP will drop social conservatives on marriage and then we really will not have anyone to vote for in the coming years. That is the issue that will lead to our open persecution, in fact, persecution of Christians is already happening in this country because of our views on marriage. Both parties are corrupt and we must choose the lesser of two evils, if there is one. More than anything, though, we must start living devoutly Catholic lives in our communities.
The reality is that persecution is here, as Christ promised. People will hate us, call us bigots, and push us out of public life because of our views on marriage.Read the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus constantly warns that we will be hated, reviled, and treated as the enemy. It is already happening. We need to be focused on holiness, not ideology. Our ideology isn’t going to help us wait out this storm. Our ideology is more likely to force us to abandon our Catholic faith. That is why I am anti-ideology. It lessens our Catholic faith. It takes away from the Gospel and it weakens our position. I went from anything goes Veteran (I am not anti-Veteran), to hardcore Republican, to Roman Catholic. The latter is the only thing that matters now. To change the world we must grow in holiness. We must give ourselves completely to Christ and His Church. Then we know that we are on the right path.