In the 2012 film Restless Heart, which tells the life story of the father of modern Western philosophy, St. Ambrose tells St. Augustine: “It’s not the man who finds the truth, it’s the truth that finds the man: because the Truth is a person. It’s Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
No words can better explain how I, a black man who has a passion for the homeless, for civil rights, and for working class culture, who holds a law degree from a historically black university and was born into two generations of union households, could go from a dream job in the Democratic Party to becoming a conservative and a Republican in just under three years’ time.
I was born into a middle-class African-American Catholic family in early 1980s Detroit. My grandfather, a World War II veteran, was proudly a union man who voted Democrat in nearly every federal election. Of course, in that time, being a Catholic and voting for Democrats was much easier. My mother was a teacher and a union member; she was politically progressive on economic issues, yet conservative on social ones.
From an early age, I was taught to appreciate my Catholic faith, to value my Catholic education, and to know that being a Christian meant that I must help take care of all God’s children. By God’s grace, I attended two outstanding Catholic schools in Metro-Detroit. When I graduated from Brother Rice High School, I felt very strongly that my vocation was to work in government and politics.
During my journey from obtaining my bachelor’s degree at James Madison College at Michigan State University to receiving my law degree at Howard University School of Law, I was a Democrat. It felt like a natural fit: I am an African-American, I care about the poor and vulnerable, and I wanted to be a civil rights attorney.
During college, I interned for then-Democratic State Senator Gary Peters. Between undergrad and law school, I worked as a staff assistant on the Michigan staff of U.S. Senator Carl Levin. During law school, I worked as a summer law clerk for Governor Jennifer Granholm and interned for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C. I worked for and with people of good will. I could not have been more proud to be a Democrat.
After passing the bar in 2007, I joined a prominent Michigan law firm. In 2008, on my way to volunteer in support of then-Senator Obama, a friend told me about the video The Silent Scream, an ultrasound video of an abortion from the early 1980s. Just as the unborn baby is being killed, the baby’s mouth opens as if to scream, but no sound can be heard.
I was very shaken up by the video. I am a practicing Catholic; I love the faith and have always been pro-life. Even so, I had never really thought of abortion as truly killing an unborn child. After that day, I stopped volunteering in support of then-Senator Obama. I continued practicing law and grew in my convictions about the right to life, but I was still a Democrat.
Over a year later, a former boss became a senior official at the Democratic National Committee and offered me a job on the staff. Thinking I could change the DNC on the pro-life issue from the inside out, I accepted the job and moved back to Washington.
I started work at the DNC in November 2009. On the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 7, 2009, the reality of Obamacare and its ramifications hit me in the head like a two-by-four. That day, I received an assignment to make arrangements for political action to be conducted in a Midwestern state in support of the health care bill. At that time, a key federal legislator from that state was withholding his support for the bill, in part because he wanted stronger pro-life language against the public funding of abortion.
I could do the math. I knew what was going on.
I got the assignment, went back to my desk, and knew that I could not do it. I was not going to be just another one of the millions of enablers who, throughout history, by their silence and willful ignorance, sit back and do nothing while innocents die. I was not going to be complicit in helping push a federal legislator over the fence to support a bill that permits public funding of abortion. As scripture asks us, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?
Still, the question remained. What should I do? I knew that I could not complete the assignment, but did that mean I should quit my job? I was worried sick. I was leaning towards quitting, but I needed confirmation that this was indeed God’s providence and not my own doing.
After work that day, I went to evening Mass at the Crypt Church at Georgetown University. The homily was about Isaiah and having courage. This was the encouragement I needed. That night, I wrote my resignation letter. I explained why I could not support a health care bill that would fail to protect the unborn.
After attending Mass the next morning for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I walked into my boss’s office and submitted my resignation letter. To their credit, the DNC staff was incredibly respectful of my choice. Still, that did not make the decision any easier. In fact, quitting that job was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
I had just effectively ended my career as a Democrat. And I didn’t have a job waiting for me. But I was free to defend the Truth. It was one of the most liberating moments of my life.
A few months later, I had the privilege to work for the Maryland Catholic Conference, lobbying for the poor and vulnerable at the Maryland State Legislature. It was a relief to work for the Church in an atmosphere where I could engage in public policy work without any hint of partisanship.
Over the next eighteen months, I watched from afar as President Obama signed a bill that publicly funded abortion, advanced regulations that undercut small business, and perpetuated the myth that the fundamental cause of poverty is a lack of money being thrown at the problem, an idea that ignores the threefold tragedies of greed, the breakdown of the family, and our collective failure to live in true solidarity with the materially impoverished.
Finally, in 2011, I saw this President support health care regulations that trampled our God-given right to religious freedom. That was it. I’d had enough.
During this time, I had learned the principle of subsidiarity: that while government has a vitally important role in protecting the poor and vulnerable, societal problems are best solved locally by the family, by the community, and by the Church.
I became a Republican. In October 2011, I joined the staff of then-California Congressman Dan Lungren as his legislative counsel and staffer to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Despite a hard fight, Congressman Lungren lost his re-election race last November. I decided to return home to Michigan, practice law, and join the fight here to help take our country back.
And so, this African-American lawyer and former Democratic intern, law clerk, and staffer, is now firmly a Republican.
I know that no party has a monopoly on the truth. I know, too, that Christians must never believe that political party affiliation is ever synonymous with or a replacement for Christian discipleship. We are Christians above all else. I also know firsthand that even though I strongly disagree with many of my Democratic friends, and I believe many of their policies are morally flawed, they are people of goodwill.
The Republican Party still has much work to do to hold fast to our principles while creating new policies that use limited government as a lever for justice, fairness, and human dignity. Yet, despite this need for more energy and innovation, I also know that the Republican Party is the only party built on principles with a lasting foundation.
And so, I am firmly and proudly a Republican. I am a proud Republican because over the last three years I came to see that Republican principles defend the foundational truths of freedom, true marriage, equality of opportunity, and the common good. I came to understand how the fiscal and social principles advanced by Republicans are best equipped to champion upward mobility, security, and opportunity for the materially poor and vulnerable—the unborn, the unwanted, and the unplanned—through strong but limited government and personal solidarity with the least among us.
Reasonable minds of goodwill can and should differ on policy issues ranging from spending and budget cuts to economic theory, the role of government, and America’s footprint globally. These are political and economic issues with moral ramifications, not absolute moral truths. Yet I have learned that, if we as a people are to be free, we must witness to moral truths. We must defend the principles of authentic love and freedom, community, human dignity, and solidarity that make us who we are—human!
If we rise to this challenge in humility and love, the truth of who we are as individuals and as an American community will never be overcome. With Truth to shepherd us, our witness today will stand the test of time: we shall be victorious, we shall win the race.
My office window here in downtown Detroit looks down on the famous Spirit of Detroit monument. Its inscription knowingly reads: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
In my journey, I have painfully learned the truth that man cannot live a lie. A person who lives a lie will soon die inside. Men and women must witness to the truth no matter where it leads them because there is no other path to freedom and love; there is no other path to inner peace. Lies fall apart. The Truth remains. This brief reflection is my witness to the Truth that found me and led me spiritually, professionally, and personally to a place of freedom I never imagined.
Indeed, the Truth has found me, and I am now free to be a witness; I am free, by God’s grace, to defend it.