Beliefs Culture Institutions Jonathan Merritt: On Faith and Culture Opinion

Fox News’ evangelical Democrat: An interview with Kirsten Powers

Fox News' Kirsten Powers is both an evangelical Christian and a Democrat. (Photo credit: Len Spoden)
Fox News' Kirsten Powers is both an evangelical Christian and a Democrat. (Photo credit: Len Spoden)

Fox News’ Kirsten Powers is both an evangelical Christian and a liberal Democrat. (Photo credit: Len Spoden)

Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers lives up to the tagline of the television network that platforms her: “fair and balanced.” Viewers familiar with her opinions know that while she is an unashamed liberal, she doesn’t shy away from criticizing the President and other Democrats or defending conservatives when she feels it is appropriate.

When I first met Powers, who is also a Daily Beast and USA Today columnist, I was surprised to learn that she worked in the Clinton White House and later became an evangelical Christian (though she prefers the label “orthodox Christian” due to the baggage associated with “evangelical”). She wrote a fascinating foreword to my book, A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars, where she details converting to Christianity while attending Tim Keller’s church in New York City. Her religious conversion, however, did not alter her political views.

“I’m often asked, ‘How can you be a Democrat and a Christian?’ which puzzles me beyond belief,” Powers wrote in the foreword. “Nowhere in the Bible is there a mandate to be a Republican, or to support low taxes or, say, the war in Iraq, which I opposed from the beginning. And for all the conflation of patriotism and being a good Christian, I’m sorry to tell people that God is actually not an American. He created and cares about everyone in the world, not just Americans.”

On Fox, Powers has become known as an independent thinker and gutsy commentator who always does her homework. Whether or not they agree with everything she says, viewers have to be impressed by her consistency and courage. In this interview, we talked about media bias, faith, and her take on the hot button topics of gun control and gay marriage.

JM: You recently went head-to-head with Bill O’Reilly over President Obama’s proposed health care spending cuts. There is a lot of talk about the “White House war on Fox News.” As a political analyst for Fox, what is your take on this issue? Is Fox being a “media meanie,” or is Obama crumbling under the pressure of tough questions?

KP: I find the White House’s behavior completely egregious. It is not the job of the White House to decide which media outlets are ‘legitimate.’ The fact that the only one they find not legitimate is the only major media outlet that holds them accountable seems a little too coincidental.

In their paradigm, MSNBC is legitimate even if all they do is run liberal programming. To be clear, I’m not bashing MSNBC. I have respect for many of their contributors and hosts. I think Rachel Maddow is top notch. I just am tired of hearing about how nonstop liberal programming is ‘news’ and Fox is not ‘legitimate.’ What is MSNBC’s evening news show? They don’t have one. But Fox News does, and it’s really good. Compare the time slots starting at 6pm onward at Fox News and MSNBC and explain to me how MSNBC is the ‘legitimate’ news station when they don’t even run any news in those time slots.

Remember, the White House didn’t just say that Fox is not legitimate, they also told other outlets that they shouldn’t treat Fox as legitimate. This is chilling behavior, and Jake Tapper–then at ABC–was the only journalist to speak out against it, when he questioned Robert Gibbs–now an MSNBC contributor–about why the White House felt they had a right to do this.

This inability to engage in debate or handle disagreement is becoming the calling card of the left. It should be a top concern for Americans, especially if you are a liberal and you believe dissent is a critical part to democracy. There are more real debates going on at Fox News on any given day than all the television networks combined, which unanimously view the world one way. The White House should learn how to make their case and stop using the power of the office of the president to try and quash dissent. They should also stop pretending that a cable news outlet is more powerful than the leader of the free world and the government he runs.

JM: Gun control has been in debate since the Sandy Hook tragedy. What is your position on gun rights?

KP: I grew up in a house with dozens of guns, so I’m not anti-gun, and if I lived in a city that allowed me to own one, I probably would. However, I believe in gun control. Having a right to bear arms doesn’t mean there can’t be reasonable limitations. We have a right to free speech, but we can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre. It’s not just my opinion that there are limits to gun rights. The Supreme Court ruled in Heller that there are limits to the right to bear arms. Truthfully, I find the gun debate depressing. The two sides are so separated, it seems unbridgeable.

JM: Hailing from Alaska yourself, what are your thoughts on Sarah Palin, her rise of fame as Vice President nominee in 2008, and how she’s coped with the infamy thereafter?

KP: I like Sarah. I don’t agree with her politics or many of the things she says, but I find the way the media and Washington establishment has treated her to be despicable and completely sexist. She is quintessentially Alaskan in that she is independent minded and isn’t intimidated by what the mainstream media — a festival of East Coast groupthink if there ever was one — thinks of her. The way the media treated her tells us a lot about why the media in America is not respected. They have such utter contempt for people who are not like them.

I remember getting these hysterical phone calls when she was announced to be the Vice Presidential nominee shrieking, “Who is she?! I’ve never even heard of her. Who does she think she is criticizing Obama?” Of course, she was a governor, and a pretty popular one at that. But she was from a rural, conservative state and didn’t go to the right schools. I actually had liberals arguing to me that the fact she transferred between multiple schools in college 20 years ago should disqualify her for the vice-presidency. She was ridiculed for being a “beauty queen” because she entered pageants to help pay for college. It was this sneering classism that has become so emblematic of our media. A real low point for the mainstream media in a storied history of low points.

JM: How does your faith as a Christian affect your politics as a Democrat? And how does your politics as a Democrat inform your faith as a Christian?

KP: I am a Democrat because I embrace a philosophy that says the government has an important role in society in terms of providing for the poor and marginalized. I don’t believe — as my Republican friends do — that private citizens are up to the task of providing for people in the way the government has, through for example, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. If you doubt this, read the history of the time before these programs to see how well private citizens did, and remember that conservatives opposed these programs. Ronald Reagan famously said: “[I]f you don’t [stop Medicare] and I don’t do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”

I also don’t worship at the altar of the free market in the way my conservative friends do. The Bible teaches us that left to their own devices, people are inherently sinful….as Tim Keller would say, “we are more depraved that we will ever realize”…so if you take government regulation out of the picture, why wouldn’t people behave in a depraved manner? You don’t need to look any further than the collapse of the banks and the housing crisis. We are told over and over that what they did wasn’t “illegal.” Who cares? It was unethical and selfish…with no regard for other people or for the country. I think the government has a role to protect average citizens from the people who have all the power and are hard-wired to care only about increasing their own power, no matter who it hurts.

Contrary to the caricature that conservatives create, Democrats don’t support untrammeled government power. There are limits. But there is also a significant role for the government to play in society.

JM: As an orthodox Christian where do you stand on the issue of same-sex marriage?

KP: I view same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue. As Ted Olson and David Boies have pointed out, the Supreme Court has affirmed 14 times that marriage is a fundamental right. I believe the government should provide same-sex marriage, and churches should be left to do what they believe is right. I am eternally frustrated by the way Christians conflate holy matrimony and civil marriage. While Christians are free to have their decisions influenced and directed by what the Bible says, they are not free to impose those views on other people, especially when they are constitutionally protected rights.

The argument that we are “redefining marriage” is specious. First of all, marriage has been redefined before. “Marriage” in the United States used to mean “marriage between people of the same race.” Second, civil marriage can mean all sorts of things. If a couple is married but decide they want to have an “open marriage,” for example, the state still recognizes them as “married.” Is that the definition of marriage that most people have? No. But it is a definition of marriage in the eyes of the state.

As you know, when Christians enter into holy matrimony in a church, it is an entirely different commitment than when two people enter into a civil marriage, affirmed by the state. Holy matrimony is a union with God. The Christian view of marriage is that it is supposed to reflect Jesus to the world. That is an entirely different definition than a civil marriage, which is what the state provides. I understand that people are concerned that churches will be forced to perform same-sex marriages, against their beliefs. I don’t believe this will happen, but even if Christians are afraid that the government might overreach and persecute Christian churches, that is never a justification to infringe on other peoples constitutional rights. If you have a fear of potential discrimination by the government the answer is not to discriminate against another group.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.


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  • Thanks Jonathan for doing this interview. I like Kirsten’s balanced views on all issues you two covered; she is so right on them all!

  • Kirsten has an IQ that teeters around 200. And she’s got so much grace and style.

    That’s true whether you agree with her politics or not.


    Psalm 115:1

  • I hope someone tells her that the term “Orthodox Christian” already refers to a specific denomination:

  • Her brain seems to lose a bit of Clarity when it comes to obfuscating about whether Fox News is news. So a news program requires specific time slots? I don’t think so.

  • I can’t figure Powers out ….. She dated Anthony Weiner. After his weird behavior was exposed she said quote, “There is lying and then there is what Weiner did. Due to nonstop meetings, I had not had time to watch his media blitz prior to my Greta interview and was slack-jawed when I saw clips of him the next day sneering and pointing fingers at other people for what he knew he had done. I am of the general view that politicians are not the most honest group of people, but, even using that very low standard, what I saw in those interviews was deeply disturbing. There is no way anyone can ever believe anything Weiner says again after that. In fact, I highly doubt that what he said in his press conference is even true.”

    I guess she has changed her mind, because 2 days ago she tweeted,

    Kirsten Powers @kirstenpowers10
    Apparently Anthony Weiner wants to run for mayor. He should. He’d probably win & everyone deserves a second chance.
    4:09 PM – 10 Apr 13

    Maybe Kirsten is more politically driven than faith driven?

  • 4/12/2013. Interesting, reading of Kirsten Powers. It shows at least that there is always room for a budding journalistic commentator. Evangelical, Orthodox, what difference does it make? Those can be just name tags. The basic attribute of sin–ultra narcissism–is not addressed, only its effects noted. It wasn’t the belief that all people are God’s children and equally loved that crucified Jesus. Jesus commented on Herod. Does that make Him a rebel politician? Jesus was criticized as much as, probably more than, any leader in His time and history. Often today there seems to be too much again reading one’s perspective into data instead of listening first to the data and critiquing one’s own perspective first. So describing the “White House” as one monolithic blob; can not they/it comment, too instead of damned if they do and damned of they don’t? An aside, some Republicans seem to want to return to the decade after World War 2 when America and allies were victorious, but ignore their Republican President Eisenhower’s words–dissent yes, disruption no, including ad hominem. And, nothing is as perfect as hindsight. But it all looks good, generates a lot of words, yet must come down to earth from time to time. No judgment against Kirsten Powers. She has rights to speak, too. Even when hers might limit someone else’s with her journalistic fervor. Best wishes to her. Wisdom to us all.

  • Good observation by Kirsten … quote “This inability to engage in debate or handle disagreement is becoming the calling card of the left.”

    MR Merritt do you always categorize tough questions or differing options as “low quality”. I’m disappointed.

  • the problem is that the democratic party stands for many things which are forbidden in the bible like abortion and homosexuality. the democratic party is generally secular in nature and its platform is secular. If one really lives by scripture it is hard to imagine voting democratic.

  • I agree. I use to be a Democratic. Now I’m an Independent voting on issues as a Christian. My Faith rules over my politics.

    What I find most interesting about this piece is the author’s reaction to my first commit. He quickly hid it under “Comment marked as low quality by the editors”. Obviously he disagrees with my viewpoint, which is Kristen is all over the place on (Dem) Anthony Weiner. First she says he’s despicable and should never be trusted again and then she tweets, he should run for office and deserves a second chance. I think all of us are for second chances in life, but sometimes mistakes point toward the need for a career change. If Kristen can’t see that I have my doubts about her ability to provide an honest political view point. Kristen made the commit, “I am of the general view that politicians are not the most honest group of people”. If I were her I would look for my dates in Alaska not Washington.

    And as far as my first commit being “marked as low quality by the editors”, the articles key message is center around Kirsten Powers comment that liberals have an “inability to engage in debate or handle disagreement is becoming the calling card of the left. It should be a top concern for Americans, especially if you are a liberal and you believe dissent is a critical part to democracy.” Hiding my original post is a great example of that inability.

  • When not capitalized (as in this article) “orthodox” refers to a set of historically acceptable beliefs, not to the denomination. It’s common usage.

    Which makes me Greek orthodox.

  • In Kirsten’s wonderful liberal Christianity, I wonder, does that also include the killing of unborn and born children like in the case of “Dr'” Gosnell? So proud to be a “Democrat”, yet this party turns their head at atrocities committed, even President Obama, who unashamedly and proudly speaking at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser today? Christianity does not stop at the door of the slaughter house of children. Do you really believe that Jesus will ignore the fact that millions of babies are brutally destroyed in America and that the Democratic/ Republican/Libertarian Party, of course, because “abortion is for the environment, to keep population down on the earth”, will get a pass? I don’t think so.

  • If you honestly think about it there is no political party that is “Christian”…their platforms are bloated words that refuse to face the Truth and horror of many issues…like abortion, the taking of innocent life- like homosexuality that is a lie. That is why homosexuality is forbidden in the Scriptures…it brings forth death, not life and the creation of children…liberal Christians believe they are being “progressive” but really they are playing god and declaring Him useless. God help America.

  • Actually, Kirsten was the one who publicized savana atrocities of savana Gosnell case and called out the media for ignoring it. You should really research these things before you post about them.

  • Kirsten will have to quit skirting the issues at some point, ..seems like keeping her job is the biggest priority(as liberal columnist/analyist) ..Proud that she’s willing to profess her faith, but you kinda have to promote issues that correspond to this faith. Either you support Biblical marriage or you don’t. ..Oh, and who’s definition of ‘baggage’ associated with evangelical. Kirsten we need you as an envoy to the media, and to be authentic to the Christian standards we hold as believers.

  • I am so thankful for people like Kristen. I feel as a Christian that my faith has been hijacked and that the wonderful gospel of Christ has been identified with conservative, right-wing Republicans in this country and that is so wrong. Those of us who have a deep faith in Christ but identify politically with the Democratic party have been marginalized by the so called Christian Right, family values, tea party crowd. Are these the same hypocrites that voted their values in South Carolina when they voted for the adulterer, Mark Sanford? I hope more and more people like Kristen will speak up. The Republican party is not the “Christian Party” and will not make the U.S. a more Christian nation!

  • If you are saved then you are a sister in Christ. I agree that the Lord is not a member of any political party, however, when you say you have been “marginalized” I ask how can you read the Bible regarding homosexuality, personal responsibility (stand alone at the judgement seat), abortion ( so as to not restrict a career) and I could go on and on I ask how can you believe in the Bible and democrate party principles. ” By their fruits you will know them” look at the people that support the democratic party: almost all atheist, abortionist, the race baiters, the communist party when they no the can’t win with their own party. I truely can not understand how you can not see how far the party platform deviates from biblical principles. I love you in the Lord!

  • I commend Kirsten for being so bold about her beliefs. It is so difficult to be a Christian leaning towards voting Democrat, however with the rise of the “Tea Party” the GOP has become the party of hate and is frankly pushing people away from Jesus as they sadly associate the two. As a Christian the thing Jesus focused on believers to do and the only actual “commands” he gave were to “Love the Lord you God with all your heart… love your neighbor as yourself.” Here are some things to prayerfully consider:

    * 5 of the 7 justices who voted for abortion on Roe vs. Wade were appointed by Republicans.
    * Republicans have had ample opportunity when in control of all houses to implement restrictions on this, but never have.
    * The bible never says “God helps them who helps themselves.” It does say if one will not work, he should not eat. However that is speaking to Christians and not those who do not believe. Furthermore there is no indication this includes those who are disabled or less fortunate.
    * Greed is a sin and is clearly in God’s word more than “homosexuality”, Jesus spoke about it repeatedly. This does not mean it is worse, it means it is just as bad as other sins. If you are a Christian and you do not think that greed is part of the republican platform you need to do some research. Sin, is sin.
    * Jesus and Paul said to respect the governing authorities. Paul said they are put there for our protection and if you do well it will serve you well. When is the last time you prayed for those in power? Scripture says you should.
    * America is not in the bible, we are not a major player in God’s word.
    * For those who like to focus on the old testament, besides homosexuality God also commanded them to take care of foreigners and be kind to them. Yes I am bringing up immigration.
    * There is not one shred of evidence that Obama is a Muslim and in fact he confesses Jesus Christ. I won’t speak as to where he is at, but what a hateful thing to say to someone who confesses Christ.
    * Republicans consistently vote against veterans rights, especially disabled veterans. Seriously do some research on this. Don’t confuse defense contracts with troop benefits (we did not see it when I served). I see this clearly as a disabled vet and after doing the research found I had been duped. Caring for the less fortunate?

    As Christians you are being deceived if you think “Conservative” or “Liberal” has anything to do with Christianity. Jesus was not a politician. However actually reading the Word and prayerfully considering loving others as you love yourself would be a good place to start.

    Now that I spoke that feel free to bring on the hate and random verses used out of context. Just remember if you are a Christian….
    2 Corinthians 5:10

  • Finally, a reason to watch Fox News?? That’s the kind of jaundiced view Ms. Powers was criticizing in the above interview. Fox News is far more objective and balanced than some leftist group-think outlets masquerading as news organizations.

  • No hate or Bible verses out of context. You have expressed more than enough hate and selected Biblical verses in support of your politics.

  • In all truth, your statement should read,
    “Those of us who have a deep faith in Christ but identify politically with the Democratic party have been marginalized by OUR OWN PARTY.”
    Recently, at the Democratic convention in 2011, the Democrat delegates were overwhelmingly vocal in their desire to remove ALL REFERENCES OF GOD from their official platform.
    It was over-ruled by the man at the podium to a loud boos.