Working at the Top of the Political Fray: A Christian Immigrant’s Time on Capitol Hill

The Body Politic’s editor D. Leiva introduces himself and starts to share his experiences working in Congress.

In the late nineties and early aughts when I was in high school and my dad used to subscribe to Time Magazine, I remember asking him what party we were. He told me that “we” weren’t of any particular party, but while “he” identified with Republicans I was free to choose whatever I wanted.

I remember being a little confused because I had understood politics, and almost everything else in life, as I did religion—we believe the same thing as a family. But in reality I knew very little about politics, and my dad’s response encouraged me to figure this out on my own. 

Now, in my thirties, I would say that I mostly identify with conservatives and Republicans.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I decided what “side” I was on. Yes, I went to a Christian and politically conservative liberal arts college, but I was very much the rebel there during my tenure as a student (that’s a story for another time).  Yes, I grew up in Florida during the Jeb Bush governorship and George W. Bush presidency, but as a non-Cuban in Miami I had no incentive to identify as Republican.  So despite the stereotypical reasons why I might have come to identify with Republicans, the truth is that every time I was exposed to potential solutions to pressing problems from both parties I found myself mostly, if not wholly, agreeing with the Republican approach.

(I’ll admit it: There were even times when I felt like being a Republican made me a responsible Christian. Please don’t stop reading.)

After graduating, I ended up eventually working in Congress. I spent three years working for a very high-ranking Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives. It was an excellent job that, in my wildest dreams, I never thought I would have. As an immigrant from El Salvador, I always felt like an outsider, but here I was, employed as an ultimate insider. Weird.

Then all political hell broke loose.

President Obama was reelected in 2012 thanks in large part to the Latino vote. The Republican party publicly declared that supporting immigration reform was the key to winning Latinos back. And then we just didn’t do it.

As a Christian, an immigrant and a minority employed in Congress I was confused and a bit hurt. Even though I’m not a citizen of this country, I’ve lived here more than 20 years, I have come to love this country, I have served this country as a Congressional staffer, I married a citizen, and have come to also identify myself culturally as a U.S. American. The Republican position on immigration reform was not one that I, as a believer and defender of the gospel, could accept, much less defend, given my understanding of the Christian faith. And so I was especially confused to see religious groups forming in support of the rejection of immigration reform.

Eventually I left Congress, but not because of the immigration reform rejection—if anything, that had made me feel like I had to remain on the inside so that I could effect change from within. I’m grateful for my time on the Hill and for the opportunity to serve this country,  but as I was leaving, the political landscape felt toxic, unhealthy and more partisan than I had ever known.

This website is an effort to equip believers across the political spectrum to carry the gospel into the political corners of their lives in ways that are authentic, challenging and life-giving. We’re looking forward to getting started.

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  • A former staffer for Republican House Leadership, Daniel Leiva left the Hill in 2014 fed up with the apocalyptic rhetoric. Daniel was born into a family with a rich legacy of full-time ministry. His time on the Hill only deepened his desire to see the church clearly and compellingly witness to the culture around it. He worked closely with Rick Barry to launch the Center for Christian Civics and build an initial team that could set the organization up for success. Daniel currently lives in Austin, TX, with his wife.

4 Responses

  1. I can identify with your story in so many respects. Three things specifically have led me away from being able to identify with one particular side, into the often lonely-feeling land of no single particular political affiliation being a good fit. First, my awesome former housemate, a follower of Christ who fell on the other end of the political spectrum, which was a bit of culture shock for me (like you, "There were even times when I felt like being a Republican made me a responsible Christian"). Second was marrying a wonderful, godly man who is literally on the opposite end of the political spectrum from where I used to be. These two relationships (coupled with being part of a church body whose leaders have challenged equating political views with our salvation) have been formative in providing dialogue and challenging me. These are two people I admire and respect. They love God, they’re intelligent, they seek out information. I couldn’t just write them off, and it forced me to ponder my views with a more critical eye, challenged my ability to believe that I was simply 100% right and they were 100% wrong. The third thing is too much to go into right now, but it centers around the Ferguson, New York, Baltimore, et al. events.

    Mostly, though, I often find myself feeling isolated, agreeing with no single camp on all or even most issues. Often, I just feel tired. Tired of feeling constant opposition, varying only in who it’s from depending on the issue or problem. My husband commiserates with me. "Trust me, I understand. I’m a pacifist, vegetarian, socialist, prolife, anti-military, white male Believer."

    I can’t describe how excited I am for this site. The mere existence makes me feel hopeful that as a body, we can engage (and agree and disagree) meaningfully with each other, with a love of Christ and of the gospel being our end.

    1. Susi,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and where you are. I am so glad that this site is helpful in some way. I hope that folks like yourself, or folks who still identify with a party or a side but not entirely, can find edifying thoughts here.

      For me, beyond the policy advocated by any side, the thing that affects me the most is the tone and rage that permeates the national "dialogue" if it can even be called that. I can’t tell you how disheartened I am when I see a headline about what Anne Coulter said. Whether or not I agree with someone, the image of God in them matters (as the inaugural post mentioned), and we should strive to honor that as we engage in conversation.

      Like you, I married someone who does not identify with my side, politically, but is an incredible, God-fearing woman with the most respectable character of anyone I’ve met. We agree on the Gospel, and that’s what matters. I also had an awesome roommate who was afraid to tell me his political preference to avoid ruining our friendship, I’m glad he finally did because I appreciated his views and learned so much from him.

      Thank you for sharing your excitement with us! WE are excited that this resonates on some level. We hope it continues to resonate with you and many more!

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