DETROIT — As a law student at Howard University, Louis Brown loved politics. He had immersed himself in the world of the Democratic Party. The 20-something Detroit native had spent a summer working for U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. He spent another summer as a law clerk at Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s office for legal counsel.
“It was an exciting time being a student in Washington, D.C. I loved every minute of it. I was a political junkie, in every sense of the word,” recalled Brown.
During his third year in law school, Brown had a reversion back to his Catholic faith: “I was facing graduation, had just broken up with my girlfriend and was feeling the real need to be dependent on God and not on myself.”
After graduation, in the spring of 2008, Brown was back home in the Detroit area practicing law. He had gotten involved in a grassroots movement to support Democrats in the upcoming election; among them was candidate Barack Obama.
One day, while he was heading out to register voters for the upcoming election, he got a phone call from a friend who was a medical student at Georgetown University. She explained to him the premise of the movie The Silent Scream: an educational film that depicts the graphic nature of an abortion on an 11-week-old baby.
That conversation was thought-provoking for Brown.
“I had always identified myself as pro-life, but it was one of many issues,” said Brown. “I never had thought of it as a foundational issue. But that day, in talking to this friend, the issue hit me hard.”
He was happy when Obama won the election, but, at the same time, he was grappling with a new understanding of the importance of the life issue. He had a number of friends involved in the Democratic Party, both at home in Michigan and in Washington. Through those connections, it wasn’t long before he was offered what he called a “dream job” with the Democratic National Party in Washington.
“As a young person and as a lawyer, to be able to work for a national party committee when your party is in the White House is a big deal,” Brown told the Register.
He headed back to Washington — but with some qualms.
“The way I justified it is that: I am a pro-life Democrat, and we need pro-life Democrats to help change the Democratic Party to be more consistent and more pro-life. However, there was that check in my spirit: Can I be a Catholic and be a Democrat?”
In 2009, on the eve of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, he was asked to do an activity to promote President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. As he took a closer look at his assignment, he read between the lines and figured out that, in effect, he would be promoting abortion.
“I didn’t want to have it on my soul. I wanted my conscience to be clear,” he decided.
So he wrote a letter of resignation. He said he received a lot of respect for his decision of conscience. But “it was hard. I had worked in Democratic politics for most of my 20s, and it was my life — and now I felt very much alone. It was a real struggle.”
In September of this year, Brown went public with his story. His essay, “Politics in Witness to Truth,” was posted at ThePublicDiscourse.com. In it, he explains why he is now a proud Republican. He has gotten a lot of feedback from the article, with 95% of it being positive.
“It has been a huge blessing,” Brown explained. “There are a lot of folks out there who struggle with being Catholic and identifying with the Democratic Party. As a wise lawyer in D.C. once told me, ‘If you’re Catholic, you should struggle with your political participation, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat.’”
In Opelousas, La., state Sen. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas, tells a similar tale. This past summer, the Democrat-elected representative made national news when he changed parties. His YouTube video, “Why I Am a Republican,” has received close to a million views.
Guillory, a lifelong Catholic, said he had had enough. He was elected a Democrat for Louisiana’s 24th District eight years ago, but says that he had issues with the party since day one.
“Abortion and a general respect of life were two of the big issues for me. But for me to be able to sit at the table and be on the inside, I needed to be a Democrat,” the 69-year-old said of his past political party.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for Guillory was when the chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, Karen Carter Peterson, stood up this year in the Louisiana Statehouse and stated that anyone who opposed Obamacare only would do so because of the race of the president.
Guillory’s 104-year-old mother heard those comments and called him immediately. “If you bought into anything like that or subscribed to something like that, you would bring dishonor to our family,” she told him.
Despite the fact that she was a lifelong Democrat, she was upset that any opposition to Obamacare was seen as being based on race and not on the merits of the legislation.
Two hours later, Guillory decided to change parties.
“With my mom putting it in that context, I had to get out of there,” he related.
Restore the Family
Both Guillory and Brown noted that the litmus test to be a Democrat has become more and more one’s support of abortion rights and same-sex “marriage.”
That wasn’t the case a decade ago, Brown said. He shared how Democrats have long been known as the party of the poor and for the working man.
“Some of the values that are traditionally associated with Democrats are not being prioritized these days,” he shared.
The 31-year-old has been inspired by John Paul II and his emphasis on the dignity of work. He sees a strong connection between the lack of work among young people and the breakup of the family, particularly in the African-American community.
“As much as we must have social-support systems, equally important is economic access,” related Brown. “When young African-Americans do not have economic access to the marketplace through jobs, education and training, it is not just a loss of economic capital — it is the loss of human capital. It is a loss of hope and a loss of dignity.”
Both Brown and Guillory are at peace with their decisions. Brown said that having his story published on the Internet has been quite cathartic. Guillory said that these last few months have been a wonderful, uplifting experience.
While such a switch in politics was difficult in various ways, they would encourage anyone who feels the same way to walk out in faith.
“Keep in mind that God makes the majority. Walking this political maze is like walking through fire, but you are never alone. The Lord will walk with you every step of the way,” Guillory said.
“Go forth with humility, and always witness to the truth about what you are doing as it relates to yourself and other people,” Brown concluded. “We must always witness to the truth of what it means in terms of building up the Kingdom of God.”
Eddie O’Neill writes from Rolla, Missouri.