In previous posts, I gave my general opinion on American politics – and on the left in particular. But I didn’t specifically address conservatism, so I would like to round out the conversation by doing that.
To begin with, I’m not going to pretend that anyone would be wrong to associate me with conservatives; but while I typically agree with them, I don’t actually identify as one. As I’ve said before, “conservative” is a relative term. I have no desire to conserve something without value or worth. And I have no ability to conserve something that’s already lost. How can we really conserve Christian values in a society that’s almost completely rejected them? They would first need to be recovered, which means a liberal fight against a godless establishment. But it also seems pointless to conserve a system that allowed for its own demise. I’m still a believer in the principles of America’s founding, but it was clearly flawed in more ways than one: it allowed for the decay of our Judeo-Christian heritage.
As a Christian, I want to do and support what’s right – whether we call it liberal or conservative. I reject both labels for different reasons, and I have no interest in debating “true” conservatism. I prefer to call myself a Christian and let the rest work itself out. But, for the sake of clarity, I’ll continue to use the words in their contemporary sense.
All that being said, I’m no moderate by definition. I simply profess no loyalty to the G.O.P. My concern is with policies and philosophy, not people or party. You might call me an independent, but that doesn’t mean I vacillate from one side to the other; it simply means my political support comes by default. I find the Republican Party to be largely useless; they don’t truly or fully represent me. But as a Christian, I won’t vote Democrat. I abhor the term “lesser of two evils” – as if a little evil is good for stopping lots of evil – but it’s technically true, so far as the term goes: without a good option, we have to choose the least bad. (Sorry, there’s no third party; and if there was, we probably wouldn’t like them either.) So, like many other Americans, my vote is pragmatic.
But when it comes to presenting conservatism to the world, our Republican representatives are either not very well-read or not very articulate. They might believe the right things, but they don’t seem to grasp the underlying reasons for doing so. There’s more to be learned from conservative radio personalities than the so-called leaders of the Republican Party. And that reveals a problem for the right: they don’t understand their own philosophy.
There’s at least one good reason for this: politicians are better speakers than thinkers. It takes a certain kind of person to run for major political office. They have to be willing to enter the public eye, to compete for popularity, and to anger half the country. On some level, they generally think they can run things better than anyone else. And many get involved out of frustration with the status quo, which means they’re more likely to have negative ambition against their opponents than positive ambition for their own platform. That’s why we don’t get a lot of Christian role models: arrogance and scorn are built into the job. As a result, those who succeed in politics are often power-hungry, narcissistic elites.
The fact is, good men and women are less likely to enter politics precisely because of their character and qualifications. That’s how we end up with officials who lack the ability to convey deep and complex truths: because they don’t always know what they’re talking about – or even what they’re doing. They don’t know how to balance military, economic, and social interests at the same time. Because our society mistakes good speakers for good leaders, the outcome isn’t always great. That works for the left, where good actors are best at selling bad ideas. But for the right, it means a failure to implement good policies for lack of wisdom, courage, and resilience – all rare qualities in politics.
People want leaders who stand up for their values above all else – but they have to know their values first. Most Republicans probably identify as Bible-believing Christians, but their faith seems secondary. They don’t know how to represent it. They don’t know how to defend it. And even the sincere ones seem to have accepted the false premise that it has no place in politics. They won’t extol the Gospel for fear of offending non-Christians; they hesitate to honor God above the Constitution they’re sworn to uphold.
To be fair, it’s not their job to preach or persuade others to follow Christ. Some people at the grassroots level expect their candidates to act like Sunday school teachers, but that won’t be very successful in a democratic society packed with non-believers. I’m not advocating for that, nor am I asking them to break their oaths or legislate religious practice. The best thing our politicians can do for the church is to recognize their shortcomings with humility and defer to the wisdom of spiritual leaders. Nobody is going to bring utopia or fix human nature through politics. Real reform comes through the personal and spiritual choices of individuals, not from the government.
But even politicians can acknowledge and encourage the spread of the Gospel without passing discriminatory or coercive laws. Our Constitution harmonizes well with Christianity, so long as it’s rightly applied. The more they diverge, the worse it gets for our society. The less Christian our government becomes, the more we stray from the Constitution; and without the Constitution, there’s no guarantee of religious freedom… for Christians or anyone else. Republican officials have distanced themselves too much from religion to accommodate a fictional separation of church and state. As a result, they struggle to maintain the validity of their own worldview.
What’s the point of traditional values if not for religious reasons? Sure, you can believe what you want, but conservatives are the ones with a foundation to stand on. If they’re unwilling or unable to claim it, they’re not going to attract much support or enthusiasm.
On the other hand, if they truly believe in the God of Christianity, Republicans should own it. If they’re upfront with their faith, it will strengthen their cause and their ability to the job in accordance with God’s will. They can serve God by serving the people; they can stand up for the truth without forcing it on others. And if the Constitution ever infringes on their faith, they can fight back on legal grounds – by proposing laws and amendments for the good of society and the ease of their own conscience. That’s why people elect them: to make a difference.
I could say a lot more about Republicans – and I hope to do so in my next post. But suffice to say, there is no conservative philosophy without the Christian foundation. And there is no hope or salvation for the human race in politics. The Republican Party – even those who identify as agnostic or libertarian – will remain an empty vessel so long as they fail to recognize and rally around that. I don’t expect religious confessions or church attendance from their members. But the reason they fail is because they lack conviction. They scratch the surface; they fight half the battle. Real wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord – not the fear of embarrassment. If they believe Christ died in their place, they could at least learn to stand in his name.