First, this is neither an endorsement of any party, personality, or philosophy. It is rather a set of questions that intends to help you the reader think through your political commitments. This is something many do on a general level and understand the overall worldview problems of this perspective or that. We all know the concerns for life and liberty and have taken our positions on how these principles ought be applied to civic affairs. Then a few more will delve deeper into the issues and examine the underlying questions of history and consequence for each major worldview. We know that it is ideas which drive social change.
This question follows: Have I been honest with respect to my own worldview? Have I applied the same criticisms to my worldview as I have done to others? Self-examination is difficult. The unfortunate result is often to avoid criticisms that seem unjust. Many times they are unjust as people do have this tendency to paint disagreements in the worst possible light. One helpful response is to view our critics as mirrors. When the reflection is clear then we may learn and correct.
On Being Liberal
The evangelical community is historically quite liberal. That is, evangelicals have often aligned themselves with popular liberal causes. Over the past 150 years Christians sided first with the do-gooders of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to help fix many of our nation’s social ills. They were engaged in helping people better their living conditions and status in the world. This sentiment persists.
Toward the middle of the 20th century many evangelicals spoke against America’s version of apartheid known as Jim Crow. The target was and remains equal justice under the law, an honorable goal.
The rhetoric of modern liberalism is that of the libertarian. In its quest for justice it seeks to find a safe home for everyone. This goal reads as a caring goal. Who should be forced to suffer unjustly? The answer is “nobody” and it is trumpeted loudly.
It’s not that this has turned evangelicals into political liberals per se. What it means that the sentiments and some of the behaviors of the liberal have existed in concert with the sentiment and practices of the evangelical.
On Being Conservative
Evangelicals as conservatives have also seen their theology aligned with specific social goals. We cannot forget it was those conservative Methodists in Kansas who, seeking to end slavery, started this little thing called the Border War with Missouri. This was undeniably an evangelical voice and politic.
The old conservative movement withered during the Progressive Era but by the mid-20th century it saw a resurgence. Today’s conservative movement is more philosophical than theological and the evangelical attachment is more a reaction to the alternative than an being owned by conservatism.
The rhetoric of today’s evangelical conservative is libertarian and generally has as its target an open system of self-determination. This rhetoric makes is associated economic appeal, allowing for more free enterprise, more personal growth and success, and more security from unnecessary government intrusion.
If after reading these very brief summaries you find yourself agreeing with both, don’t worry. They are both very true. This tension is integral to the American psyche. We are all a little bit conservative and a little bit liberal. Nobody wants people to suffer wrongly, for justice to not work. And nobody wants to see people held back from succeeding because of a government that is overbearing. The difference lies in how we want to see these problems solved. Both the old conservative and the old liberal movement maintained theological foundations that the evangelical could align with. That is not the case today.
This was a summary of the surface concerns that most people look at. We see the same things while finding variant paths to solving those issues. What comes next is the deeper principled commitments that people chose to make.
When it comes to what we see in the press, from either side of the arguments for how society’s problems are to be solved, all that we observe is but theater. Both sides present themselves in the best possible light and employ the popular rhetoric of their respective bases.
A Mirror: On Being a Modern Liberal
The commitment of the modern liberal is anything but liberal. Today’s political liberal will often adopt the label of the leftist, anarchist, socialist, or even Marxist. Some do not employ any label but merely work to undermine the nation for the cause of international socialism. We have anarchists such as Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ocasio-Cortez working to not only undermine processes but to also see Jews killed. That is no an exaggeration. Fortunately not all modern liberals share this sentiment. Unfortunately, though, it is quite common.
This hatred of Jews is followed by a hatred for Christians. Barak Obama’s and John Kerry’s intentional unwillingness to deal with the ISIS situation in that regard in Syria and the surrounding area serves as evidence of that.
Diane Feinstein had a communist spy as her driver for — 20 years. That is no small compromise.
There is an overt commitment to Marxist principles would deny the personal liberty that the branding otherwise proclaims. The movement also defines rights with respect to what the government chooses to provide at any given moment. This is called “positive liberty” and makes the state, not nature of God, the source for rights and values. It cares none for the nation-state that we know as the United States and so advocates for a completely open border.
Modern liberalism has long ago forsaken any libertarian and theological commitments and merely retains the façade as a campaign brand.
A Mirror: On Being a Modern Conservative
Modern conservatism is a rat’s nest of ideas. We find the social conservative movement appealing for its pro-life and pro-family positions but there are some other commitments that we may have missed.
The economics of the movement are today built around international capitalism. This position is as nearly dangerous to personal economic security as is socialism. The corporation knows no moral restraint. As happened in the 19th century today’s large corporation practices a form of social Darwinism that is wholly unacceptable. We may like to recall the benefits of capitalism while forgetting that there is more to the story than unrestricted enterprise. The corporation knows no more moral restraint than does the Marxist progressive.
We may see through the deceptive language of the modern liberal but fail to see through the deceptive language of the modern conservative. We may think “anyone can make it if they try hard enough” but must admit that this is not true – it is not a universal. We allow for the dignity of success and failure. That has its place but doesn’t address the other persistent questions.
A Mirror: On Being an American
Once we get past the first two steps (political theater and our personal self-deception) then the problems in front of us become clearer. But the next step is a little more challenging and it may be a place where some don’t want to go. Let’s examine our patriotism and law enforcement priorities.
Law enforcement, generally speaking, knows that the law-and-order conservative evangelical is among their best friends and supporters. But how do we respond to clear injustices when committed by both law enforcement and the judicial system? Are we silent? Do we make generalized supportive statements and miss the specific issue? Are we willing to look deeper into specific agency problems? Or do we trust that things will work out because the system, though flawed, is better than any other on earth?
We may hold to some sound ideas but sometimes we may be guilty of letting these generalizations cloud real issues. Many did speak up when the Chicago PD hid a video showing potential officer abuse. That was the Laquan McDonald situation. It serves as a good example that our generalizations must be left as generalizations and that we need to better join in examination of specifics. Why? Because cleaning up specific problems gives greater weight to the generalizations that we cling to. The cleaner our law enforcement system is the better we can say that it works as it ought.
That’s an internal American matter, a question about how our system works. But what about external issues? That is, what about international affairs? International issues are foreign to most of us. Foreign policy right now falls under the heading of “Wilsonian” as developed by our one philosopher-President Woodrow Wilson. It has turned the US into a world policeman, practicing a sort of governance while not taking full political control of other nations. It is intrusive.
We saw this played out recently, in 2017, when it was discovered that President Obama had in his later years as President sent troops into several theaters. Congress was completely unaware until several were killed in Nigeria. The troops were doing their job. That’s what soldiers do.
The question that comes to my mind is this: How should we respond to such intrusion? Should we speak against our own government’s policies or should we speak in support of our government? Should we ask our troops to make the better moral decision and challenge the order to intrude? How far might we go with our word when our government does wrong?
In years past, when Great Britain and China were engaged in the Opium War, British missionaries turned on their own country and suffered for it. The Brits were in the moral wrong even though they may have had a national interest at stake. But a national interest is not a theological commitment.
When we examine our theological commitments we would do well to see if they are in conflict with our nationalism. One of the biggest issues today is illegal/undocumented aliens. How do we treat them? How do we respond to human need? I suspect that we might find a proper moral and theological response somewhere between open borders and “deport them all right now!” There are always more than two options and our nation’s border is not a theological border.
Can we stand behind our nation when wrongs are committed in war time? During WWII the US bombed the civilian population of Dresden. That was wrong. We were well on our way to winning. That was a bombing designed to break the spirit of the people only. It targeted non-belligerents.
Has the US cleaned up its act? Perhaps. But we had My Lai in 1968. To that incident some said, and still say, “America, right or wrong.” Such is a patriotism devoid of moral restraint.
The question of torture is the most recent. The “enhanced interrogation” list of ten methods seems not so bad, though not so good, either. Things like sleep deprivation are painful though everyone focused on waterboarding. The more general question is whether one is willing to delegate this to the state as its responsibility and refrain from a moral response or to examine the employed methods and provide a moral response.
This is not a statement that the act of war is necessarily evil. Some Christians find that to be the case, for war is the fire in which all nations burn. War and violence express human fallenness in its most ugly character. Yet war has also been used to end the unjust suffering of others. War ended the Holocaust. There is in the end no simple answer. There are merely moral responses to specific moral behaviors.
I am certainly not suggesting that we side with the political left in its never-ending assault on this or any nation. At the same time we do well to make our patriotism one that knows theological and moral restraint. That restraint must be accompanied by honest regarding both right and wrong actions.
On the Christian’s Political Commitments
This brings us to the question of voting and partisan commitments. The evangelical conservative is often accused of being in the hip pocket of the Republican party. That is little more than a political brand. But it seems that a few are in that position, which is a problem. We should remember that political parties exist to win elections and political philosophies exist to establish goals.
We know that the social conservative goals are not welcome in many Republican circles. At the moment these are winning goals but there may come a day when they are not. Would we still vote for a part that would oppose family and life just because the other part is even worse?
The Bible gives us little with respect to how to vote since the idea of a republic such as ours was unknown at that time. Yet we have some guiding principles. We all know the statement “Render unto Caesear the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” from Matthew 22:11 and Mark 12:17. That works fine for areas where there is conflict. But what about areas where the conflict may not be so evident?
Where do we stand on civil forfeiture? Civil forfeiture allows the government to take the resources from organized crime as part of its process. But civil forfeiture also allows agencies to take monies and such which are incidental to smaller matters such as traffic citations. A quick Internet search will reveal such situations. Should we accept the power of the state without question? Should we oppose it? Or should we ask that the process be refined to something more just?
The same principle applies to resentencing. Should the state be allowed to put a person back in confinement after the price has been paid? This is a law which needs to be revisited as it has a great potential for abuse.
Capital punishment is always a big topic. Conservatives are generally for it without questions. But I wonder if the laws might be made more precise so that the possibility of an innocent person being put to death might be reduced even further? Could we add restraints on the level of evidential certitude needed for such a sentence? That could go a long way. And while the problem is likely quite small it would cost us nothing to make it even smaller. Nobody wants to see the innocent suffer wrongly.
Even more basic is the question of being a modern conservative. While we would separate from the modern Marxist and progressive the conservative movement has some features that are antithetical to being evangelical. It is highly libertarian but the body of Christ is none of that. Modern conservatism is also driving by economics. The evangelical would be, properly, motivated by advancing the kingdom of God over economic policy. I realize that this is stated as a b&w issue and that there are situations where the kingdom is advanced while engaging in capitalistic enterprise. What I am talking about here is the priorities of the two movements. That difference is what makes us not confessed conservatives but qualified conservatives. It is something to keep in mind.
These matters often fall on partisan lines. We hear these discussions during every election cycle. But again they are presented as political brands. A thoughtful response will reject branding and suggest changes. Your moral voice to your elected officials, no matter the party, may be listened to.
We might summarize it this way: A Judeo-Christian view of justice is a voice for God to the government. It may serve as a benefit to others, a good work, as well as a bit of pre-evangelism as we do good.