D.G. Hart, one of the denizens of the Front Porch, has written a book “From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism.” He makes a pretty good case that Evangelicals persist in considering themselves “conservative” despite pervasively unconservative substance – a thesis that presumably sets off waves of incredulous giggles in secular leftist quarters.
In one sense, I suppose, Hart is just proving again the extreme limitations on political labels serving as anything but epithets or eulogies. Just what is a conservative? A liberal? A progressive? A reactionary? A feminazi? A wingnut?
But there’s more to it than that. Lefty conspiracy theorists, who murmer darkly about Rushdoony and North, take note: Evangelicals aren’t monolithic in politics, even though a bunch of moralistic clones have been passing around the Evangelical megaphone for a couple of decades, because (or “just as”?) they’re not monolithic religiously:
Evangelical Protestants are one of the least unified groups of American believers at the level of ecclesiastical affiliation and religious organization. Enough differences exist between Wesleyans and Calvinists, Baptists and Pentecostals, megachurches and small congregations to prompt a veritable cornucopia of fellowships and associations.
I note that Evangelicals are not monolithic not in order to praise them, or to imitate Jim Wallis (see below), but simply because it’s a fact. It’s a fact that should disconcert those Evangelicals who insist (not all do, the substance of Evangelicalism being mostly shared feelings) that the Bible clearly tells us all we need to know for faith and for life generally.
Jim Wallis has made a career of not fitting the megaphonists’ mold – a career almost comical in its ingratiating pleas to his college cohort, most of whom have moved on to Bobohood: “Hey! Look at me! I’m not like them! You can come to Jesus and still be a Lefty!”
Turning from Evangelicals to Christians of other sorts, xxx-Evangelical Frank Schaeffer, angry for decades and decades now, has not yet given up on God yet, but is graciously extending Him a bit more patience as he writes autobiographicalesqe soft porn and panders to the Puffington Host crowd with screeds like his “Burn in Hell with Tricky Dick” obituary on Charles Colson.
James Skillen could be mistaken for seeking a via media between left and right, but he’s really playing the more fundamental game of figuring out “the state”:
The problem that Skillen found in most of the Christian positions was an inability to construct a comprehensive political theory of what the state ought to be. As such, many faith-based pundits started either from a conservative or liberal outlook and then looked to Christianity for justification.
Which brings us to the Pastor-In-Chief, überliberal Protestant Barack Obama, mediated by Amy Sullivan in today’s Washington Post:
Announcing to the nation that he thinks that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry wasn’t the first time Obama has linked his Protestant beliefs to his support for specific policies. In his address at the National Prayer Breakfast this year, he credited his faith for inspiring policies as diverse as funding for medical research and eliminating tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. “Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper [and] caring for the poor and those in need,” Obama said, are values “that have defined my own faith journey.”
We have it on the best of authority that the Devil can quote scripture. You can supply your own list of nefarious figures besides Beelzebub who can parlay prooftexts. Be sure to add your own name. It’s as American as apple pie. Only Theanthropos won over anyone at prooftexting. The rest of us lack such authority, and quickly get bogged down in mutual, incredulous incomprehension.
My own take – this is not my final answer, by the way – is that He who said “my kingdom is not of this world” did not enscripturate or otherwise tradition down to us any political program. He presumably knew, after all, that His immediate followers would be cast out of the synagogue and their spiritual children would be persecuted by the civil authorities for centuries into the future. Islam scored immediate geopolitical victories; the disciples of the Crucified One did not.
There probably are some very fundamental Biblical political principles. The command against theft implies the existence of property rights in some sense, for instance, and “we must obey God rather than man” implies the propriety of civil disobedience in extremis. But as C.S. Lewis intimated, the details of politics built on such foundations depend on prudential judgments informed by the whole body of human knowledge.
Dare I suggest that to the image of God, destined to live eternally in bliss or worse, such transitory matters aren’t of first importance? Perhaps not even second or third importance?
I can hear “Pie in the sky bye and bye” welling up amid the aforementioned waves of incredulous giggles, but to insist that “This is the real world” in response is to deny that eternity is real, and that is not a premise I or any well-formed Christian can accept. I could give you prooftexts, but I’ve already closed that door.
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