Sunday, February 15, 2004

Why I Am This, Rather Than That

Some Thoughts On Conservative Christians & Social Change

It's time to throw off the belief that politics play little influence on the whole of our worldview. While we might not be able to put it into poli-speech, our views on the nature of humanity (harmartiology specifically) involuntarily affect who we vote for when election time comes around.

Conservatives, Liberals, David Bowie

Let's say, for just a moment, that we can easily define liberalism and conservativism (humor me). We're going to ignore the Bush/Democratic-of-the-week definitions, and stick to the underlying assumptions behind the views.

It's safe to say that conservativism is built upon a belief in a moral order ordained by a Creator and a resistance to change and progress, especially for the sake of change itself, or if change goes against said moral order. Man is a noble, yet fallen creature, and will remain that way (government provides law and order, keeping man in check). There are also some libertarian leanings to consider, such as small government and low taxes, which we should also note.

On the other side, liberalism has a God more akin to the deist view, or maybe the Enlightenment god of Reason, the obtuse Watchmaker in the sky. Man is seen as essentially good, able to bring about a utopian heaven on earth through proper education and constant restructuring of society. Change is not only good, but it is needed on a day-to-day basis.

In some ways, the Democratic/Republican split is still divided by these distinctions. Especially when it comes to Christians who are involved in the political process. Liberal Christians who don't believe in an actual "Fall" are usually Democrats who seek progress, a sort of postmillennialism put to a political agenda. Christian Conservatives who do believe that humanity is basically bad news are usually Republicans who are resistant to great change, especially social change. Social programs are exercises in futility to them because sin and corruption cannot be overcome by a "benevolent" State. For example, Republicans generally don't have the same urgency as Democrats possess to save Social Security and Medicare. The Right would rather see it "wither on the tree," run out of funding, and let the market (rather than govt.) take over.

Righting Old Wrongs, Like Super-Hereos, Only Without Spandex

But can a Christian be theologically conservative and socially liberal? It does seem an odd combination (although Reinhold Niebuhr seemed to pull it off in the first half of the 20th century). If one appeals to the prophetic tradition of the OT in conjunction with the social revolution Jesus personified in the Gospels, it's not hard to make a case (not the time or place to do here, but maybe something not think about for later). The most glaring problem is that it makes for strange bedfellows. Conservatives with a cautious view of human nature in tandem with liberals and their exalted view of humanity -- united for social justice.

It's this belief in man's essential goodness that puts off many conservative Christians from the Democratic Party. We're suspicious of it, and rightfully so. The past 100 years haven't justified liberalism in many ways; things seem to be getting worse around the world, though generally better at home. WWI and WWII put the utopian liberal ideal on life support. Since that time conservatism has flourished in both power and intellect. Republicans have held the White House 15 of the last 23 years. The eight years of a Democratic White House under Clinton were "marred" by a liberal move to the center (a restructuring closer to the Right). Clinton was a moderate Democratic who "stole" many Republican ideas in order to lock down moderate swing voters who could have gone either way. (Does anyone remember "the era of big government is over?")

Conservatives have held onto a majority in the nation because the world is such a screwed up place, and we are terribly afraid of it.

This makes it so incredibly hard for a conservative Christian to break conservative ranks on social policy and jump on board the "7 political step to a better you" bandwagon. We know that man is fallen, but we hold fast to the belief that Scripture advocates social justice. Not egalitarianism, mind you; that would have been anathema to the NT writers, but a society that looks after the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned, by giving up our own misplaced(?) right to peace and comfort.

Bush doesn't seem to hold a very high view of the above sentiment. Or if he does, he doesn't think it's the State's responsibility, but the Church's. The problem is, the Church is failing the poor to a tune of 14 million children in need of proper health care, some 34.6 million living in poverty (if you're wondering how the govt defines poverty), and a wholesale rejection of the single-mother culture (it might be noted that there are more ways to be widowed than by death these days). And that's just in the United States.

Are We Men Or Are We Marxists?

So who picks up the slack? If the Church refuses to do its job, can the State step in? It already has in numerous ways through Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Food Steps, Free and Reduced Lunch Programs, Head Start, etc. But how far should the State be allowed to go? Maybe that's the real question. Can a conservative Christian push the State to take care of the poor without resorting to shades of Marxism? Or maybe, to put it another way, what does liberty really mean to the conservative who also happens to be a Christian?

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