Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Christian Political Science-Interesting Claybourn piece on evangelicals and politics. I'm not sure if it's overly helpful to be bringing Pat Robertson into the mix as the archetype. Robertson is rapidly becoming the (duck, incoming) Jesse Jackson of the right; a once-influential guy who had a feasible shot at a presidential nomination whose now a shell of his former self. Pat's time has past; sixteen years ago, he was leading a Christian conservative movement (back then, my neoliberalism hadn't quite worn off yet and liked Dole) that would morph into the Christian Coalition as he backed away from elective politics and into advocacy. He still has the somewhat bully pulpit of the 700 Club and his notoriety to speak out, but the movement that he championed in the 80s has grow up. Today, there is less of a need for an organized evangelical political movement as it has become part of the GOP for the most part; it may vary from region to region, but a cadre of evangelical elected officials and party officials has made groups such as the Christian Coalition less necessary. We have a president who was proclaiming Jesus as his favorite philosopher in the primaries and being challenged from the right for being insufficiently faithful in his political application of his faith. On a national scale, it's next-to-impossible to get a GOP presidential nomination without significant evangelical support. Josh's friend commented "Do they even need the Republican party or is the religious right its own party? Should they even get involved in issues like public education, war w/ Iraq, etc." To the first, the answer is yes; they need a larger party, since they do not make up a majority or a viable plurality. If you were to put together a free-market, "family-values" pro-life party independent of the Republican Party, it would be lucky to get 35% of the vote if you put evangelicals, faithful Catholics, small-c conservative Jews, Mormons, conservative mainliners and other fellow travelers. Most of that would be at the expense of the GOP. Such a scenario is playing out currently in Canada, as the Alliance party loosely fits that description, leaving the Conservatives with the centrist RINO-wing of the party. The problem is that neither party can command a plurality in most of the country; the Liberals have a lot of 40% plurality wins in too many swing ridings. Such an American Christian Alliance party would do well in the south and rural areas, while the remnant of the Republican party might do well in New England and some upscale secular areas. However, the Democrats would wind up wining a lot of currently Republican seats, as the Democrats might win some 55-45 GOP seats 40-35-25. While the idea of such a party is appealing, it's lousy politics in a first-past-the-post system. Moral conservatives need to hook up with libertarians and status-quoian moderate-conservatives in order to patch together a national plurality. To his friend's second question-"Should they even get involved in issues like public education, war w/ Iraq, etc;" To the extent that they are (1) citizens and (2) their faith has something to say on the issue. In many cases, there are clear areas where your faith can inform your political decisions. For instance, in the public schools, a slide towards moral relativism, sexual amorality, and tolerance of New Age/Eastern religious expressions (yoga, meditation, guided imagery) are problems that the Christian can speak out against. Even in a pluralistic system, many of those trends can be mitigated while abiding by current establishment-clause law. Many of those things you can point to passages in the Bible to have a firm argument: "Based on passages X,Y and Z, these things are wrong. Not only that, but these things are destructive to a young person's psyche." However, there are other issues where scripture doesn't speak clearly or can be seen as going on two different sides of the issue. I can speak with more Biblical clarity on extramarital sex than I can on a flat tax. My economic philosophy rest on two Biblical concepts that come into conflict in fiscal policy; the need to help the poor and the problem that since we are sinful and will work harder when we get more take-home-pay, the taxes needed for government programs to help the poor will slow down the economy. My assessment of government programs to help the less-fortunate would have to see both what benefit will be gained from the program versus what damage is done to the country by the taxes used to finance it. I can't point to chapter-and-verse to defend cutting the estate tax or opposing nationalized health care, but rely on applying what I know of economics to try and assure as fruitful a pursuit of happiness for everyone as we can. Iraq is another such judgment call. In Iraq, things are a bit more murky and depends more upon your assessment of the evil of the current regime in Iraq and whether the future danger of that regime using their better and more destructive WMDs outweighs the evils of the war that will need to be fought to avoid such future danger. I can't point to a passage that would definitively support a war with Iraq, but I think that such a war is needed nonetheless. However, when we speak on issues that don't have a clear Christian stance, we need to be careful not to give a "thus sayeth the LORD." I remember a old Church of Christ phrase "Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent." I'd like to rephrase that for our political efforts- "Where the Bible speaks, we speak boldly; where the Bible is silent, we speak less boldly." For a preacher to talk about tax cuts with the same authority as he would talk about homosexuality or adultery would be foolish. However, many politically-active pastors forget that; they are so accustomed to seeing the other side as the enemy that they carry their passion do areas where the Good-Versus-Evil fight isn't as well defined. One of my problems over the years with the Chrisitan Coalition is that they equate economic conservatism as part of a Christian message. I remember them spending a good chunk of change fighting the Clinton national-health-care proposals. While I agreed with their take, I didn't think that such a stance was necessarily a "Christian" stance, for a good believer with a more liberal slant on economics could think that having government provide health care for the working poor would be the compassionate and godly thing to do. I have empathy for that stand, but I think that the downsides of a nationalized system outweigh the benefits. The other problem I had with the CC is that they would doctor their surveys so as to put the Democrat in the most unfavorable light. If they had a list of 20 issues of concern, they would tend to list only the dozen that the Democrat had the wrong position on. If the Democrat was pro-life but liberal on other issues, it would be the other issues that would be prominent on their fliers comparing the two candidates. The Christian Coalition is about as "non partisan" as the NAALCP is. A more honest approach would be to have a nation-wide list of issues; if the Democrat had the correct position on some of them, give them their props. We're wise to avoid the "God is a Republican" trap. You might be tempted to say "He sure ain't a Democrat" but God transcends politics. Would Jesus vote Republican? No, if He were here, he would be King of the whole earth and democracy would be a moot point. In the meantime, we need to look at each candidate and vote for the one that best reflects the values and policy stands that you want to see enacted.

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