The EFM Feature
StainedGlass

Sometimes those of us who write in defense of the Tea Party or Christian conservatism fear that an actual encounter with Tea Partiers or Christian conservatives will be disillusioning.  It’s easy to defend the principles of economic and social conservatism from a distance; but what happens when you actually encounter the people up close?  You’re on record claiming that these are salt-of-the-earth people, good rational people (darn it) with a genuine faith and sturdy American values — but what if you’re wrong?  Everything you’ve written makes sense to you from behind your desk, when you’re typing away at your laptop, but what if the liberal media is actually right, and these people are a bunch of barking lunatics?

I felt a bit of that fear as I approached a Tea Party event in Boston a couple years ago, and I quickly found those fears unfounded.  Yet I felt that fear again last Saturday as I drove the last few miles to the Iowa State Fairgrounds for the Faith and Freedom Coalition banquet and presidential forum.  Those fears were not assuaged when I saw a withered old man on a street corner near the fairgrounds holding a sign that read: “Sodomy Ruins Nations.”  Neither were my fears allayed when I saw a group of 22 men and women standing in a group outside the venue who looked as though they had just rolled out of bed and decided to act self-righteous, judgmental and disorderly.

Occupy the Iowa State Fairgrounds (ht AllAmericanBlogger)

However, as it turns out, the men and women who had actually come for the Faith and Freedom Coalition event were courteous, informed, reasonable, good-humored people — and the 22 in the group outside the venue were Occupy Wall Street protestors.  ”This is what democracy looks like!” the OWS protestors chanted, over and over again.  Well, true enough; protesting is a fine democratic tradition.  But democracyreally looks a lot like the 1000 Iowans who ate fried chicken off paper plates inside the Knapp Center and listened with understanding and appreciation to a far-ranging discussion of political problems and policies, in order to select a candidate who represents their values.  As Ralph Reed said to me and Michael Gerson after the event, “This is what’s right with America.”

I agree.  It’s not the only thing right with America.  But there is something right about the Christian Right.

I’ve often been critical of the Christian Right in the Falwell/Robertson era, even as I’ve defended them against caricature.  Mistakes were made, boundaries crossed.  Yet I drove straight into the beating heart of the Christian Right — and was deeply encouraged by what I saw.  Perhaps I had bought in, just a little bit, to the caricatures and condemnations of the Religious Right that stream forth from the major organs of media and opinion.  Perhaps I had absorbed just a touch of their scorn.  And, I confess, perhaps I had succumbed to the temptation to criticize in order to feel superior, in order to establish some distance between me and “them”.  If I could defend Religious Righters from caricature, and yet simultaneously criticize them for errors and excesses, then it sets me apart as a better and more refined breed of Christian conservative

I still believe that we can and should learn from the mistakes of the Falwell/Robertson era.  I think that certain regions of the American evangelical church essentially became owned-and-controlled colonies of the GOP.  Since the GOP (at least in theory) stood for their values on life and family issues, Christian conservatives were too inclined to overlook the ways in which the Republican Party failed to stand for biblical values in other areas.  Republican politicians sought greater power for themselves and so they expanded the size and the reach of the federal and state governments; the evangelical church should have been more critical of an adventurist foreign policy, of the failure of the GOP to move the ball further on the protection of a culture of life, and of the growth of crony capitalism and its corrupt imbrication of big government and big business.

Were some in the older generation of the Religious Right racist or sexist or promoters of any number of unsavory -isms?  To be sure.  But that’s true in other political groups as well, and less a reflection of the ideology of the Religious Right than of an old, dying but not-yet-gone way of looking at the world that still survives, perhaps, in slightly greater measure in the South — at least for a few more years.  There are always bad apples.  On the whole, however, the men and women of the Religious Right are kind and generous, reasonable and compassionate.

Some of their beliefs may seem old-fashioned or unscientific to the brahmins of the ivory towers.  Some of their values may seem backwards to the cultural elite.  I believe that evolution, for instance, is perfectly compatible with the Christian scriptures and presently the best available explanation for the development of species.  I also believe that the children of illegal immigrants should not suffer by law for their parents’ decisions, that stricter gun laws are entirely reasonable, and that Christians should not support the death penalty.  So I still have my areas of difference.

Yet I now feel no desire to distance myself from the people in the Religious Right.  Rather, on Saturday I was proud to be in their midst.  These are people who believe that life is an inestimable gift and a sacred treasure, to uphold and protect from the very first moment of conception to the very last breath.  These are people who believe that marriage should honor the pattern shown in scripture, that children should be reared by loving mothers and fathers, that families form the best bulwark against poverty, and that our culture should give careful thought to the influences and temptations it puts in front of its young people.  And these are people who believe that the government should form a final safety net, but that families and churches and local institutions should be the first line of defense, and the second and the third — that our commitment to the social good should be wise and should steward our resources for generations, rather than excusing and facilitating generations of poverty — that the government has a role to play in regulating the economy and defending against unfair business practices, but that its influence should be as minimal as possible in order to maximize freedom and maintain the efficiency of the free market — and that our market should encourage creativity, initiative and self-reliance, the dignity of man made in the image of a Creator God.  They also believe that a culture that is richly seeded with what is truly true and good and beautiful, and leaders who are shaped by classical Judeo-Christian values, can have an extraordinarily beneficial effect upon our nation.

These are among my own deepest convictions on social matters as well.  In other words, I think what the Religious Right has right is vastly more important than what it has wrong.

I don’t know why Mitt elected not to attend this event.  Mitt attended two previous Faith and Freedom Coalition events.  But between then and now came the Robert Jeffress kerfuffle.  Was the Romney campaign reticent to engage with conservative evangelicals?  The lead organizer of the event was clearly miffed that Mitt had missed the event.  For all I know, he stood up for Mitt during the Jeffress debacle, but I do feel that those who held their tongues when Mitt was being slandered as a “cult” member cannot complain if the Romney campaign takes a little less interest in their banquets.

But the point is this: I am conservative, and I am a Christian, and I am a conservative Christian.  I welcome that.  I choose to work for development from within, rather than setting myself apart as some sort of superior meta-critic.  To everyone who has asked me how I can associate myself with the Religious Right, given all the negative associations in mainstream media and elsewhere, this is the reason: I still think they’re right on the most important things.

Note: this is revised from a blog post here.


Comments and Discussion

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6 Responses to What the Religious Right Has Right

  1. Mike says:

    Tim,
    Thank you for your comments. I too appreciate all the good qualities of the religios right that you listed. The only problem I have with any group of individuals is when their tone is uncivil. We as religious people cannot lower our values by being arrogant, disrespectful, insensitive, and shrill, as we express and share our opinions. We must set a better example of what being decent human beings means.
    Mike

  2. Jim Tills says:

    I consider myself a good Christian who believes in Jesus Christ with all my heart and soul. I thank God for the Tea Party and those valiant Americans who have come out of the apathetic majority, who have awakened to the reality that our Nation is in serious trouble, who have realized that someone has to stand up for the Constitution and the liberties protected in its carefully crafted construction, and finally realized that that someone is them!
    As Tim implies, they are far from perfect but in the main, their hearts are in the right place.
    The only concern that is really large in my sight is a prejudice that exists among many against persons perceived as being less than 100% pure with case in point being Mitt Romney. We need teh best man or woman out there to turn around the direction this Nation is heading. No-one is more of a turn-around expert than he and the so-called imprefections he allegedly has are should not be sufficient to bad-mouth him in an attempt to disuade support for his candidacy. He believes in Jesus Christ and knows salvation comes through Him alone—even though Mr. Romney’s a Mormon. He supports all the values we hold dear as conservatives. Perfect, no; the best available person to defeat Obama and turn around our Nation from its downward Godless course, in my opnion, yes.

    • JL Fuller says:

      I usually stay away from discussion of Mormon theology except to admonish people to do some homework before commenting about it. My experience is that the overwhelming number of people who say they know about Mormon theology in fact know very little. It is only fair to develop a better understanding of the subject as Republicans and conservatives given the importance religion plays in our party and the fact the Mormons play an ever increasing part in American politics. http://www.lds.org and http://www.mormon.org and http://www.fairlds.org are good places to go to do that. I assure you that what you thought you knew is likely significantly different from the real story.

  3. JediMormon says:

    I agree with Jim Tills. To his post I would add that politically, a belief in Jesus Christ is not as important as the moral compass of the person running for office. In this case, the Mormon compass (Romney included, of course) points in the same direction as the Evangelical compass points. Mormon values are essentially the same as Evangelical values. Add to that Romney’s business and financial expertise, plus the fact that he was governor of MA (last election Gov. Huckabee stated that the governor of a state does the same things that the president of the US does, only on a smaller scale), and I don’t see any of the other candidates even coming close to matching Romney’s qualifications.

  4. Mitten's French Kiss says:

    Romney was in charge of a highly malevolent state and federal taxpayer funded medical center, UMass Medical Center, in Worcester, MA. The school and hospital has a long history of engaging in repeated acts of fraud as well as criminal assaults on women and patients. Those who complained were retaliated against and often became mentally and physically ill. Some of us lost family members.

    One of the “hit-men” for the violent doctors, Thomas D. Manning, has secured the largest pension in the state of Massachusetts for covering up criminal acts and retaliating against those who refuse to break the law. Manning’s uncle, Rev. Lawrence J. Cronin, brutally abused my sister along with other children, including mentally disabled ones.

    Are these bad acts and bad actors what Christians want to support?

  5. GitchiGummiPress says:

    Thank you for your support of Govenor Mitt Romney. We appreciate his moral fortitude. Our YouTube Channel, GitchiGummiPress is dedicated to exposing the truth of political opponents, such as Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. We would appreciate your efforts if you could share our videos.
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    Thank you again for your consideration.
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