What he said

Confessions of a former religious-right Christian conservative.
Wednesday, Dec 26, 2007

By David Sanders

Secular critics of Christian conservatives' involvement in partisan politics have always been driven by fear of what would happen if the movement gained enough power and influence to advance an agenda that mixed religion and politics. In the late 1970s, it rightly seemed that counterculture revolution had taken a toll on the country.

What started as an effort to give a voice to the "silent majority" quickly grew into something more - a political force that in time would impress its will on the American political landscape.

Coming of age politically in the late 1980s and early 1990s and having been one who identified himself both as conservative and Christian, I easily made the leap and became a self-identified Christian conservative, a political term.

Enamored with the take-America-back-for-Jesus crowd, I forsook the timeless words of more complete conservatives: Edmund Burke, who asserted the importance of the rule of law, tradition and social order, and Russell Kirk, who affirmed divine revelation and the links between property and freedom. Instead, I opted for what was then the modern-day political philosophy offered by Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

The downside wasn't that I became any less conservative, but that I became less Christian. Perhaps it was a personal weakness or a lack of grounding in my faith, but my Christianity during that time became more of an outward expression of political involvement and less about the inner transformation of a life that comes only through self-reflection, prayer and the work of the Almighty.

In my mind God had no use for Democrats, because he was Republican.

I could quote you chapter and verse from books claiming that America was set apart and founded as a distinctly Christian nation ordained by God himself for his chosen (American) people. At the time, I gave little credence to the fact that even though many of the nation's founders were strong men of faith, most of their exhaustive references to the Sovereign Creator were political language born out of the tactical need to appeal to a higher power - one that reigned over the sovereign who sat on Great Britain's throne.

Faith did play a role and religion was valued at the time of the country's birth.

The founders understood that government wasn't the means to carry out God's will. Instead, most realized that fallen and imperfect man would be susceptible to overreaching, at times vulnerable to greed and corruption. So they declared independence, formed a government and divided its power among those who would govern the governed in order to protect the very freedoms and rights that had been trampled by England.

Some Christian conservatives ignore this valuable history lesson. Their activism and political involvement have become primary expressions of their faith, leaving the (wrong) impression that the nation's salvation and abundant life for its citizens can be realized through temporal means - by supporting certain policies or backing particular political candidates. Many times their evangelical zeal is for advancing a political agenda.

In listening to the words of many well-meaning religious-right types, it's hard to distinguish a religious conviction from a policy position or vice versa. Reducing Christianity to an accepted political orthodoxy, which is paraded around during election time, used to whip the faithful into a frenzy. Perpetuated by "leaders" who bargain with candidates and their operatives, promising votes in exchange for access and influence, it cheapens the faith and borders on sacrilege.

Conversely, the temptation by some in the religious right to simply project personal religious convictions onto all policy matters can have the undesired effect of undermining the very conservatism they claim to advance. Some Christian conservatives argue "What would Jesus do?" a justification for lurching leftward on issues like the environment, immigration and foreign trade.

Not everyone has a theology degree, but justifying government activism by using Christ's words that were intended for his followers and the church, is a hermeneutical error and ignores the scriptures' jurisdictional instructions for the family, church and government.

Translation: Applying to the government the belief that "Whatever you do unto the least of these, my brothers, you do unto me" can be a very expensive proposition.

For a short time, the gospel according to Reed, Robertson and Falwell colored my indistinguishable religious and political views, but I came out of it. Thank you, Jesus!
Americans say it far better than I can, that's for sure.

1 comment:

BLBeamer said...

I appreciate David Sanders' words, and I welcome him into the growing number of those Americans who realize that government is not an appropriate vehicle for implementing one's religious beliefs.

I am anxiously awaiting my American Christian brethren on the left to reach the same conclusion.