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Concerning the GOP & Christianity

November 8th, 2010 | 7 min read

By Andrew Walker

“God is not a Democrat or a Republican.”  This, we hear ad nauseum from a barrage of sophisticated twentysomethings insistent that partisanship has no place in the Kingdom. Yet, a recent rejoinder I heard merits presentation: “Yes, this is true,” said Matthew Anderson as we were talking at this year’s Values Voter Summit, “but, he most certainly thinks differently about the two.”

Aside from the obvious bombast elicited in this statement, the remark made to me by our own lead writer provoked in me the courage to explore this issue with more intent. I asked myself, “If God really is neither Democrat or Republican (or Labour, Liberal Democrat, Tory), is he  at least (hypothetically) oriented towards one party over another?”

Thankfully, my own inept thinking has been supplemented by none other than John Mark Reynolds—a truly original thinker should there ever be one. Reynolds, who teaches at Biola’s Torrey Honors Institute, put up a recent column at titled, “Why Republican: A Christian Examination of History and Conservatism.” It’s fantastic. In this article, Reynolds makes his peace with the Republican party as a Christian; not because the Republican party is sanctified by virtue of being Christian qua Christian according to its platform, but because the Republican party, according to him, shares the values that best resonate with Christian principles of society. Reynolds, I believe, presents his case in this manner to prevent any wrongheaded conclusion that the Republican party is sufficiently Christian in all circumstances. It is surely not. Still, as Reynolds’ seems to suggest, an apparent neutrality from God’s perspective between the two  does not mean that one party need not merit preferential treatment from particular constituencies.

Per Reynolds’ usual brilliance, this piece deserves response, agreement, and from most individuals, a righteous scorn of furious indignation that a man of such caliber could say such a thing when the vehemence of today’s evangelical youth (apparently, we are told) assert exactly the opposite. I, for one, could not agree more with his assessment.

Are all Republicans Christians? No. Are all Christians Republicans? No. However, Reynolds’ assessment does a fine job of highlighting how the two share an understandable pairing.

As he states,

…King Jesus has not yet come to rule and reign on the Earth and so we must go on living in anticipation of His coming. We live this side of Paradise and so have to spend centuries developing a political philosophy.

The philosophy we develop might be wrong, so we hold it more loosely than doctrine. We know other Christians have not yet given up on socialism or a bigger government than we are willing to tolerate. It is not so much their goals we attack, but their means. We long to help the poor and believe in universal health care, but believe that bigger government will do neither well and will hurt our freedoms.

We would give all our money in taxes if we thought it would end poverty, but have seen that it only enriches the state at the cost of liberty. We create statist masters and the poor are with us always.

Children must be cared for, but Christians refuse to make infants of any adult. God Himself gave mankind the ability to defy Him in the garden, so we are hesitant to make any person do good by the force of law.

It is the Republican Party that best represents those values. The Republican Party recognizes that the government cannot replace the family or the church. At its best, the Party refuses to use law to do what parents and bishops ought to do.

As a result, the Republican Party, alone of the two great parties, works to protect the unborn. The Republican Party refuses to put into law the covetousness of most of us that would take what is not our own. The Republican Party best represents those who do not wish to enslave our children to our own choices through running up massive debt.

In this critical moment of our history, it is the Republican Party that supports the bedrock of culture, the family, against unwise innovation.

We do not wish many laws, but we do wish laws that are most likely to produce healthy children with strong values. You cannot save a nation of slaves, just as you cannot enslave a nation of virtuous men.

Let’s be clear that one need not baptize the GOP as the heir apparent to Christendom. Reynolds gives appropriate attention to the moral and social failures of the Republican party. Let me be even more clear: Reynolds does not equate the Republican party as the Christian party. If he did, he would be in error.

To the contrarians and naysayers decrying any allegiance between Republican politics and individual Christian involvement, I would ask why Christians of a supposedly Democratic blend would support the opposite of what Reynolds suggests is important to Christian social thought? If the Democrat party largely supports abortion, why support it? If the Democratic party supports a slow, creeping usurpation of familial roles, why support it? If the Democratic party displaces individual sovereignty in the name of economic paternalism (a function not given to government in Scripture), why support it? If the Democratic party is the de-facto party of secularism, why support it? If the Democratic party supports a latent diminishment of free-speech liberties and the incipient ostracization (and future criminalization) of opposing views, why support it?

Is the apparent alignment between Republican politics and Christian citizens a marriage of mere convenience? Probably so. But it may be of necessity, too, as Christians look to a party that represents their rights and fights for their liberties and values. For the sake of imagery (and satirical value), I would suggest far more that the marriage is more a reality of cohabitation than a solemn vow contractually binding. The cohabitation imagery may be deemed inappropriate, but it highlights our current position in history: We know the two don’t really belong together because there’s been no formal ceremony, but for the time being, its the best we can do to advance any notion of Christian sanity in the political sphere. Perhaps this is in judgment upon the church for not taking its political witness seriously. I’ll let you decide that. As I’m sure we’d all agree, the church qua church should not have its own political party, but this is not to the exclusion of individual Christians having a political voice (this is another topic for another time). And naturally, the voice of individual Christians may be oriented towards one party over another.

That aside, perhaps any agenda between the two ought to begin with: “Insofar.”

  • insofar as the Republican Party is pro-life, I’ll vote Republican.
  • insofar as the Republican Party leverages religious liberty over majoritarian intimidation, I’ll vote Republican.
  • insofar as the Republican Party seeks to cut the fat on Leviathan’s overreach, I’ll vote Republican.
  • insofar as the Republican Party attempts to protect the sanctity of marriage, I’ll vote Republican.
  • insofar as the Republican Party conflicts with paternalism, I’ll vote Republican.
  • insofar as the Republican Party does due diligence to the notion of limits and authority, I’ll vote Republican.
  • insofar as the Republican Party welcomes individuals of faith as a component plank, and not just as a constituency, I’ll vote Republican.

What’s the point of all this?

If there’s any truth to my detection, I suspect that evangelical disillusionment with the Right (and Republicanism) is not so much in substance as it is in brand. There’s legitimate concern here. As Gerson and Wehner’s new book so nicely outlines, the past Religious Right had theological and rhetorical problems.

I suppose I say all this in response to the recent statements of individuals like Gabe Lyons and Jonathan Merritt who’ve gained a veritable following by making sweeping generalizations about the apparent death of the Religious Right and its relationship with younger evangelicals. I want to believe them, I really do, but their rhetoric is as empty as Jim Wallis who in the recent past proclaimed the cardiac arrest of the Religious Right. Consider this statement by Lyons and Merritt.

But by 2008, the Christian tide had turned. With the newly formed “Religious left” at the forefront of Obama’s campaign, many Christians crossed party lines for the first time. For example, double the number of young evangelicals voted for Obama than for Kerry in 2004.

What they are conveniently forgetting is that the inroads supposedly gained by the Obama administration were minimal. As Pew notes

Among white evangelical Protestants, for example, Obama picked up 5 percentage points more support than Kerry (26% vs. 21%). And Obama’s gains were particularly large among white evangelical Protestants under the age of 40. He received 33% of their votes, compared with 12% for Kerry four years earlier.

In general, however, the contours of religion and politics were the same in 2008 as in 2004. Religion remained a very strong predictor of voters’ choices, and the large gaps in the electorate that had developed along religious lines in earlier elections persisted in 2008. Some of Obama’s largest gains, in fact, were among religious groups that already leaned Democratic, such as black Protestants and religiously unaffiliated voters (those who answer “none” when asked about their religious affiliation in exit polls).

Or, Karlyn Bowman from AEI on this past week’s election:

The exit pollsters ask voters to check boxes about who they are and what they believe. Those who checked the box white evangelical/born again were a quarter of the electorate. They voted for GOP House candidates by a whopping 77 to 21 percent. In 2006, they were roughly the same proportion of the House electorate (26 percent), and they voted for Republican House candidates over Democrats, but not as spectacularly (70 to 29 percent).

I’ve got news: It simply is not true. The Religious Right is far from dead; it’s merely decentralized. Statistics from this past week’s sweeping electoral win for the Republicans reveals that the Right—whether deliberately religious or not—contained an appallingly high number of individuals who identify as born again. And what I’m left with is the lurking suspicion that the motivation behind Lyons and Merritt is this: “I’m cool. I’m a Christian…and I don’t vote Republican.”

Moreover, their accusations are largely overshot. Whether what one believes about Christian participation within the Tea Party, the loss of institutional presence has absolutely no effect on actual results. It seems they confuse the lack institutional presence for a lack of political influence. Instead, more keene observations may abound recongizing that institutions do not equal influence. Hence, the significance of the Tea Party—a loosely affiliated, often raucous branch of American politics that defies complete clarification and precise nomenclature. Christian Conservatives were just as present in this election in this constituency as in the past when they might have signed up to receive mailings from Ralph Reed.

Perhaps I’m kicking against the goad and lost all credibility and cool, but it’s my belief that twentysomethings—the so-called “disillusioned generation”—is really a movement of rhetoric and fashionistas. Such is evident in how they’ve abandoned partisan attitudes, but in my opinion, are still just as partisan in conviction and statistical presence.