Why are so many evangelical Christians politically conservative? A good question, but not a hard one to answer. I myself have been accused of coloring my theology with my political perspectives, but I was a Christian long before I had a fully formed political ideology. My positions were developed from an expanding understanding of theology.
First of all, the Democratic Party has migrated toward secularism. A century ago, William Jenkins Bryan, once the party’s three-time nominee for president, was the figurehead of the populist Democrats. Bryan was the guy who gave the pro-Christian testimony at the Scopes trial. Byran certainly advocated progressive policies, but the Democratic Party has since adopted views popular to humanists, when they were once squarely in the camp of traditional Christians. As late as 1976, some Evangelical Christians voted for Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter because of his profession to be a “born-again” Christian. Carter’s policies, however, turned out to be less agreeable to ardent Christians, than his successor Ronald Reagan. That was the catalyst for a migration toward the Republican platform. Later, Carter left the Southern Baptist Convention. Do you think the problem was that the Baptists got too conservative since 1976, or that Carter moved further to the left?
In his 1961 inaugural address, President Kennedy asserted that "..the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God." Kennedy merely reiterated what the Democrat President Harry S. Truman declared a few years prior. "The fundamental basis of this nation's laws was given to Moses on the Mount...If we don't have a proper fundamental moral background, we will finally end up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the State." No Democrat candidate would say such things today.
The Democratic Party has become statist in its social and political orientation. The astute Christian must ask the important follow-up question to Jesus’ edict “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, render unto God what is God’s,” by asking what exactly belongs to Caesar? To the secularist or statist, everything belongs to Caesar, because either there is no God, or God is not relevant even if He does exist. Therefore, the state becomes omnipotent. Our Founders believed in “limited government” with enumerated powers in order to avoid the encroachment of tyranny on individual rights. Today the concept of “limited government” is in complete oblivion.
Democrats and liberals often try to hitch their support for “modern equality movements” onto the coattails of racial civil rights. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Appealed to his theological education and history in grounding the justification for his cause.
"...One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that '"an unjust law is no law at all."' "Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law..."
Some of the advocacy supported by liberals repudiates and is antagonistic to eternal and natural law, I.e., the created order (The law of God). This is a huge stumbling block for God-fearing people. Liberals accuse conservatives of placing inordinate emphasis on a few issues, such as abortion or the definition of marriage. But you can’t just sweep everything under the “Jesus loved everyone” rug. After all, while Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, he left her with the admonishment “Go and sin no more.” Tolerance doesn’t negate standards of conduct.
As much as anything else though, liberals and Democrats are in complete ideological conflict with themselves. They simultaneously evoke “Separation of church and state” to quell moral objections to their questionable patronage, while in the next breath start talking about the “Sermon On the Mount” qualities of their wealth transfer policies.
People who have carefully studied history, understand that the post-World War II jurisprudence has created an Orwellian doctrine of “church /state separation,” that has mutated from its historical moorings. Justice Potter Steward spoke of this in the early 60’s. The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist did a complete historical expose of this in his dissent of the Jaffree v. Wallace decision in 1985. Historically speaking, church/state separation is functional and jurisdictional in nature, similar to the doctrine of separation of powers between our three branches of government. Church/state separation is not ideologically adverse toward public expression of faith. The state cannot impose on the individual’s free exercise rights, by using the establishment cause to keep religious influence out of public. This virtual Affirmative Action for non-believers is contemporary secular mythology.
Liberals, and politicians in the Democratic Party infer their wealth transfer programs are a fulfillment, or at least in the spirit of The Beatitudes. This in based on shallow and aberrant theological assumptions. Groups representing the “Christian left,” such as Sojourners, or Red-letter Christians, will quote passages such as Matt. 25:35-36 to infer that the political left is more Christ-like.
What they conveniently overlook is that the personal pronoun “you” is used six times here. Charity is about what we do voluntarily as individuals and collectively as a body of believers. The jurisdiction of the state is coercive in nature. The state is not being charitable when it takes money from person A and gives it to person B. This has nothing to do with what Jesus commanded. Politicians use legislated wealth transfers to buy votes and amass political power. The Good Samaritan helped the wounded man using his own resources. He didn’t go back and petition the Roman government to start a health care insurance program. Huge difference. Jesus spoke much about poverty and charged wealthy individuals and the people at large with taking care of those less fortunate. He never said poverty was a problem that needed to be remedied by the Roman government.
Arthur C. Brooks, is a public policy expert who did an extensive research project on charitable giving. The results surprised even himself. This is a link to his website and book detailing his research. Obviously, I was not surprised at his findings, that conservative people of faith are collectively most generous with their own resources.
It Is important not to conflate the behaviors of individual politicians with the political platform they supposedly represent. I would never claim that representatives of one political party are inherently more moral than the other
I have only scratched the surface here, but I’ve said enough to at least begin the discussion of why there is an affinity between evangelical Christians and the political right.© Robert Meyer
The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.