Nothing Christian About It

(This speech was delivered before The John Randolph Club, on Oct. 30, 1993, at the Villa Quality Hotel in San Mateo, Calif.) The term “Christian Right” really is an oxymoron. This has become increasingly self-evident as we who comprise the pro-family ranks struggle for our identity. Are we more Christian or religious than right-wing, or is it just the opposite? What is our role in politics? Do we even have a legitimate role to play? And if we do, should it be done in the name of Christ or any other deity? For years I have attempted to understand these relationships both personally and with regard to citizenship. Here, in the time allowed, is what I have come up with. Of singular importance is how we view ourselves. This is initially manifest in how we refer to who we are. Most of the time we refer to ourselves collectively as the “pro-family movement.” And perhaps in some respects we are a movement. Even so, the term movement distorts our vision like a mirror in the funhouse of politics; it makes us think that we are more than we really are. Pretty soon we start to believe that we can field “pro-family” candidates and that a “pro-family” agenda ought to push aside competing interests. In reality, the pro-family movement is nothing more than social conservatism which, in turn, is no more or no less than one pillar holding up the conservative tent. Conservatism is the movement. In viewing social conservatism as a political host, we subject ourselves to serious delusions of grandeur. You might remember when, not long ago, Pete Wilson referred to the Christian Right as “f***ing irrelevant.” Truth is, he was right, which is why he remains in office despite his horrible record. These delusions also subject us to the hustlings of political charlatans. The Christian Coalition is a case in point. I don’t know if any of you saw the “Firing Line” show last month when the topic of the Christian Right was debated, but it was very instructive. One thing that stood out in my mind was how the left successfully manipulated Pat Robertson, who was there defending himself. The left’s success in trashing Robertson should be a signal to the conservative movement that perhaps he and his Christian Coalition are not political assets. Consider, for example, the birth of the Christian Coalition. It was created for one purpose and one purpose only – to promote Pat Robertson. What began as a television ministry turned into a presidential election bid and then, once failed, a grassroots organization to try again. He has meticulously positioned himself as the undisputed leader of the pro-family ranks. Of course, this suits the media and the left just fine. They effectively demonized him long ago. One sure way to lose an election is to have Pat Robertson’s public endorsement, which has led his executive director, Ralph Reed, to speak of “stealth candidates,” who enter political races in a nondescript manner only to reveal their true colors after having been elected. This admission just adds fuel to the fires of suspicion. Under the circumstances, wouldn’t it be better for the conservative movement if Robertson avoided high-profile politics? That would be a sign for me, anyway, that he truly cared about America’s future. Instead, his presence foments public suspicion, a button which the left pushes whenever they have an opportunity. Adding credibility to the paranoia of the left – that is, that Robertson is in truth a self-serving egotist – is the coalition’s distancing itself from its core base of supporters. The Summer 1993 issue of Policy Review contained an article by Ralph Reed titled “Casting A Wider Net.” In it Mr. Reed suggests that social conservatives broaden their base by talking more about NAFTA and taxes and less about abortion and homosexuality. Watering down social conservatism to benefit a selfish personal agenda only weakens that pillar and, thereby, weakens the overall structure of the conservative movement. As repugnant and misguided as I find the “big tent” theory, I at least know that it can only apply to a broader movement to have any credibility. Social conservatism is simply a component or pillar of the broader movement. To test my criticism, simply ask yourself if all of the new issues voiced by Mr. Reed (i.e., taxes, crime, NAFTA) are not already addressed by the movement at large. Why would he seek to dilute the social conservatism of Christian Coalition in the name of any other set of issues? Given the fact that the Christian Right is already part and parcel of the Republican Party, whose base is Ralph Reed trying to broaden? Certainly someone of Jack Kemp’s stature can do a much better job than Mr. Reed in diluting social conservatism and finding families a comfortable seat at the back of the bus. So why try? If the Christian Coalition represents a faction of the Christian Right whose motives everyone suspects, then Christian libertarians represent a faction on the other end of the spectrum which our leftist enemies openly welcome. While the expression “Christian libertarian” has an immediate appeal, it too is an oxymoron. The main problem with this kind of thinking is that it combines two mutually exclusive themes. Christians have their own way of thinking, as do libertarians. Independent notions of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are often inconsistent with the eternal meanings underlying these valued principles. Imagine an Abraham filled with libertarian virtue who refuses to sacrifice his son Isaac because to do so would violate the boy’s right to life and liberty. It is only proper that the Author of Liberty define the law how He pleases. These “Christian libertarians” should not confuse peaceful coexistence with philosophical kinship. I recently read an article which stated, “The intellectual foundation of God-fearing laissez-faire is a composite of Bible passages and economic theories.” My own faith describes this insidious evil as “the commandments of men mingled with scripture.” The kind of Christians I want to be associated with believe that their faith not only does not need the help of intellectual halfway houses to have a positive impact on the world but that, in fact, pure and undefiled religion has every capacity for an enduring social peace and prosperity. Christian libertarians are right to say that morality cannot be achieved through coercion, but neither can it be achieved in a vacuum. We must not succumb to the Monk Syndrome. This syndrome is derived from the monk who seeks to enrich his life by removing himself from all familial relationships and interaction. This reasoning only barely resembles the Lord’s plan of being in the world but not of it. The monk’s refusal to interact within a traditional family only slows the self-enrichment that he so actively seeks. The monk, like the libertarian, is in need of reminding that the fundamental social unit in the kingdom of God is the family, not the individual. True Christianity is evangelical – not by denomination, but by purpose. Those bearers of Christ’s name are obligated to do all they can to assist man in being good without violating man’s moral agency. Passage of civil laws do not necessarily violate this code. In fact, it is disingenuous of libertarians to think so and then in the same breath support laws protecting the free market from abuses. What child to have ever been born into this world has not needed guidance and direction? Some of us children are just a bit older than others. I began my comments by saying that the term Christian Right, as commonly applied, is an oxymoron, and that the term Christian libertarian fits the same category. The former, represented by the Christian Coalition, does not seem to understand in practice one of Christ’s simplest teachings to “render unto Caesar that which is his.” On the other hand, the latter group of Christian libertarians do not seem to understand that civil government was instituted by God for the benefit of fallen man. You see, there really is no difference between religion and government. Both determine the course of man. One influence is internal, the other external. The more we govern ourselves, the less we need to be governed by others – this is why limited government can only be maintained by a virtuous people. The wisdom of Christian Right involvement in politics is to know society’s point of no return. In His infinite wisdom, the God of the Old Testament displayed this knowledge time and again. How wicked are a people allowed to become before they are destroyed? Invoking civil law is an exercise in the same process. There comes a time when no amount of external influence can assist man in being good. Both the Christian Coalition and Christian libertarian mindsets lack revealed wisdom to know when enough is enough as well as when the proper civil influence is needed. The images they project, respectively, include, on the one hand, forcing everyone into heaven and, on the other, a lack of confidence that heaven even exists. Both groups are prideful and foolish. True liberty, both personal and civil, comes through the pure and undefiled gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the basis for an honest Christian Right. Any more than this will enslave us, while anything less is conscientious objection. The real work of any Christian is to build the kingdom of God on earth in anticipation for His return. Hence, our role in politics is to seek a civil atmosphere wherein we can magnify that calling.