Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Are Evangelicals Truly Conservatives? Part 5

Instead of relying on conservative insights about order, liberty, and the health of civil society, evangelicals habitually resorted to their Bibles. Indeed, for evangelicals, Scripture was a better guide to the affairs of the United States than the demands of republicanism, constitutionalism, federalism, or the balance of powers.

This means that interpreters of evangelical Protestant politics need to look beyond voting data and consider the reasons that representative born-again Protestant academics and pastors give for political participation, their understanding of the good society, or the value of the American polity. Those interpreters will see that the historical voting data and philosophy behind it do not necessarily point to the same future. Rank-and-file evangelicals did vote overwhelmingly for Republicans in 2008, and the attraction of “Tea Party” candidates for born-again voters in the 2010 midterm contests is another apparent indication of an affinity between conservatism and evangelicalism. But even while many ordinary evangelicals continue to balk at the Democratic Party and its candidates, the evangelical intellgientsia is tracking toward the political Left and away from conservative politics and the Republican Party. These left-leaning Protestants are the ones writing books, teaching at Christian colleges, and training future evangelical pastors at seminaries. Their understanding of United States politics and biblical teaching on a good society (they will invariably speak of such goodness in terms of “doing justice”) is leading them father and farther away from the arguments, assumptions, and dispositions of conservative writers and thinkers.

Readers may object that evaluating evangelicals by standards of American conservatism is unfair. Such a reaction is understandable if it relies upon a suspicion that the author himself is a conservative and is faulting evangelicals for not measuring up to his own political outlook…. But aside from the outlook that informs this book, judging evangelicals by conservative standards is fitting if born-again Protestants themselves claim to be conservative. If the assumptions and aims of evangelicals are at odds with conservatism, then concluding that born-again Protestantism is not conservative is not only fair, but correct. A narrative revealing this tension may well be valuable if only to help evangelicals and conservatives adjust their expectations of each other. From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin, pp. 16-17

Hart here looks to the future and makes the claim that the future of Evangelical Christianity is not with so-called "conservative" American politics, at least among today's younger evangelicals who are beginning to teach and train future evangelical leaders. Some questions to ponder among the older Evangelical generation who may bemoan this development is, whether in fact their particular brand of so-called conservatism espoused since Reagan, was in fact built on the foundation of American conservatism (rather than on the platform of moral idealism with the veneer of conservatism). Perhaps in our day, the particulars of such idealism are still present among younger evangelical people, only the issues have shifted somewhat. As Jim Belcher writes in his book Deep Church, youth movements in the Emerging Church today tend to focus more on arts and culture whereas the older generation, i.e. traditional church, focused on morality and politics. Belcher seeks to present a via media by getting us to think about the importance of both. However, as Hart says, if the importance of both sets of concerns means seeking to achieve such uniform ideals through federal programs and the national political process, then perhaps the very foundations of our moral and political philosophy as Evangelicals (since the time of Reagan) really hasn't changed so much as the particular applications and issues that are now flowing from those ideals and eventually into voter booths.

No comments: