Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Are Evangelicals Truly Conservatives? Part 2

Hart actually goes after a “shibboleth” (a non-negotiable) of the American Evangelical establishment by challenging its need to have knowledge only of the Bible’s moral imperatives and then challenges Evangelicals on their inability to research and consider a historical understanding of American conservatism. Hart’s point isn’t to tell Evangelicals to quit using the Bible as their ultimate guide and authority, but to say, if the movement has so desired to get into bed with the American political system and identify itself with a political philosophy called conservatism, then it should at least know something about its bedfellow:

... after thirty years of laboring with and supposedly listening to political conservatives, evangelicals have not expanded their intellectual repertoire significantly beyond the moral imperatives of the Bible. In fact, born-again Protestants show no more capacity to think conservatively than they did in the age of Billy Graham's greatest popularity. They do not know how to yell “stop” to the engines of modernity the way that conservatives typically have. They have not learned to be wary of concentrations of power and wealth, frustrated with mass society and popular culture’s distraction from “permanent things,” or skeptical about any humanitarian plan to end human misery. Instead, evangelicals are more likely to support political plans to improve society, grow the economy, and expand the United States’ global presence as long as doctors are not performing abortions and ministers are not presiding over the marriages of gay couples.

The star power of Warren (Rick) and Palin (Sarah), along with the limits of Red State-Bule State analysis, have obscured this disparity between evangelicalism and conservatism. To be sure, many evangelicals in the pews continue to vote consistently for the Republican Party, but their reasons for doing so are morally thick and politically thin. This is not to say that the GOP itself is the arbiter of political conservatism properly understood. In fact, the close identification of conservatives with Republicans has obscured the supposition, articulated over a half century ago by conservative writers like Russell Kirk, the author of The Conservative Mind (1953), that culture is more important and more basic than elections and legislation, that politics is merely a reflection of a culture’s health. Still, whether like Palin, who tried to align her convictions with McCain’s platform, or Warren, who tried to find a via media between Obama and McCain, evangelicals do not think or act like conservatives. This failure stems from the odd combination of certainty about morals and indifference to first-order political considerations about legitimate authority, national sovereignty, freedom, the common good, civic virtue, and the best conditions for human flourishing.  From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin, pp. 8-9

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