Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Politics Downstream from Culture

Having lived in Washington D.C. for a number of years, my doctoral mentor Steven Garber likes to say that "politics is downstream from culture." I'm not sure that Garber would agree with all of Hart's conclusions regarding what meaningful engagement therefore looks like; however, I think D.G. Hart gets at the point of politics relationship to culture well:

A repeated theme in the writings of post-World War II conservatism is that politics is merely a reflection of culture. Russell Kirk articulated this point in his book The Conservative Mind, and it continues to inform traditionalist conservative assessments of American life.

Again, this would seem to be an attractive perspective to evangelicals, since so much of born-again Protestant identity is bound up with agencies and institutions that shape faith. It is a perspective, however, at odds with thirty years of political activism geared toward putting a godly man or woman in the White House who will restore Christian values in the nation. In effect, if evangelicals can learn from conservatives the priority of cultural matters over politics, they might back away from their identity as a voting bloc and work harder to build and maintain institutions that strengthen families, neighborhoods, and churches (while of course also attending to the variety of local, state, and federal policies that facilitate such institutions). At the same time, if individual evangelicals sense a calling to public office, they may want to consider using their skills at those levels of government- city, township, county, and state- that are closer to the institutions they want to protect and advance. Political conservatives object to the centralization of American polity at the federal level not only because of the tensions between such consolidation of power and the ideas that brought the American republic into existence. They also value local and state governments because such polities work on a human scale and are more capable than national authorities of addressing the diversity of peoples, places, and convictions.

Bottom line: if evangelicals want their children to grow up to be Christians, they will likely have better results if they spend time coaching in Little League or leading a troop of Brownies instead of lobbying a member of Congress or giving to the GOP.  From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin, pp. 219-20.

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