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BI 3223 Worldviews, Lipscomb University

Unit 3B

American Worldviews (part 2)

 

CONSERVATIVE / LIBERAL VIEWS

Freedom

America is deeply divided along partisan lines, differences which are ultimately based on worldview questions. One fundamental question concerns the meaning and application of freedom. American political views can be broadly defined by how each position upholds the principle of freedom:

  • Conservatives tend to support economic freedom but want to restrict personal/moral freedom.
  • Liberals tend to support personal/moral freedom but want to restrict economic freedom.
  • Libertarians support both economic freedom and personal/moral freedom.

As we read in part 1, Americans and especially politicians talk much about freedom, but freedom means different things to different people.

  • Conservatives emphasize freedom in economic issues, wanting the government not to interfere with the free market, with little or no regulation or supervision of business practices, and low taxes on individuals and corporations (these ideas are discussed in more detail below). On the other hand, conservatives support laws that limit personal freedom on issues such as abortion and gay rights. “Conservatives are often accused of resolving the tension [between liberty and virtue] by opting for liberty in the economic domain but for virtue in the social domain” (D’Sousa 6).
  • Liberals promote freedom on personal/moral issues, but want to see more government regulation of large corporations and higher taxes on the wealthy in order to support social programs for the needy.
  • Libertarians are the only party that consistently promotes freedom both in the economic and the personal realms. They want government to stay out of their pockets and out of their bedrooms.

These positions on freedom are not always consistently held:

  • On personal freedom, conservatives favor prohibiting individual choice on abortion, gay rights, or recreational drug use. But they are against any limitations on individual’s owning guns. Conservatives support a strict reading of the Constitution on social issues except when it comes to the 2nd amendment. They apply the right to own guns broadly to all individuals rather than to the formation of a “well-regulated militia” as the amendment reads.
  • Liberals fight to save condemned criminals on death row but not the unborn. Conservatives preach the “right to life” for the unborn, but largely support capital punishment.

Psychological differences

  • “Liberals and conservatives seem to occupy different worlds because we have fundamentally different worldviews: systems of values which shape our lives and decisions in the most elemental ways.” According to several studies, Americans with a more conservative orientation tend to value obedience in their children and strength in their leaders. They fear the world around them and prefer military strength over diplomacy. They prize stability and tradition over experimentation and change. They are suspicious of those who are different from them. By comparison, Americans with a more liberal worldview strive to raise independent, curious children and see empathy and tolerance as the most noble qualities a leader can embody. They believe in questioning authority and abhor performative shows of toughness. They value diversity and cultural differences (Hetherington and Weiler, Prius or Pickup? 2018).
  • A 2015 study found that members of both parties hold inaccurate views about the other party. “Republicans tended to estimate that among Democrats, 36% are atheist or agnostic, though the actual number is only 9%; they think 46% are black, though the actual number is 24%; and 38% are gay, though the actual number is 6%. Meanwhile, Democrats tended to estimate that 44% of Republicans make more than $250,000 a year, when in reality only 2% do so; they thought 44% of Republicans are evangelical, though the actual number is 34%; and 44% are 65 or older, while the real portion is 24%.” (link)
  • These different worldviews in American politics are becoming more polarized, as people tend to associate with those of similar views. “Of the nation’s total 3,143 counties, the number of super landslide counties – where a presidential candidate won at least 80% of the vote – jumped from 6% in 2004 to 22% in 2020. Surveys show Americans find it increasingly important to live around people who share their political values. Animosity toward those in the opposing party is higher than at any time in living memory. Forty-two per cent of registered voters believe Americans in the other party are ‘downright evil.’ Almost 40% would be upset at the prospect of their child marrying someone from the opposite party.” (link)

Politics as faith

  • Both conservatives and liberals exist in a range from moderates to extremists. Those to the far right or far left often hold their political views with a religious zeal.
  • For these polarized positions, their side is always right and the other side always wrong, ignorant and possibly evil. Each side adopts a dualistic worldview of good vs. evil, with no room for negotiation and compromise. In their minds, efforts to discuss and resolve differences are signs of weakness, a lack of belief in and commitment to the core principles of their side. They show disdain for those who disagree with them. These issues aren’t mere differences of opinion; there is but one Truth and their side possesses it all.
  • Believers of political faiths will often fight among themselves over details of dogma, but present a united front at elections to achieve general goals. They unite themselves against the common enemy, demonizing the opposition but overlooking any flaws in their candidates.
  • Political moderates argue that in a country consisting of many different people and ideas, compromise is crucial to the political process, but political faith argues from moral absolutes, encouraging a ruthless, winner-take-all attitude (Zakaria 142).
  • “Faith becomes problematic when applied to political ideas. Once these political notions take on the character of religious orthodoxy, of accepted and unquestioned truths, supporters of the faith often fail to exhibit the kind of critical mentality that is essential for the working of a vibrant and effective democracy” (Toplin 21).
  • Today many Americans mix their religious faith with their political faith, seeing little or no distinction. They conclude that those who do not vote the way they do cannot be true Christians.

ECONOMIC ISSUES

Perhaps nothing defines the American worldview as much as the belief in free market capitalism. Underlying this system of economics are several fundamental assumptions about human nature which derive from one’s worldview. Economic conservatives praise capitalism to the point of worship, while economic liberals, while admitting its benefits, also have concerns about its fairness.

Adam Smith and the Free Market

  • Adam Smith (1723-90) is often cited as the founder of capitalist theory (although he never used the term). In The Wealth of Nations, Smith presented his key insight: “Every individual in pursuing only his own selfish good is led as if by an invisible hand to achieve the best good for all” (Friedman 2).
  • According to Smith, both parties in an exchange of goods or services can benefit if cooperation is strictly voluntary. If I sell a product, I receive money, and the buyer receives something of value as well. If the terms were not beneficial for both parties, they would not make the deal. So while each person seeks his own good, both participants are rewarded.
  • Smith argued that by this system, if left alone, the “invisible hand” of the free market will set fair wages and prices based on the principle of supply and demand. Government should not interfere with the market, and has only three duties: to protect the country from outside invasion, to protect members of the society from injustice or oppression from other members, and to build and maintain public works that cannot be reasonably accomplished by individuals (Friedman 28-9).
  • Smith turned the human tendency toward self-interest into a virtue. Self-interest is not the same as selfishness, according to Smith. One can pursue self-interest while benefiting others as well. The crucial distinction, he argued, is enlightened self-interest which looks after the good of others, too. In contrast, narrow self-interest might cause someone to sell a poor product at a high price to make a quick profit, with no interest in the customer’s welfare.
  • Adam Smith’s optimistic assessment of human nature reflects the positive philosophy of the Enlightenment in the 18th century, which rejected the biblical doctrine of the fall of humanity into sin, and held that given the proper education and opportunity, people would tend to do the right or “enlightened” thing.
  • Smith’s positive, idealistic assumption of human nature demonstrates why the subject of economics falls under the discussion of worldviews. Those who hold a more negative view of human nature (as found in the biblical doctrine of the fall into sin) have less confidence in an unregulated free market system. They are suspicious of big corporations with the power to manipulate the system unfairly.

Concerns about Capitalism

Conservative advocates of the free market argue that the government should not interfere with the “invisible hand” in any way. They oppose taxes on and regulation of corporations. Liberal economists recognize the undeniable benefits of capitalism over other economic systems, but they also understand that unrestrained capitalism without some regulation has its problems, especially for the poor and working class. There are some concerns from a biblical perspective as well. The following points discuss some of these concerns:

Workers left out of the equation

  • The simplistic model of the free market as a transaction between a seller and a buyer ignores the place of the worker in the middle. Usually the owners of the company do not make the products they sell.
  • “Unlike the rewards of a capitalist, who can count on owning the results of his investment, clever management, and risk-taking, a worker’s pay often does not reflect how hard and well he has worked” (Bowles 389).
  • Corporations make decisions based on profits for their CEOs and stockholders, not on the best interests of their workers. Corporate profits are not shared with the workers (unless they own stock). Businesses see higher wages, health benefits, and pension plans only as impediments to higher profits. Downsizing, automation, cutting benefits, and relocating overseas increase company profitability but hurt workers.
  • “What’s bad for workers is good for Wall Street.” One example: several years ago AT&T cut 40,000 jobs and in response, their stock value soared, enriching their CEO’s portfolio alone by $5 million (Frank 99).
  • Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill (serving under Bush2) on Fox News said: “Part of the genius of capitalism is that people get to make good decisions or bad decisions. And they get to pay the consequences or to enjoy the fruits of their decisions.”
  • In contrast, Jim Wallis disagrees: “O’Neill got it wrong … the people on top of the American economy get rich no matter whether they make good or bad decisions, while workers and consumers are the ones who suffer from all their bad ones. In the Enron case [2001], the company executives overestimated the company value, ran it into the ground, lied to their employees about the company’s stability, encouraged Enron’s workers to invest their pension funds in company stock, and then imposed rules against selling that stock, while at the same time arranging an executive bailout for themselves worth a fortune. Shortly before the collapse, the now-indicted Enron CEO Kenneth Lay quietly sold his company stock for $101 million” (Wallis 259). Enron employees lost almost all of their retirement funds.
  • Another way workers often lose out is when corporations benefit from huge tax cuts or subsidies. Supply-side economic theory assumes that major tax cuts for corporations will “trickle down” to workers. In 2017 corporate tax rates were lowered from 39% to 21%. Conservative supporters claimed that these tax cuts would positively affect workers’ salaries, but this has not happened, and history does not support this conclusion. During the early 1980s under Ronald Reagan’s administration, corporate tax rates dropped from 70% to 39%, much more than the recent cuts. However, during these years, workers’ wages remained stagnant, while CEO profits soared.
  • According to the non-partisan Pew Research Center, “Despite the strong labor market [3.9% unemployment in spring 2019], wage growth has lagged economists’ expectations. … Today’s real average wage (that is, the wage after accounting for inflation) has about the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago. And what wage gains there have been have mostly flowed to the highest-paid tier of workers. … Since 2000, usual weekly wages have risen 3% (in real terms) among workers in the lowest tenth of the earnings distribution and 4.3% among the lowest quarter. But among people in the top tenth of the distribution, real wages have risen a cumulative 15.7%.” (source).
  • “From 1973 to 2013, hourly compensation of a typical worker rose just 9 percent while productivity increased 74 percent. This means that workers have been producing far more than they receive in their paychecks and benefit packages from their employers.” (source)
  • Since the 2017’s tax cuts, most workers have not seen any significant increase in salaries, despite all the political promises. A Congressional Research Service report found that the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act had little measurable effect on the overall US economy in 2018. Wages (adjusted for inflation) grew more slowly than overall economic output (source).
  • A study of the economies of 18 developed countries from Australia to the US over 50 years (1965-2015) supports this conclusion. “The incomes of the rich grew much faster in countries where tax rates were lowered. Instead of trickling down to the middle class, tax cuts for the rich may not accomplish much more than help the rich keep more of their riches and exacerbate income inequality.” (source)
  • Conservative economic theory argues that to increase benefits for everyone, the answer is not to divide the economic “pie” differently (taking from the wealthy pieces to give to others) but to increase the size of the entire pie, that is, increase the overall economy. In that way, they claim, everyone benefits as all the pieces of the pie get larger. Using another metaphor, Ronald Reagan liked to say, “A rising tide lifts all ships.” However, over the last several decades, the richest Americans have taken a larger share of the pie as well, collecting most of the gains, according to the US Census. While the “pie” of total income grew by 79%, the increase was not shared proportionally. In 1980 the top 5% had 16.5% of all US income, in 1990 they had 18.5%, in 2005 22.2% (Newsweek 10-2-06). As the pie has grown, the average worker has gotten less, not more.

It might be easy to dismiss these concerns for workers as liberal-socialist rhetoric, but listen to God speaking in defense of workers in these scriptures:

  • “Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out … Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers” (Isa. 58:1-3).
  • “Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his subjects work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. … Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD. “But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion” (Jer. 22:13-17).
  • “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify … against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty (Mal. 3:5).
  • “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. … Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence” (James 5:1-5).

Biblical concerns about the poor

  • Throughout the Bible, God shows great compassion for the poor. In contrast, too many Americans think that the poor are undeserving, lazy, and just want a handout, quoting their favorite verse: “If a man doesn’t work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess 3:10). Outweighing this one verse, there are over 300 verses in the Bible speaking about God’s concern for the poor, and his condemnation of those who do not care for them.
  • Those who argue that the needy deserve their poverty because they are lazy ignore the statistics. In 2014 among the poor between ages 18 and 64 who were not disabled or in school, 51.8% worked for part of the previous year (source). Also keep in mind that many of the “non-working” poor are children, elderly, or disabled.
  • “Low-income working families, contrary to popular myth, work hard.” In 2016, the number of low income working families in the US increased to 10.6 million. There were 23.9 million children in low-income working families. (source)
  • Christians should promote a more positive meaning of the term “welfare.” Not all people on welfare are freeloading, lazy, dishonest people. “The vast majority of the poor do not end up where they are because of personal incompetence. They are born into it. Sizable proportions of both wealth and poverty are inherited in our democracies. Even before they leave the womb, the poor are at a disadvantage” (Clouse 190).
  • Jesus never asked any poor or sick person, “Are you worthy of my help?” Think about it: are any of us worthy of what Jesus offers?

Too much faith in human generosity

  • Concerning the need to help the poor, conservative Christians sometimes argue that, due to the free will which God has given us, people should be free to give or not give. The government should not force them to give through the requirement of taxes for social programs. They argue that the needs of the poor should be met primarily by charities and churches through voluntary giving.
  • A Pew Research Center religious survey finds that 56% of conservative Evangelical Protestants believe that government aid to the poor does more harm than good (source).
  • Conservatives stress freedom in giving to the needy. However, the Bible focuses more on the human tendency to abuse our free will in self-centered behavior rather than making freedom the highest virtue as Americans often do.
  • “The Bible fully understands that the natural man, left to his own devices, is selfish and shortsighted. He will not do what his neighbor’s needs demand of him unless some pressure is placed on his conscience and some practical provision is made for him to act on. He needs to be reminded of his duty, he needs pressure on him to meet his obligations, and he needs processes of enforcement when he fails in his duty.” (Clouse 184)
  • Reinhold Niebuhr, one of America’s most prominent theologians in the 20th century, wrote: “Christian faith must encourage men to create systems of justice which will save society and themselves from their own selfishness. … We must have a taxation system that demands more of us than we are inclined to give voluntarily.” (Love and Justice, rpt. 1976, 26, 28)
  • Americans like to think of ourselves as very generous. However, statistics show that Americans give only 2% to charity, based on our Gross Domestic Production (Giving USA 2015, AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy). This statistic has remained about the same for decades.
  • Contrary to the argument that people would give more if taxed less, this statistic did not change significantly after the Bush tax cuts in the early 2000s. People simply kept the extra money for themselves.
  • Furthermore, most giving does not go to helping the poor. “The vast majority of non-profit agencies and programs do not primarily serve the needy … [the richest Americans] contribute disproportionately to private universities, the arts and culture, rather than to community health clinics, legal aid programs, or other projects for the poor” (Teresa Odendahl, Charity Begins at Home: Generosity and Self-Interest among the Philanthropic, 1990, 3).
  • Giving among American Christians is not much better at 2.3% (emptytomb.org). We greatly overestimate our generosity and compassion. If left up to churches and charities alone without government programs, most of the poor would never have enough help to survive.
  • Churchgoers are donating an increasingly smaller share of their incomes year after year. The percentage Protestants gave of their income fell from 3.1% in 1968 to 2.3% in 2011. Percentage of Christian giving was higher in 1933 during the Great Depression (3.2%) than in 2011.
  • Furthermore, most Christian giving is spent on church programs such as minister and staff salaries, large buildings, and youth activities rather than on outreach efforts, missions and services for the poor. Congregational finances, which fund the operation of the church for the benefit of current members, on average claim 85¢ of every dollar given to the church. Donations for benevolence outside the church declined from a meager 0.66% of income in 1968 to 0.34% in 2011 (http://www.emptytomb.org/).
  • One large Church of Christ (not in Nashville) a few years ago published its budget. Only 4% went to missions and benevolence. The rest of their multi-million-dollar budget paid for their large staff, expensive building, and programs for their members. In short, most of Christian giving to churches goes to programs which benefit ourselves, not the needy.

 

TENSION BETWEEN ECONOMIC AND RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVES

  • According to Nash (128), the conservative political movement of today developed in the 1950s with a coalition of three schools of thought: economic conservatives concerned primarily with protecting the free market and limiting federal intervention, Christian conservatives concerned mostly about the moral decline of a godless society, arguing for a return to traditional religious and moral values, and anti-Communists who led to today’s vast military industry. The threat of Communism to both capitalism and Christianity brought economic and religious conservatives together in an uneasy marriage. Different viewpoints often can unite when faced with a common foe, but may come apart when that foe is gone.
  • This alliance of political and religious conservatives was not always the case. “Until the mid-1970s Christian Evangelicals had closer ties to the Democrats than to the Republicans” (Micklethwait 83).
  • Conservative Christians were highly influential in getting Ronald Reagan elected president in 1980. Cal Thomas, conservative columnist, FOX news commentator, and former vice-president of the Moral Majority, described Reagan as a surrogate messiah for the Religious Right, whose charisma and religious rhetoric blinded them to his true agenda of economic, not religious, conservatism. They were soon disappointed by his administration’s lack of support for their moral causes. Shortly after the election, Reagan and Senate Majority leader Howard Baker announced that they would concentrate on economic reforms (cutting taxes on the wealthy and cutting social programs) and delay work on conservative social reforms (Martin 221f).
  • A close look at Reagan’s political history reveals he was not the “messiah” religious conservatives hoped for (and some still claim, despite his record). During his governorship in the 1960s, Reagan signed California’s liberal abortion legislation. Although he spoke many times against abortion during elections to gain the conservative vote, Reagan was all talk and no action. As president he didn’t back the Helms-Hyde bill which stated that life begins at conception, or a constitutional amendment against abortion. He appointed Sandra Day O’Connor, a pro-choice advocate, to the Supreme Court. He didn’t endorse the Family Protection Act, which promoted conservative family values. “The core group around Reagan … were not at all interested in either in appointing evangelical Christians into the administration or in concentrating on their values.”
  • Cal Thomas: “Political people have a marvelous way of stroking you and making you think they are on your side” (Martin 221-237). “Evangelicals loved Reagan, though he did nothing to bring about an anti-abortion or school prayer amendment. He mainly pleased them with skillfully delivered gestures” (Wills 491).
  • In 1990 after ten years of Reagan and Bush1 (who both ran as pro-life), the number of abortions in the US reached its all-time high of 1.61 million, then actually declined to 1.31 million by 2000 after eight years of Clinton, a pro-choice president. The abortion rate continues to decline: 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women in 1981, 21.3 abortions per 1,000 in 2000, 14.6 abortions per 1,000 in 2014, its lowest level since 1973. The number of abortions fell by 12 percent during the Obama administration, who supported abortion rights (see chart for overview). There seems to be little or no correlation between abortion rates and who controls the White House.
  • The tension between economic and religious conservatives continues into the 21st century. During his campaign in 2000, George W. Bush promoted the idea of “compassionate conservatism” and said he would fund faith-based charities to help the needy. But when in office, he provided only a fraction of the funding he had promised, and his Chief of Staff openly ridiculed evangelicals involved in the program, calling them “kooky” (along with more vulgar terms). David Kuo, deputy director of the program, a Christian, and at first an avid supporter of the president, became disillusioned when political reality failed to meet promises: “President Bush is a politician … content to use religion for electoral gain more than for good works” (see his book Tempting Faith, 2006).
  • Cal Thomas changed his tune and has written against Christians trying to push their worldview through politics: “Thirty years of trying to use government to stop abortion, [gay] marriage, improve television and movie content, and transform culture has failed. … Too many conservatives have put too much faith in the power of government to transform culture. … Politicians who struggle with imposing a moral code on themselves are unlikely to succeed in their attempts to impose it on others.” Thomas recommends conservative evangelicals seek to change the world through example, radically following Jesus in loving others, even our enemies, and relying on God’s spiritual power rather than political power. God’s power is manifested through humility and weakness, not our grabs for human power through government or the media (Tennessean 11-7-08).

Conflicting political and Christian values

  • Too often Christians compromise their religious values for political beliefs. A 2009 poll from the Pew Research Center found that 62% of white evangelical Protestants believed that torture (which the Bush administration authorized for Islamic terrorists at the time) is often or sometimes justified in the war on terrorism. Other Christians disagree. Richard Land, Southern Baptist Convention Ethics commission: “There are some things you should never do to another human being.” David Gushee, professor of Ethics at Mercer University, said the poll was a sign of moral failure among Christians today. The war on terrorism has frightened Christians to the point of ignoring biblical principles. Jesus told us to love our enemies, which would make torture always unacceptable, no matter what information was gained from it (Tennessean 5-12-09).
  • When conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh called a woman who supported federal birth control programs a “slut” and a prostitute, some conservative Christians rallied to support him. One writer protested: “Evangelicalism has become so intertwined with conservative politics that it can be hard to tell at times where Republicanism begins and evangelicalism ends. No longer defined by its original ethos—spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ—evangelicalism has been reduced to little more than a voting bloc, and I get the idea from many of my evangelical friends that so long as a person shares their political convictions, it matters not how they live their life or speak about other people; a person is on the Christian ‘team’ as long as he votes for conservative candidates come election day. This is the blind spot that allows some Christians to suspend their judgment as Rush Limbaugh makes crass, vulgar, racist, and misogynistic remarks on his radio show. So long as he is [politically] right, they seem to reason, it doesn’t matter whether he is decent or kind. This blind spot is absolutely killing our Christian witness. A 2007 Barna Group study found that among 16-29 year-olds only 3 percent express favorable views of evangelicals. Common negative perceptions among non-Christians are that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87 percent), hypocritical (85 percent), old-fashioned (78 percent), and too involved in politics (75 percent). Now there is nothing wrong with supporting conservative politics. But when you publicly support a man who uses crass language to shame a woman, you are making it hard for non-believers to see anything lovely or redemptive about Christianity.” (source)
  • “Someone once said the mainline Protestant churches (Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopals, etc.) lost their grip on biblical Christianity because they were no longer distinguishable from The New York Times. Someone now needs to warn conservative evangelicals that they are losing their grip on biblical Christianity because they are no longer distinguishable from Fox News.” (theologian Scot McKnight, 2020)
  • A 2017 PRRI/Brookings poll reports that in 2011 (when Obama was president), only 30% of white evangelicals said that “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” In 2017 during the Trump administration, 72% think a politician’s personal immorality does not matter. Apparently evangelicals are more willing to forgive the sins of their own party members than they are the opposition (source).
  • In June 2018 Nevada strip-club and brothel owner Dennis Hof, who calls himself America’s most famous pimp, won the Republican nomination for a state assembly seat with the support of evangelicals in his district, who preferred a prostitution seller to the Democratic alternative (link).

Note:

  • Some students have recognized that this section focuses more on conservative issues than liberal ones. There is a reason for this emphasis.
  • Republican politicians are the ones who make a big deal about standing for “traditional values,” assumed to be Christian values. During political debates they testify proudly that they are Christians and quote from the Bible (often misquoting, showing their unfamiliarity with the scriptures). Republicans are the ones in the 1980s who realized that by putting anti-abortion statements in their platform that they could win evangelical votes without much effort, no matter what else they did. So conservatives are the ones who most need to re-evaluate this question of identifying their politics with their faith.
  • On the other hand, most liberal politicians do not try to convince the public that they are the “Christian” choice, nor are they trying to take us back to our “Christian heritage.” There is no need to convince most people, especially conservatives, that the Democratic party supports some things that conservative Christians do not support. That point is obvious.
  • So for these reasons I focus more in these notes on conservative political goals and the tension between them and the Christian worldview.
  • But the bottom line is that neither party consistently represents the values of biblical faith.

 

CHRISTIAN MODERATES

After considering all the issues, some Christians are not comfortable aligning themselves with either of the two major political parties. They see moral issues to defend on both sides, and moral failings as well.

Tony Campolo, Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat? 1995.

  • Politicians adopt religious rhetoric for their own purposes. “There is no better way for a political party to establish the legitimacy of its point of view than to declare that Jesus is one of its members” (2). “The true God stands above all political parties and calls each of them into judgment” (3).
  • Campolo sees some Christian principles in both parties: “The Republican party is biblically on target with its emphasis on individual responsibility, [expecting] people not to blame others for problems that are the result of their own shortcomings and failures. … Democrats are more likely to see the ways in which society can victimize people … how social structures can function unfairly to keep certain groups of people from being able to fully share in the American Dream” (3). According to Campolo, each side is half correct (7).
  • Churches need to respond more to the needy, offering them the hope and inspiration that only faith can give. But at the same time, churches do not have the resources or organization to do it all; government must also play its part in correcting the structural evils in society, systems that allow racism, prejudice, and injustice to continue (5).
  • Conservatives fear big government, but Campolo also points out the abuses of big business to control prices (drug and oil companies), to harm people financially by fraud (the 2001 Enron scandal), and to ruin the environment.
  • “Biblical justice requires a higher degree of accountability on the part of the rich and powerful because what they do dramatically impacts the lives of those who have less wealth and power” (12).

Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get it. 2005

  • “Because of an almost uniform media misperception, many people around the world now think Christian faith stands for political commitments that are almost the opposite of its true meaning. How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war, and only pro-American?” (Wallis 3)
  • “It is indeed time to take back our faith. … From religious right-wingers who claim to know God’s political views on every issue, then ignore the subjects that God seems to care the most about. From pedophile priests and cover-up bishops who destroy lives and shame the church. From television preachers whose extravagant lifestyles and crass fund-raising tactics embarrass more Christians than they know. From liberal secularists who want to banish faith from public life and deny spiritual values to the soul of politics. … And from politicians who love to say how religious they are but utterly fail to apply the values of faith to their public leadership and political policies” (Wallis 4).
  • Wallis argues that neither conservative, liberal, or libertarian positions are wholly consistent with Christian values. Conservatives who emphasize the free market economy over all else typically show little concern for the poor, a major theme in the Bible. Liberals champion individual freedom to the point of moral relativism, where anything is permissible.
  • Christian political values should include more than abortion and gay marriage: poverty, the environment, and social justice are also spiritual issues (Wallis 8). Those who claim to want government to follow biblical principles should acknowledge that the Bible and Jesus speak far more about helping the poor than about any of these other “hot button” conservative issues.
  • Conservatives claim to be pessimistic about human virtue, and have a low expectation of human sexual morality, but they have very high expectations of how the rich will be generous with their money if allowed to keep it. They trust big business to make wise decisions that will benefit society more than themselves, not to pollute and to remain within the law without any government supervision. They trust people to handle guns responsibly but not condoms.
  • Wallis argues that we need a party that speaks consistently about being “pro-life,” condemning abortion and capital punishment, leaving vengeance to God (Wallis 74).
  • Considering the freedom model discussed at the beginning of this unit, Wallis says we need a fourth option which he calls “Prophetic Politics.” This option would place some limits on both economic and personal freedoms, agreeing with conservatives in emphasizing Christian values of family, sexual integrity, and personal responsibility. With limits on economic freedom, Prophetic Politics would support liberals in stressing social responsibility, social justice, affirming good stewardship of the earth, and more international cooperation.
  • “The place to begin to understand the politics of God is with the prophets. … What were their subjects? Land, labor, wages, debt, taxes, equity, fairness, courts, prisons, immigrants, other races, economic divisions, social justice, war and peace. Whom were the prophets often speaking to? Usually to rulers, kings, judges, employers, landlords, owners of property and wealth, and religious leaders. … And whom were the prophets speaking for? The dispossessed, widows and orphans, the hungry, the homeless, the helpless.” (Wallis 32) Today the OT prophets would be accused of stirring up class warfare.

Final words:

  • “Our life together can be better. Ours is a shallow and selfish age, and we are in need of conversion, from looking out just for ourselves to also looking out for one another. It’s time to hear and heed a call to a different way of life, to reclaim a very old idea called the common good. Jesus issued that call and announced the kingdom of God, a new order of living in sharp contrast to all the political and religious kingdoms of the world. That better way of life was meant to benefit not only his followers but everyone else too. … Jesus told us a new relationship with God also means a new relationship with our neighborhood, especially with the most vulnerable of this world, and even with our enemies. … This most fundamental teaching of faith flies in the face of all the selfish personal and political ethics that put myself always before others: my concerns first, my rights first, my freedoms first, my people first, even my country first, before all others. Self-concern is the personal and political ethic that dominates our world today, but the kingdom of God says that our neighbor’s concerns, rights, interests, freedoms, and well-being are as important as our own.” (Jim Wallis, On God’s Side, 2013, 3-6)

 

 

Sources for Unit 3:

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Apel, Pat. Nine Great American Myths: Ways We Confuse the American Dream with the Christian Faith. 1991.

Baker, Wayne. America’s Crisis of Values: Reality and Perception. 2005.

Bowles, Samuel, Richard Edwards, and Frank Roosevelt. Understanding Capitalism. 2005.

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Campolo, Tony. Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat? 1995.

Church, Forrest. The American Creed. 2002.

Clouse, Robert. Wealth and Poverty: Four Christian Views of Economics. 1984.

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D’Sousa, Dinesh. Letters to a Young Conservative. 2002.

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Friedman, Milton. Free to Choose. 1980, 1990.

Gay, Craig, M. With Liberty and Justice for Whom? The Recent Evangelical Debate over Capitalism. 1991.

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Halteman, Jim. Market Capitalism and Christianity. 1988.

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Hertz, Noreena. The Silent Takeover: Global Capitalism and the Death of Democracy. 2001.

Hilfiker, David. “Capitalism does not Promote Positive Values.” In American Values: Opposing Viewpoints. 2000.

Huntington, Samuel P. Who are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity. 2004.

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Lipset, Seymour Martin. American Exceptionalism: a Double-Edged Sword. 1996.

Martin, William. With God on our Side: the Rise of the Religious Right in America. 1996.

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Micklethwait, John, and Adrian Wooldridge. The Right Nation. 2004.

Nash, George. H. The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945. 1976.

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Palley, Thomas. Plenty of Nothing: the Downsizing of the American Dream. 1998.

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Perelman, Michael. Manufacturing Discontent. 2005.

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Sowell, Thomas. A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. 2002.

Stelzer, Irwin. The NeoCon Reader. 2004.

Tanner, Michael. Leviathan on the Right: Big-Government Conservatism. 2007.

Toplin, Robert. Radical Conservatism: the Right’s Political Religion. 2006

Wallis, Jim. God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get it. 2005

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), trans. Stephen Kalberg. 2001.

Wogaman, Philip. Economics and Ethics. 1986

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Zakaria, Fareed. The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. 2003.

 

 

 

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