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Conservative Theology and Conservative Politics

Many Christians are operational schizophrenics when it comes to social issues. No matter how dedicated they may be to the Faith in their personal lives, pietism has robbed them of a consistent Christian worldview by which to evaluate and interact with the world outside the ecclesiastical cloister.

  • Brian M. Abshire,
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The first Christian Reconstructionist book I ever read was a brilliant little gem by the late David Chilton entitled, Productive Christians in An Age of Guilt Manipulators. David had written his classic barb to thwart Ron Sider, an extremely popular "Christian" socialist author and speaker on Christian college campuses in the 1970’s. To this day, I believe it is still the only Biblical response in book form taking Sider to task.

1978 saw me just out of the Air Force after spending the previous four years in Europe, now attending a Christian liberal arts college. I was at that time all of five years old in the Lord and was proud to have just shaken off a gloomy dispensationalism. The only thing I had ever heard of Christian social and political issues was that "you don’t polish brass on a sinking ship" and "social issues are for liberals." When I began discussing the Christian alternative to "eat, meet and retreat" defeatism, I was aghast at the rampant nonsense espoused as Christian activism. I found myself in debates with students and teachers who accepted as a given that capitalism was immoral, socialism was Christian, and that refusing to pay "war taxes" was the mark of true discipleship (and this from some kids whose parents were career military families with Daddy’s salary paying the tuition!). I had just spent the past six years of my life preparing to fight Marxism, and now, here it was, wrapped up in Biblical language and solemnly taught as the cutting edge of dedicated Christian theology! The publication of Productive Christians was literally a Godsend. At the height of one heated discussion, a young girl, dripping contempt with every word, said, "You sound like someone who would vote for Reagan!" You’ll forgive me, but at the time, I had been out of the country for a while and all I knew about Ronald Reagan was that he used to host Death Valley Days when I was a kid. I did not know at that time that he was the hero of the conservative movement. But I did know I didn’t want to be identified with an actor!

The sad fact is that at an evangelical Baptist college, well ranked academically and committed in writing to the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, social and political issues were never debated, discussed or analyzed from a Biblical perspective. The liberal, humanist, leftist social agenda of the Sixties was imported in toto and accepted almost without reservation. Oh, I am sure there were many political conservatives both on the faculty and in the student body. But they kept a low profile, since they feared the same scorn and ridicule I faced. Conservatism was and is not academically respectable.

Christians As Operational Schizophrenics 

All too often, my experience is not all that unusual. Many Christians are operational schizophrenics when it comes to social issues. No matter how dedicated they may be to the Faith in their personal lives, pietism has robbed them of a consistent Christian worldview by which to evaluate and interact with the world outside the ecclesiastical cloister. Surveys have shown that Christian theology tends to take second place to socio-economic status. As a person moves up the social scale, his beliefs change to conform to expected group norms. We fear men rather than God and change our beliefs to fit with the dominant values of our social class. Christians think humanistically about politics not just because no one has taught them what the Bible says on these issues but because the Bible is at radical odds with modern culture. Peer pressure is not just something that teenagers have to deal with.

One might think that conservative theology ought to lead naturally to conservative politics. However, the same word is being used to mean two different things. When we talk about "conservative" theology, we usually mean it as a euphemism for "Biblical" theology; i.e., a theology grounded in the Scripture. In the great theological battles of the last one hundred and fifty years, the "conservatives" were those who believed the Bible was the word of God and the liberals were those who believed it was something else. Even though conservative Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, etc., might not have agreed on what they thought the Bible taught, at least they all agreed that it was God’s word. The liberals frankly did not. Thus the term has a specific meaning within the broader Christian community.

However, the same cannot be said for the word "conservative" when it comes to politics. The word in American politics has no absolute sense. It is a relative term that has to do with the whole issue of social change. The liberals have a specific social agenda they want to impose. In the old days, it was believed that the historical dialectic was supposedly moving irrevocably towards a man-made socialist utopia. The conservatives accepted the premise of social change, but just wanted to go at it a bit slower. Listening to a clip from a speech by JFK recently, I was amazed at how CONSERVATIVE he sounded compared to todays Democratic party. If he were alive today and an active politician (and held the same views) Kennedy would be running as a conservative Republican (though probably with Bob Packwood as his running mate!).

Here is the big problem with "conservative" politics: Conservatives do not have a significant agenda of their own. They can’t. They’ve gone to the same schools as the liberals, they read the same books and accept the same assumptions. What can they offer that is really different? For the past two centuries, as Western culture has moved away from Biblical Christianity, the ancient heresy of the divinity of the state has once more reared its tyrannical head. Most people assume that civil government must do certain things because they lack an epistemological basis for affirming a free and responsible citizenry. Conservatives may want to tinker with the mechanism a little differently than the liberals, but both groups believe the civil government ought to do far more than Scripture requires. For example, right now, there is much talk about a flat tax to replace the present convoluted federal income tax. Granted, the "reforms" posited by the conservatives would mean that many of us would pay less income tax. But the tax rates would still be twice what God demands for himself. Since the War Between the States, the American people have had the option of choosing between Claudius or Caligua as their president; i.e., both are tyrannical dictators, some are just more fiscally responsible than others.

Evangelical Ambivalence

Evangelical Christians fall into this same problem. Without a complete Biblical worldview, they simply have nothing to say all that much different from the humanists. They too go to the same universities, read the same books and for the most part accept the same assumptions as the ungodly, because otherwise they might hear the same sneering, scathing denunciation, "You voted for Claudius!" (er, excuse me, I meant Reagan). Christians have been terrified of pressing for a truly Christian alternative because the culture finds Biblical values repugnant.

Think with me for a moment. What is at the root of the real animosity towards Christian Reconstruction from most evangelicals? What is it that really divides Christians on this issue? Why is Biblical Law so offensive to so many people who claim the name of Christ and accept the authority of Scripture?

The answer? The judicial sanctions. That’s it. Modern Christians refuse to accept that such things as sodomy and adultery ought to be treated as capital crimes. The thought is outrageous, unthinkable, ghastly! They believe that somehow, we must get rid of this terribly offensive (and embarrassing) part of God’s law. Our culture has so mainstreamed sodomy and adultery that we fear the inevitable ridicule, scorn and animosity if we publicly hold Biblical beliefs and teach them. Therefore, we must get rid of them. And if in so doing, we have to become antinomian, then so be it. We fear men more than God.

What is so amazing is that Christians are so propagandized by humanistic presuppositions of civil government that they don’t want Biblical law because they fear an oppressive police state peeking into people’s bedrooms! As if God’s law authorized the state to have a secret police! They have adopted the modern revolutionary concept that government is a top-down imposition of law via the state, rather than the Biblical bottom-up reformation of self governed men taking personal responsibility. God’s law will not be imposed by a cabal of clerics and reactionary politicians, but rather as his Spirit gives grace, grants repentance and regenerates wicked hearts. We will have Biblical law, when in God’s grace, we are Reformed to the point that we WANT God’s law. One can understand the fear of the sodomites and humanists, for they do not know any better. But the widespread ignorance on this issue of God’s elect is astounding!

The Dilemma for "Conservative" Politicians 

Here then is the dilemma for "conservative" politicians in a constitutional republic. They cannot get elected unless they represent the view of a majority of the electorate. If the electorate want ungodly policies, the politicians must promise them, or they won’t get elected. And if those policies are counterproductive to the wealth, prosperity, safety, security and freedom of the people, well, too bad. Vox populi, vox dei!

God will not be mocked. Romans 1:18ff is very clear. When a nation turns its back on God, God will turn his back on the nation. He will give them over to foolishness. He will make them do stupid things like paying women to have children out of wedlock and creating a cycle of dependency, giving money to build the military apparatus of our sworn enemies, destroying the economic infrastructure by creating fiat money, wasting scarce tax revenues on schools that do not educate, or supporting drug addicts and drunks, or whatever other outrage you watch on the evening news. Men will vote themselves into tyranny under the slogan of "equality, fraternity and liberty!" And sometimes, a Claudius will rise up and make the bread more affordable, the circuses a bit more cost effective, or shore up the military to keep the barbarians at bay for another decade. But the fundamental problems will not go away until there has been a genuine reformation of the hearts of the people. Don’t get me wrong: if as a slave I have a choice between Claudius or Caligula as my master, I’ll take Claudius every time. But that’s the point. I don’t want to be a slave. I want to be a free man. And conservative politics can offer only a more palatable form of servitude.

Political conservatives will always take the back seat in the bus because they are an intellectual rearguard action to the dominant forces of social change. The humanists will push so far until people react, and then the conservatives will win an election or two. But the conservatives will slowly adapt to and adopt the new ideals. And the nation will get weaker and sicker and more chaotic and then more tyrannical.

As Rushdoony has noted, a few thousand barbarians successfully conquered the millions of the Roman Empire, largely because the citizens were so oppressed and taxed by Rome, that the depredations of the barbarians were seen as a relief. An anecdote from the peninsular war against Napoleon comes to mind. A young British officer trying to comfort a bleeding comrade started brushing the flies away from the wound. The dying man said, "No sir, please sir, don’t flick them away. They’re almost full, and they don’t hurt half so much as the hungry ones." And that sadly, is the state of the Republic. Real social change is more painful than simply letting the parasites continue feeding.

The present system cannot and will not last. The only answer is a radical re-thinking of the relationship between the one and the many that is possible only through the implementation of Biblical law. When Rome collapsed, a vigorous Christian Faith replaced it. As the Empire’s courts grew corrupt, church courts replaced them. As the bread gave out and the circuses grew more depraved, Christians gave alms, started hospitals, adopted orphans and saved exposed infants. As Rome sank into depravity, Christians built strong families and parallel institutions. And when the barbarians came, God’s people were ready to step into the gap, pick up the pieces and rebuild civilization.

We Can Do It Again!

We’ve done it before. It looks as if we are about to do it again. But this time, we have two thousand years of Christian history and experience to draw on. We know the mistakes our ancestors made, and there is now a growing consensus that Biblical law offers the only possibility for a free and prosperous society. Conservative politicians would be wise to read Deuteronomy 28 very carefully, and consider the future. It does not belong to the liberal, humanist, statist, tree-hugging, tax-and-spend big government guys. Neither does it belong to those who are satisfied with tightening the belt, cutting the capital gains tax and loosening federal regulations on business. It belongs to those who love God and keep his commandments.

  • Brian M. Abshire

Rev. Brian Abshire, Ph.D. is currently a Teaching Elder associated with Hanover Presbytery. Along with his pastoral duties, he is also the director for the International Institute for Christian Culture, has served as an adjunct instructor in Religious Studies at Park University and is a visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at Whitefield College.

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