Opinion

Christian conservatives should be Christians first and conservatives second

Our faith is inherently suspect of all political ideologies — conservatism included

Many liberals have long suggested that it's impossible to be a Christian and a conservative, because the love of the poor preached by Jesus Christ is incompatible with the economic and social policies promoted by conservatives. Christian conservatives, obviously, disagree. They would say that, at least on economic and social policy, Christian liberals and Christian conservatives agree about the ends — policy that promotes the common good with a preferential option for the poor — but disagree about the means. Jesus told us to love the poor. That is not at all the same thing as voting for programs that take money from one group of people to give it to another, whatever the merits.

As a Christian and a conservative, obviously I think that's true.

But that's not where the story ends. It's where it starts.

To most non-Christians — and to many Christians — Christianity is primarily a set of doctrines. But for 2,000 years, Christianity has understood itself to be fundamentally an encounter with a specific person: Jesus Christ. And Christians accept as authoritative the Gospel account of Jesus Christ's self-description as "the Truth." Jesus didn't say that his doctrine was the Truth. He said that he was the Truth.

Why is this important?

Because if you believe that the person of Jesus Christ is "the Truth," then the corollary that logically follows is that everything that is not Jesus Christ is not "the Truth."

To put it more practically: To be a Christian is to believe that all political ideologies are suspect. And wrong. It doesn't mean that Christians should retreat from all political ideologies — as that would also be a political ideology, and also wrong. By all means, be a Christian liberal. Be a Christian conservative. But if you are a Christian liberal, if you are a Christian conservative, then by definition there will be tensions between your Christianity and your political ideology. It's axiomatic. And if you are a Christian first and an ideologue second, you should confront those tensions instead of papering over them.

Let's take my own tent of Christian conservatism, since this is about us.

Yes, it is absolutely possible to be a Christian and believe that limited government and free markets are the best ways to advance the prospects of the poor. But when conservatives portray the poor as moochers and divide the world into "Makers" and "Takers," and hold up those "Takers" quite clearly as objects of contempt, the Christian has to recoil. And not just recoil, but cry injustice.

It's fine to believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, but a Christian should look at how policies affect the poor first, rather than a byproduct of everything else. (And some Christian conservative politicians like Mike Lee, Paul Ryan, and Marco Rubio have started to look at that.)

Even if the solution isn't a new government program, a Christian who is also a conservative should at the very least be concerned about an economy that too often seems to have a playing field tilted in favor of the winners.

A Christian who is also a conservative should also wince at cultural narratives, advanced by some conservatives, that constantly belittle, mock, or dismiss the perspectives of groups that have been historically or are marginalized.

A Christian who is a conservative should at the very least be concerned about how a country with the mightiest armed forces in the world uses its strengt abroad and at home.

In the Gospel, Jesus calls on his followers to be "signs of contradiction." Christians should stand out of the pack and, frankly, be a little weird. By all means, Christians should enthusiastically join political parties and ideological schools. But they should also stand out inside them as Christians.

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