Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Am I A Conservative?

From time to time, people will ask me if I am a conservative. Usually it is because something I say, or the way I say it, just doesn’t sound right to them.

I usually smile and reply that I am.

But am I?

Or perhaps I should ask another question: “are there only two camps of people in our country now – conservatives and liberals? To fail to be in one camp automatically places one in the other?”

Has it come to that?

This matter of political labels is a particularly difficult issue for Christians. Jesus said, “If you have two coats, give your brother one.” Does that make him a liberal? The early believers in Acts had “all things common.” Was that socialism? One the other hand, St. Paul said, “if a man will not work, neither shall he eat.” Does that make him a conservative?

What do these labels mean for a Christian?

Last week, Jack Kemp died. He was truly one of America’s great patriots and public servants. He deeply influenced the nation’s political life through his influence upon Ronald Reagan. Jack Kemp was called a “bleeding heart” conservative.

He was conservative but…

He once wrote a book called Liberal Concerns; Conservative Solutions. I really, really liked that book. It gave me words to express my own political beliefs. Kemp was a fiscal conservative, which meant that he did not believe that government should operate with huge budgets and massive social programs. But he also believed all citizens had a responsibility to care for those who could not care for themselves. He cared about mass transit, health care and education and explored ways to address these needs of a well-ordered society that was consistent with his conservatisms.

He deplored the cold hearted “that’s just the way it is” kind of mentality that was increasingly gripping his party and his nation.

The reason I liked Jack Kemp was that a Christian simply cannot embrace an “everyman for himself, social Darwinist philosophy.” The Bible forbids that path in its opening chapters, with the story of Cain. So if a believer knows, really knows, that people suffer because of systemic failure or neglect – such as a lack of urban infrastructure – he or she cannot ignore it. (I was hungry and you wouldn’t feed me.)

Serving a mid city congregation for ten years forced me to become aware of urban poverty and of the systems and lack thereof that maintain that poverty. We could find work for our people but since there was no effective mass transit, (that situation has now improved in Phoenix) the people were forced to buy cars. Furthermore, the cars had to pass emissions. Furthermore, the cars had to be insured. Furthermore, the jobs did not provide health insurance, which meant that the workers either had to go to work ill – even if they were flipping hamburgers – or to miss pay (or get fired) for not showing up to work.

During that decade, I became aware that my pat and packaged answers to urban poverty, health care and mass transit were inadequate and cruel. However, when I tried to explore my concerns, fellow Christians would look at me with horror or amusement; I was either “one of them” or idealistic and naive.

Meanwhile, I watched families struggle in neighborhoods that were veritable hellholes of poverty and crime, trying to get up and get out before their children would have to go to bad schools, resist violent gangs and escape the scourge of drugs. The parents had to guide their children through this mess while trying to get rides to work and then trying to get home again before their children had to spend too many unsupervised hours; trying to keep the kids healthy without health care, trying to survive in the world’s wealthiest nation.

So I decided that an economy of the “quick or the dead” was not one I could embrace as a Christian. I remained a capitalist and a free-market person but I no longer believed in social Darwinism or liaise-faire capitalism. I was definitely not a libertarian, which was the direction my party and fellow conservatives seem to be embracing.

So what was I?

I was a Christian conservative. However, the word “Christian” would define the type of conservative I had become.

What I meant by that was simply that from now on, the words of Jesus would trump the words of Adam Smith or the actions of Donald Trump. The authority of St. Paul would supersede that of Jack Welch or of Rush Limbaugh. In fact, I would reject the group-think of my party altogether. I would continue to vote with my party most of the time but I would no longer take for granted that my party (or that American conservatism) was right. I would think for myself, as the light of scripture and the power of prayer molded my thoughts as well as my emotions. I would think about “the least of these” and the impact of my theories and my votes on the social structures in which they live. I would do these things because my Lord commands me to do them.

Those were my thoughts last Saturday when I learned that Jack Kemp was dead.

He did not become president. He did not become vice-president. He was merely a congressman and a football player who although a loyal Republican and conservative, had the decency to listen to the other side from time to time and to acknowledge the strength of their concerns.He was a man of integrity; a patriot who remembered that public service is a calling to be of service to the public.

May his tribe increase.

11 comments:

theinspiredhillbilly.com said...

Brother Scott, though I admire you greatly, and enjoy reading your posts from time to time, I'm sorry, but you don't understand what a true Conservative is.

First and foremost, when the had "all things in common" that was of their own volition and will, not mandated by a government. Socialism is when the outside force of government dictates the distribution of all things in common. To simply be charitable and make the personal decision to share, and give, and provide charity is the very desire of the Conservatives. We believe in personal responsibility, and want the ability to be personably responsible.

To even infer that Conservatism is harsh and cold, demonstrates a lack of true insight to Conservatism. I recommend you to read the 5000 Year Leap, as well as The Real George Washington. These are two books that assist in providing insight to what true conservatism is, from the foundatino of our founding fathers.

True conservatism hold fast to the Constitution, and to the vision of our forefathers for this nation, a vision instilled in them by Almighty God. A vision of personal freedom as well as responsibility.

I'm not trying to pick a fight, I admire you, but with all due respect, I think you did Christian Conservatism a disservice in this post.

Dan Scott said...

To me, your phrase, "to even infer" seems to require that our secular political ideology be above critique. It implies that one should not even question his or her own political viewpoint. This is the very attitude I am warning against.

In my opinion, American conservatism (at least in the last few decades) has more closely overlapped with the gospel than political liberalism. That is why I have voted as I have. However, secular conservatism is not always compatible with the gospel, at least at every point. No secular philosophy is. When it is not – or even when we think it is not – we should say so. That is not just a right, but a civic and spiritual responsibility.

I believe that the gospel always provokes a certain tension with every and all secular points of view; current American conservatism included.

I was won to Reagan Republicanism by Bill Buckley and embraced it with sincere conviction. I resonated with most of George W. Bush's philosophies too (or at least with his sentiments), to the extent that he was able to articulate them. So I am hardly a liberal.

What I am concerned about is our increasing drift toward libertarianism, which -- again in my opinion -- leads onward to anarchy and to a general breakdown of the common social fabric which ultimately makes civilization possible. That, in spiritual terminology, is “lawlessness,” and is strongly rebuked by scripture: in both Old and New Testaments.

I remain a Lincoln- Teddy Roosevelt,- Nixon - Ford sort of Republican. My patriotic sentiments are deeply rooted in history, fervently dedicated to the founding fathers and to the documents they created and practically devoted to civic duties and responsibilities.

However, the gospel -- and the teaching of Holy Scripture in general -- must supersede the authority of all secular and nationalistic ideologies. I don't claim to be the ultimate word on scripture, of course. I merely wish to press forward this principal as a way Christians ought to develop their beliefs.

First Jesus, Moses, Isaiah and the other writers of Holy Scripture; then Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Adam Smith and so forth.

How else could a Christian conservatism be developed and maintained? If we interpret scripture through the eyes of our own decade, nation or political affiliation we will undermine “that which ahs at all times and in all places been believed by the whole people of God.”

theinspiredhillbilly.com said...

Teddy Roosevelt? Teddy Roosevelt was as much of a Progressive liberal as any Liberal is today. Teddy Roosevelt didn't even believe in private property, Teddy Roosevelt, is by far a true Conservative.

When we look into Scripture, it teaches very much personal responsibility, personal liberty, personal freedoms....and that is true Conservatism.

Lincoln also is not the greatest example of a true conservative. His use of the slavery issue to try to break state's rights is a great example of his political maneuvaring for a strong national government.

I am far from a Libertarian, I am a registered, Constitutional Party, Conservative.

I believe in compassion, believe in helping the hurting, believe in helping the downtrodden.....but it is not AT ALL the responsibility of the government to do any of that.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Public Education are all illegal according to the constitution, and were never the vision our forefathers had for us as a nation.

Help, Assistance, and Compassion are to come from the church, and from private organizations, and from us as neighbors. They'll know we're His disciples by our love.

To answer the title of your article, nope, your not a conservative, I'd consider you more of a moderate.

We can agree to disagree. And as far as my belief's system being on the verge of anarchy, I urge you to read the writings of our founding fathers. They were much more concerned about the invasion of government on the individual rights of the citizens than they ever were that men couldn't handle the responsibility of freedom.

GingerSnaps said...

To me, your phrase, "to even infer" seems to require that our secular political ideology be above critique. It implies that one should not even question his or her own political viewpoint. This is the very attitude I am warning against.*Cheers & applause! Cheers & applause!*

Never in my whole life have I witnessed that attitude in such epic proportions as I have in the past year -- from both sides. That is why I call myself a left-leaning moderate, to which I am then accused of not having a backbone. (Believe me, I have a backbone!)

I appreciate your posts so much, Dan...especially the ones that challenge us *all* to view and review where we stand...because what worked in 1960 isn't going to work in 2009.

GingerSnaps said...

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Public Education are all illegal according to the constitution, and were never the vision our forefathers had for us as a nation.theinspiredhillbilly: Do you consider those programs as "socialism"?

The unfortunate reality is that the church hasn't been able to keep up with the needs out there...we had a population explosion, remember? Today, the rising unemployment rate has hit hard, as it's a bit difficult to give to the church to help others when you're the one in need. Many regular givers have become unemployed and are merely trying to keep a roof over their family. That's the boat I'm in currently.

I receive a very small unemployment check each week while I am looking for a job. Do you consider unemployment "socialism"?

Since we pay in to those programs, is it wrong (in your viewpoint) to receive the benefits from them?

My intention is not to be argumentative, I am just curious about your viewpoint. Thanks!

~*Miss Kelly Jay*~ said...
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Dan Scott said...

In a democracy, government is simply the people, organized and focused in order to provide the structures and processes that provide for the common good of all the citizens.

Look at the preamble:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,[1] promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America"

More perfect union ... establish justice ... insure domestic tranquility ... promote the general welfare

These are powerful phrases and imply that it is the unions duty to remove evils (such as slavery)as means to 'promote the general welfare'.

This statement implies much more than delivering mail or maintaining an army.

In the case of T R Roosevelt, it involved guarding public lands for our posterity, for example. In Lincoln's case, it meant undoing the scourge and horror of slavery.

If I am not a conservative, it is because the label's meaning has been changed of late. If to be a "conservative" means that I must embrace social Darwinism, then I pass.

theinspiredhillbilly.com said...

Just to clarify a few things....

We are not a democracy - we are a federalized republic. The founding fathers never intended majority rules in all cases, but intended that each state be it's own entity, among a loose republic for the sake of defense and a few minor infrastucture issues.

The scripture says that the job of the government, in Romans, is to be a restrainer, or deterrer of evil doers. Defense.

Unemployment insurance. I was laid off for 5 months, and am again, no, we pay into that...so it is not socialism...and it's based directly on my employment. if I don't pay into it, then I don't get a check. Socialism is the government taking from one citizen and giving to another....like with Social security where one generation is paying for another generation. Like Welfare, etc. That is socialism. It is not the place of the government, by scripture or by the intent of our founders, to be the agent of charity.

The government is not the people. It is for,and by the people, but it is not the people at all. It is a tool, one founding father said a necessary evil, of the people, but it is certainly not the people.

Beatrice Blount said...

"It is not the place of the government, by scripture or by the intent of our founders, to be the agent of charity."

I agree that in a perfect world, the government wouldn't even have to think about helping its people eat and pay for a doctor. It should be the responsibility of those who believe in Christ to make sure their neighbors are eating and staying warm. However, we are no longer a nation that provides Christian charity to the masses. People here and there do their part, but there isn't an system of hospitals, etc. that there have been in the past. The church cannot provide assistance to the people of their community if they don't receive money, materials, and most of all volunteer service. We can't even get people to staff a Sunday School class, let alone give out food and flu shots.

Whose job is it then? We can point fingers at someone else, but in the meantime people need help with basic necessities of life. The church as a whole does not have the resources. Individuals do not have the resources. Companies and organizations that have upstanding ideals about community service try to address the issues that they see.

Also, while we revere and hold to those ideas of our founding fathers as we can, we also should realize that we are in a different time. So they didn't originally intend on a unified county...they planned on individual states having their rights.

What do you accomplish by holding to that? That isn't the way our nation is run today, and I will eat the Constitution if you can ever convince the American people to go back to that type of system. Mabye it would have been better...maybe not. It is a moot point that while perhaps engaging on a philosophic level, is not going to establish the country of Montana.

End the end, mr hillbilly of inspiration, it seems as though you are not appreciating the fact that terms such as 'conservative' and indeed, even 'democracy' have definitions that have changed over time. In any discussion, it is beneficial to lay out exactly what you mean by those terms. In this blog, that is exactly what Dan was trying to do. He was laying out his understanding , through reading and experinece, of what 'conservative' means.

Also, if you want to 'agree to disagree', then do just that. In my opinion, this would mean an honest look at the topic that includes respect. Telling someone they don't know what they are talking about is far from respectful.

Perhaps you weren't aware that some of your comments sound rude, but they do to me.

~*Miss Kelly Jay*~ said...
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~*Miss Kelly Jay*~ said...
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