What does the future hold for traditional conservative Christians in the United States? The recent election has prompted a lot of introspection and questioning by this often vaguely-defined group (for our purposes, we'll define them as people who embrace both traditional conservative political theory and traditional Christian beliefs).
A common thought (particularly among people who do not consider themselves conservative Christians) is that "social conservatives" must change their position on a handful of issues in order to have a prayer of winning future elections. Among these issues, this group must accept gay marriage and relax their stance on illegal immigration. On the other hand, many who would identify as conservative Christians have come away depressed--perhaps not looking to change their positions but with little hope for the future of the country. Still others seem to believe that conservative Christians need to reconsider the connection between their faith and their political stances.
Such self-examination can be helpful, but it's important not to get too bogged down in it. An obsession with political "winning" is the province of liberal progressives. They place their hope in the "progress" of society through politics. They believe mankind can create paradise if only we work for perpetual hope and change--the wisest among us must be elected to political office and lead our nation (and world) into a brighter future! When you boil it down, this is the essence of the liberal progressive position. It rests on an hyper-optimistic view of human nature.
Conservative Christians have the opposite view of man. In this, they also often differ from libertarians, so-called "fiscal conservatives," and moderates.
Traditional Christians view man as fallen, constantly affected by his own prideful, self-serving nature, and consistently oriented towards the wrong. Only by the common grace of God and the salvation offered through Jesus Christ is temporary peace in society possible. But because of the continuing influence of sin on both mankind and our world, the best we can hope for is temporal peace as we look to the world to come. Unlike the liberal progressive mindset, they do not believe they can establish heaven on earth through political action.
But it's easy to stray from this proper Christian perspective. The United States was founded as a largely-Christian nation, and Christianity is still by far its dominant religious influence today. Our Founders sought to protect freedom in many forms, and the original U.S. culture and government were very favorable to Christian beliefs. Judeo-Christian moral principles were largely accepted, and this perspective has generally continued for most of our country's history. Christianity and American culture and government have been intertwined in many ways, and so it is tempting to see a turning away from Christian principles as a major blow to Christianity.
Similarly conservatism in general has a pessimistic view of man and has had a significant influence on the American scene since the Founding (though less dominant politically than Christianity was religiously). The conservative treasures the wisdom accrued through the lives of past generations and is suspicious of "new solutions" and societal evolution. That said, an election loss for conservatism also can tempt conservatives to despair.
But hopelessness at an election is not consistent with conservative Christian thought. The national and state politics of today play a very small part in traditional Christian belief or conservative thought. A conservative Christian ought to be concerned primarily about his family, church, neighbors, and local institutions. She ought to look with joyful anticipation to the world to come.
Conservative Christians ought not despair at political losses; nor should they rejoice too greatly at political wins. And so any talk about "adapting" or "adjusting" conservative Christian positions in order to garner more votes next election cycle is short-sighted and wrong-headed. If these positions are morally wrong, then by all means let us change them. But, for a conservative Christian, changing moral positions for election gains should be unthinkable.
I will add one caveat - there are certainly political topics on which there is some flexibility. Not every single issue is purely black and white. This is particularly true on the local level. Policy involving, say, transportation spending or the like often contains a plethora of morally acceptable positions. Compromise between differing opinions is essential in these realms. But compromising core moral principles for political gain undermines the very nature of conservatism and Christianity. An "always changing" liberal progressive can easily imagine an evolving, "improving" morality that must constantly be reconsidered and tweaked. A conservative Christian simply cannot.
It may even be that conservative Christians will find themselves a highly-persecuted minority at some point in America's future, but even then nothing essential would change. After all, conservative Christians are already persecuted in many places in the world. If persecution does not change those people's moral principles, why should they change for electoral gains?
So what is left for the conservative Christian? Politics is important, as all spheres of life are important. We have a duty as members of our local communities, states, and nation to be informed about and participate in our political process. However, it behooves us to avoid obsessing over it, and we have a far more pressing moral duty to spend time in home, church, work, and community seeking for the temporal and eternal good of those we know.
Zachary Gappa is a Consultant for the Center for a Just Society and Operations Manager at Gappa Security Solutions. Some of his other articles have been published in various places online, including Town Hall, Crosswalk, and The Christian Post.
The CJS Forum seeks to promote an open exchange of ideas about the relationship between faith, culture, law and public policy. While all the articles are original and written especially for the CJS Forum, they do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for a Just Society.