When We Subordinate Righteousness to Political Expediency

For twenty-eight years I’ve taught history at the university level, with some of those years being in a master’s program of public policy/government. Consistently, I’ve tried to communicate the message that Christians ought to be involved in the political sphere.

One of the first books I wrote, If the Foundations Are Destroyed: Biblical Principles and Civil Government, was an attempt to lay out basic Biblical concepts that should undergird all of life, including government.

In that book, I pointed out that Christians can’t expect society to trend toward godliness if we sit on the sidelines, which, sadly, many Christians did for much of the middle of the twentieth century. We are to be salt and light for our nation.

As I studied Biblical principles, I concluded that America’s early history demonstrated a fidelity to many of those principles. Then, as I surveyed the current political landscape, I realized that what we call conservativsm (in the American context) had a close affinity with a Biblical worldview.

Consequently, I have argued for the strong connection between orthodox Christian faith and the conservatism that was allied primarily with the Republican brand. This connection received strong support from my reading in American history—the ultimate source, for me, being the masterful explication of that truth through Whittaker Chambers’s thoughtful and admirably written autobiography Witness.

In that volume, Chambers traced his rescue from the false god of communism, which sought to place Man on a pedestal—man’s mind substituting itself for the God of all creation (even man’s mind).

I read Witness in the 1980s at the same time as I was living through the years of the Reagan administration. All of the reading I had done previously in the conservative magazine National Review came to fruition in the person of Reagan. The 1980s decade was crucial to the development of my worldview, especially when I returned wholeheartedly to my Christian roots after a period of spiritual wandering.

Another book I read at that time was George Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945. It provided all the background I needed to dissect not only the history of American conservatism, but also the various branches of it and how it all came together to place Reagan in the Oval Office.

Nash’s book, along with Reagan’s autobiography, An American Life, form the foundation now for a course I teach called “Ronald Reagan and Modern American Conservatism.”

Why am I spending so much time telling you about why I came to believe what I do? I want you to see that my beliefs are not based merely on transitory feelings nor an outgrowth of some kind of anger or resentment about the direction of America’s culture.

I don’t respond to the political world out of a motive of hitting back at those who are destroying what America should be. Rather, I come at this from a well-developed philosophy that rests, first and foremost, on my Christian faith and its application to government and, secondly, from a prolonged and intense study of what conservatism is and how it should be manifested in policy.

As a result, I’ve always promoted Christian involvement in government and politics and hoped that this involvement would make things better. Mind you, I’ve never adopted the fanciful idea that humans will create heaven on earth—the sinfulness of mankind prohibits that. But is better too much to expect if Christians live up to their responsibility?

Yet, I must admit, as many of you know from reading my blog over the past year and a half, that my confidence in the efficacy of Christian involvement has been shaken. Previously, I had an assurance that Christians would use their influence to help the nation become more righteous, and that we would lend our support only to those who were worthy of that support.

What I have witnessed instead is something else. I was shocked, frankly, by the rush (by conservatives in general and Christian conservatives in particular) to praise and vote for a presidential candidate who was an unrepentant serial adulterer, who came across as a crass, rude egotist, and who proved himself to be a consummate liar throughout the primaries.

Now, I know there are some distinctions to be made: some Christians only reluctantly cast their vote for that man after the primaries when it came down to a choice between two reprobates. How many times did I hear the refrain: “We need to vote for the lesser of two evils”?

Although I couldn’t, in conscience, follow that path, I understood why some chose it.

What I have never come to grips with, or have any sense of peace about, is the chorus of those who claim the Lordship of Christ, but nevertheless have become a cheering section for the president no matter what he does or says, regardless of how petty, egotistical, or outrageous his actions and words may be.

Where in Christendom, Whittaker Chambers once asked, is the Christian?

When we subordinate righteousness to political expediency, we become our own worst enemies and deface the true Gospel message. We destroy the Christian witness to the world; bearing that witness is our highest God-ordained task.

Lately, I’ve seen this erupt again with the Alabama senatorial race. Despite accusations against the Republican candidate that have credibility (especially coming from so many people who don’t know each other), I’ve seen Christians reflexively defend the candidate by accepting rather unbelievable conspiracy theories. If you are going to defend him, find more solid ground to do so and don’t shut your eyes and ears to evidence that goes against what you want to be the truth.

Is this what we’ve come to?

So what about me? Do I change my message and tell Christians to abandon the field and let politics run its course without us? As tempting as that may be, I cannot succumb to the temptation. What I can do, though, is make sure that my priorities are correct so that the purity of the Gospel is not stained by political expediency.

I also will continue to call Christians back to that top priority. I hope some will heed the call. Government will never be our savior. Jesus Christ is the only Messiah, and our lives must be a reflection of His righteousness.

The Hope & the Agony of Politics

I’ve never been a utopian when it comes to politics. I’ve always known heaven won’t be created on earth. Yet, along with that realization, I’ve maintained a commitment to instilling Biblical values into politics as much as possible. When government follows policies based on Biblical principles, I believe we get closer to the ideal, regardless of the pervasive sinfulness of men.

This past political season was a jolt to my hopes. Faced for the first time with two candidates for president who never should be allowed close to the Oval Office, I had to go another route with my vote. My conscience constrained me.

What bothered me most was what I consider a nearly wholesale abandonment of principle by those who call themselves conservatives, and even worse, those who are my fellow Christian believers who ultimately decided that principles no longer mattered in this situation.

Note: this is not an indictment of many who struggled with their consciences and voted for Trump because they couldn’t imagine the alternative. My concern is with those who have become unapologetic apologists for a man regardless of what he says or does.

Yesterday, I read a column by Erick Erickson that echoed what I’ve been feeling. I’m going to share some of his pertinent comments and intersperse mine. Erickson feels betrayed by politics and by those he thought were his spiritual/intellectual companions. He says that, although he’s always been a Republican, he no longer has a home in that party.

I understand how he feels.

On the right, a party that used to be centered around the idea of smaller government and individual empowerment is instead captured by its own personality that centers around a strong man in Washington and whatever he wants.

I have argued for a constitutional understanding of government for more than thirty years. I thought Republicans, on the whole, agreed with that perspective. Instead, I’m seeing far less concern for that now that “we” have a supposedly strong man in power.

Erickson then addresses the Christian community that has sought, like I have, to return Biblical principles into our governing (especially after the ill effects of the Obama tenure):

Christians are supposed to find some peace in the world by knowing that there is a last day and they are on the winning team. But right now a bunch of American Christians are looking to political solutions for spiritual problems and convincing themselves they’re making a Heaven on earth. . . .

So many people going to church on Sunday looked at Trump and called him a Cyrus, but increasingly this looks like a Maccabean revolt. Sure, they threw out those they saw as pagans and set about purifying temple America, but things did not exactly go well for the people or the kingdom thereafter.

Of course it was all downhill to Herod and the first coming, so maybe it’ll all be downhill from here to the second coming. That increasingly looks likely as the world goes mad, this country included.

Hyperbole? Not from where I’m sitting. That’s my perception also.

He then switches to what he would like to see in politics; I’ll share a few of his dreams:

I want a new party, and a conservative one where conservatism is not defined by beating the other side, but by pursuing the best policies.

I want a party that is pro-family and structures the tax code accordingly and fights for school choice so parents can get their kids educated instead of indoctrinated.

I want a party that is pro-life and that does not run from the Bible.

I want a party that does not define people by the color of their skin or where their families came from, but sees us all as part of the American experiment.

And I want a party that is beholden to ideas, not men.

I will add my “amen” to all of that. And with Erickson, I can also say that I, at one time, thought that existed. Now I’m not so sure. You see, I’ve not changed, but my party has. Ronald Reagan used to say that he hadn’t changed, but that the Democrat party he had always been a part of was the one that moved away from his beliefs.

What happened to a conservatism that was based on ideas, not nationalism? Caring for one’s nation is good, but there is a line that can be crossed. When does one’s devotion to the nation become a substitute for devotion to God?

Here’s one more short paragraph from Erickson’s piece that resonates with me:

To the extent that I have changed, though, I think I have changed for the better. I have a harder time reconciling my faith to my politics and see so many of my friends trying to squeeze their faith into their politics. I would rather go the opposite way and connect my politics to my faith, giving up those things that cannot be reconciled.

One of the key concepts I’ve tried to communicate to students, and to anyone else who will listen to me (I guess that’s why I write this blog) is that you start with Scripture and then make everything align with that. You never start with what others say is true and then do your best to inject Scripture into it, thereby making a false attempt to Christianize something that is not Christian at all.

I’m going to continue on the path of making God’s truth my cornerstone. I will not bow to the political gods who say I should set my Biblical principles aside for the sake of a few Supreme Court justices or some temporary victories via executive orders.

I want to look back on my decisions and not experience deep regret over my subordination of God’s ways to man’s ways. He calls us to be faithful, and that is what I intend to be.

Gratitude for My Calling

While I don’t write this blog every morning, most mornings I do consider whether to write and what needs to be said. Specifically, I pray for God’s guidance. It’s easy to write a blog that critiques the government and culture—and often that’s what I believe I should do—Jesus didn’t spare His words toward the sinfulness of the culture in which he walked, particularly the hypocrisy of those who considered themselves leaders.

Yet I also want to highlight the good and help readers recognize the blessings the Lord bestows. That’s where I am today.

I think of what God allows me to do as a professor of history as I attempt to direct university students into the renewed mind that should characterize all Christians.

Take this semester, for instance. I’m teaching four courses that permit me to showcase Biblical principles.

In my historiography course, I do this quite specifically as we examine disparate worldviews in the philosophy of history and survey the various schools of historical thought over time. The Biblical worldview and the principles associated with it contrast nicely with what secularists want us to believe.

My American history survey course introduces the facts of history (of which many of the students are unaware) and shows how to evaluate what has happened in light of Biblical truths.

My course detailing the American Revolution, which should be more properly called the American War for Continued Self-Government (but that’s a topic for another time), is more than an account of battles. It deals with all the historical background that led to the conflict and reveals that the controversy had a Biblical basis.

Ending that course with an examination of the Constitution and with a book that delves into how the Founders understood issues that continue to bedevil us today is illuminating.

A new course I’m teaching is on America from 1877-1917, in which I show how the thought processes of many changed with the advent of evolutionary theory; again, that lets students know why we are where we are now. I can also lead them through an analysis of the nature of progressivism, the pros and cons of big business, and the principal leaders of the era, both positive and negative.

There’s so much talk about critical thinking in edu-crat world that the term has become nearly a meaningless cliché. I hope that my courses actually fulfill that goal.

On top of those opportunities, I participated in a forum where I could present my viewpoint on the unbiblical nature of socialism and nanny-state government. The room was packed to overflowing. While I afterwards thought of a hundred and one other things I wish I had said, the feedback on what I was able to say in a limited time has been encouraging.

There are very few institutions of higher education that allow someone with my views to openly declare them. My thanks to my institution, Southeastern University.

I’ve been free to develop specialized courses, some of which one would be hard put to find anywhere else: Ronald Reagan and Modern American Conservatism; The Witness of Whittaker Chambers; C. S. Lewis: History and Influence.

Outside the official classroom, I’ve had other opportunities. Starting in January, I will be teaching an evening class on Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters at a local church.

Some people my age think of retirement. I’m not there, at least not seriously, despite my jokes on that subject at times. God has given me so much to do, and it is so productive, that it would be wrong to let go of it at this time.

So today I reflect with gratitude on my calling, and I continue to carry it out with enthusiasm. Thanks be to God for His great love and favor.

Columbus, Racism, & Protests

Wealthy football players claim America is oppressive. Their protest over the national anthem goes viral. The nation gets thrown into turmoil.

Columbus Day arrives. We have our annual Columbus-was-a-genocidal-maniac theme trumpeted from the mouths of those who, like the football players, believe America is the bastion of systemic racism.

As a historian, I know that our history includes some terrible things. Yet we need some sense of comparative analysis, not emotional outbursts, to deal with what has happened. We also need to see more clearly that many of those things we don’t like have been corrected.

And as a historian, I also know that not many people are well versed on that history. They simply follow the lead of some who claim they know the truth, even though often they are following a political agenda, not truth.

Take Columbus. Who really knows that one of his prime motivations was to spread Christianity? Oh, I know—he was also vainglorious and coveted rank and honor. He loved the title bestowed: Admiral of the Ocean Sea. But how many know that when he returned for his second voyage that all the men he had left in the New World had been slaughtered and that another native chief joined him in attacking those who committed that slaughter?

We have a much-too-romanticized view of what life was like among those natives. Jesus’s comment about how there will always be wars and rumors of wars applied among them as well as European nations. They were not as innocent as sometimes portrayed. They connived politically for advantage over other tribes and engaged in types of behavior not countenanced today.

In other words, they were people just like all other peoples—and where there are people, there are problems.

Just a hint: don’t get caught in a war; your end will be slow and torturous.

Back to Columbus. Here’s a comic I found a number of years ago that probably is closer to the truth than anything nowadays:

I’m no apologist for Columbus Day. I can take it or leave it. But neither do I bow to a modern political correctness that can only see evil in the arrival of the Europeans. I can draw distinctions between those who carried out evil and those who didn’t.

When it comes to American history, I can decry the racism that led to slavery, while simultaneously rejoice that America became one of those nations that put an end to the practice.

I can clearly see that the segregation that followed slavery was evil, yet I can enthusiastically applaud the end of that particular evil empire.

I know that the inner cities of America are a place of disadvantage for success in life. Yet I also know that government programs to “help” have only led to the disintegration of the black family structure, thereby creating more poverty. When over 70% of children born in the inner cities grow up without a father, consequences follow. God intended that all children have both a father and a mother.

So, in an ironic twist, it’s all that government help that has created an atmosphere that some see as oppressive.

If the family structure were to be reestablished and genuine capitalism be allowed to flourish (not the crony type that dominates cities run by so-called progressives), I believe we would see much greater prosperity across the board in our society and much less rationale for the protests we see now.

Where do those foundational beliefs in the necessity of a strong family and a vibrant, free economy come from? They are Biblical principles. Only a return to those principles will bring this about.

Saving Christian Conservatism’s Soul

Above all else, my identity is as a Christian—a follower of Jesus Christ in which I consistently acknowledge His lordship over all of life. I take seriously the admonition that our time on earth is temporary and that we are pilgrims on a spiritual journey. Our primary focus in not anything in this world.

However, I also take seriously the call for Christians to be salt and light in every situation in this world to help guide others into the truth. We don’t live in a corner somewhere, ignoring the world.

That’s why I’ve always been very involved in teaching Christians how to understand politics and government. Yes, those are transitory as well, but they have a tremendous impact on everyone’s daily existence. Government is a realm where Christians should make a difference.

At this point, allow me to recount my bona fides as a political conservative, especially as what I will say later may dismay some readers.

I have been a conservative in principle most of my adult life. I was conservative before many of you reading these words were even born. In the 1980s, I wrote for the Heritage Foundation and the American Conservative Union. In the 1990s, I chaired a county chapter of the Christian Coalition.

As a history professor, I’ve tried to communicate Christian conservatism to my students now for twenty-eight years. My book on Whittaker Chambers and Ronald Reagan grew out of what I have researched and taught for all those years.

I teach a course on Chambers specifically (who is considered practically the godfather of modern American conservatism) and another one on Reagan and the varieties of cultural and political conservatism that have developed since WWII.

My goal always has been to show students that, as Christians, our political beliefs should be grounded in Biblical principles, and that we should never be led astray into some kind of secular salvationism or put anyone on a pedestal, especially any political leader whose life doesn’t reflect Biblical principles.

I’ve attempted to instruct them on the distinction between a principled compromise and a compromised principle.

Have I made my point yet?

All during the presidential primary season last year, I wrote about and admonished my fellow conservatives, and Christian conservatives in particular, to be focused on principle and not simply jump on some kind of nationalistic bandwagon offered by any candidate. I also questioned quite pointedly the character of Donald Trump, issuing warning after warning that he was not a conservative and that his character (as revealed in the manner by which he campaigned) would do great harm long-term to conservatism as a political force.

When he became president, despite his many flaws, I made it clear that I would support him whenever he did something that aligned with sound policy, but that I would not be a cheerleader for him whenever his policies departed from principle or whenever his character undermined the office to which he had been elected.

Frankly, I don’t see how a Christian conservative can maintain integrity without that dual commitment.

I won’t go through a laundry list today of all the problems I see with Trump and his administration. It is sufficient to say that he continues to be his own worst enemy.

I know. His most ardent devotees will cry “fake news” about everything negative in the media. Is there a lot of fake news out there? Of course. Again, I will point to the fact that I’ve critiqued the media continually in this blog for the past nine years that I’ve written it.

Is there a double standard toward Republicans in general and toward conservatives specifically? No question about it. A political cartoon that came out back in 2007 makes a case that can still be made today.

Yet those who are defending President Trump, no matter what he does, are relying far too much on what some commentators have called “whataboutism.” Every time Trump does anything questionable, crass, or unprincipled, they cry, “Well, what about the Democrats? Remember what they did?”

While this might soothe some consciences, it doesn’t soothe mine. Wrong is wrong regardless, and if we want to be true disciples of our Lord, we cannot dismiss wrongdoing because the one involved in the wrongdoing is “on our side.”

I’m trying to be charitable here, and I hope you see it in that light. This is not a diatribe against those who are outraged at the obvious double standard and hypocrisy all around us.

But it is a caution, especially for all of us who call ourselves Christian conservatives. In the understandable desire to have a voice in the current political climate, we must not violate the trust God has given us to be His spokesmen. We must not sell our souls for transitory and ephemeral political clout. We must remember these exact words from the One we say we love and obey:

What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his own soul?

Let’s not sell our souls and our birthright as children of the King for that which doesn’t truly advance His Kingdom. Be a voice of integrity in the midst of party spirit, acrimony, dishonesty, and unprincipled behavior.

By doing so, we save the Christian conservative soul and become the type of witnesses we are called to be.

American Politics: Stranger Than Fiction?

I want journalism to be insightful and devoted to finding truth. That is the ideal, but it seldom is achieved. Those without historical context seem to think that there was a time when journalism was balanced and fair. As a historian, I can debunk that. From the first decade of the nation, in the 1790s, through the Civil War, newspapers were financed by one political party or another. Balance was in short supply.

Later, we got sensationalistic journalism that helped push us into the Spanish-American War. The 20th century has seen liberal/progressive “journalism” dominate. Sometimes, when the media attempts to shape the news, it gets some blowback, as the recent CNN woes indicate.

The Left nevertheless continues its crusade to remake our thinking as a nation, and media outlets like CNN and MSNBC cater to its peculiar logic:

Conservatives have tried to counter that Leftist perspective. Fox News became the favorite source for many conservatives because it allowed views to be expressed that were ignored in other outlets.

Then came Donald Trump, and a number of Fox programs (primarily the opinion-oriented ones) jumped on his bandwagon, promoting and excusing him no matter how indefensible his actions.

It’s becoming an old story now that Trump gets himself into unnecessary controversies through his tweeting. Even conservative cartoonists are calling him out for lowering the dignity of the office he holds:

He’s not exactly a role model:

Yet no amount of criticism dissuades him; he continues to create turmoil. His almost-paranoid obsession with hitting back at those with whom he disagrees is a major stumbling-block to doing his job, and it’s hurting the GOP’s agenda.

Is this where we are now?

We’re reaping the consequences of the seeds we have sown for many decades. We’re replacing the Biblical worldview and seeing the sad results.

I write about politics and government all the time, but I want it clearly understood that I don’t look to them for any kind of temporal salvation. Without the Biblical undergirdings, the system goes astray. While I continue to believe in the need for Christians to work in the political sphere, only an internal heart change based on Biblical principles will lead us back where we need to be.

Sacrificing Principles

An excerpt from the first chapter of my book, If the Foundations Are Destroyed: Biblical Principles and Civil Government:

A principle is the source or origin of anything; it is a general truth, that is, a truth that is so broad and sweeping that many other truths can be considered offshoots of it.

The idea of general truths that apply to all of society formerly had wide endorsement in America. The Declaration of Independence speaks of self-evident truths and goes on to list the basic rights God has given man.

One can legitimately question whether American society today still adheres to an unalterable body of truth. The onset of evolutionary philosophy and the pragmatism to which it has given birth has led us to think more in terms of expediency than principle.

People sacrifice principles to that which is less troublesome. Standing on principle can be wearying when no one else seems to care or understand what you are doing. Yet God calls Christians to make His principles the foundation of all they say and do.

Christians get in trouble when they conform to the world’s thinking and allow principles to slide. They are tempted not to cause waves, forgetting that the world already is a turbulent place and that men are seeking—whether they realize it or not—for the stability of fixed principles. These principles can come only from the Christians, from those who base all decisions upon Biblical truth.

If this piques your interest to read more, you can order this book on Amazon right here.