I teach a course on Ronald Reagan and modern American conservatism. I begin the course with definitions of those terms.
Conservatism: a predisposition to maintain existing institutions and practices.
American: a particular brand of conservatism unique to American institutions and practices.
Modern: the distinct development of a conservative philosophy since WWII.
I then explain the three strands of thought that have been weaved together to create modern American conservatism:
- Economic individualism: limited government; free enterprise; the inviolability of property
- Social traditionalism: primary concern for the spiritual and moral values of society
- Anti-communism: even with the fall of the USSR, the communist mentality continues to dominate; a collectivist philosophy remains strong in our politics
While there are some differences in the emphases these three strands of thought bring to the coalition, there are enough similarities that a coherent modern American conservatism has been able to have an impact on our society. Common beliefs can be summarized in this way:
- There are absolute moral standards
- The individual is more important than the state
- Suspicion of centralized government power
My Christian faith is foundational to everything I believe. I discovered, as I learned about modern American conservatism, that this brand of conservatism accurately reflected the truths of my faith. As a result, I’ve attempted to mesh my Christianity with political conservatism.
The connection has worked well. The absolute moral standards of Christianity are essential for our society. The Biblical principle that we are all made in the image of God is consistent with the conservative belief that the individual is more important than the state/government. Centralized government power has often been used to tear down Christian faith and influence people into accepting the government as their provider, thereby setting up a false god, making the state into an idol.
These bedrock concepts are what I have always hoped would guide Christians, in particular, in their decisions when voting and advocating public policies. In this recent election, I’ve had my hopes shaken somewhat. I’m concerned about how grounded we are in principle. Are we allowing emotion to guide us now? Are we perhaps thinking that the state can create the type of society we want?
Where is our faith? In God or in politics?
I want us to be a principled people. I hope we won’t awake one day to discover we have placed our faith where it does not belong.
My pledge: I will pray for this nation, as God instructs me to do. I will pray for its political leaders even when I disagree with them, both in their personal morality and in their public policy.
Yet I know, in my heart, that the only real hope is a diffusion of a vibrant Christian faith throughout our society. Government is not our savior; it will always disappoint in some way.
We have only one Savior.