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.