A conflict of radical individualism, Christian values and the political right?

November 18, 2011
By tomsander

Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, writes in the Washington Post on 11/10/2011:


As an evangelical Christian who believes the Republican Party does not have a monopoly on moral values, I believe this discussion [of values and politics] is long overdue. The “compassionate conservatism” espoused by President George W. Bush and many prominent evangelical leaders has been supplanted by a Tea Party ideology that bears more resemblance to the anti-Christian philosophy of Ayn Rand than it does to the Gospel.

Whether the Christian duty to love our neighbors is compatible with a political movement that embraces radical individualism and rejects the ethic of collective responsibility is a central question as the GOP attempts to cement the Tea Party and the religious right into a cohesive base. Tea Party activists and Republican leaders have consistently targeted for cutbacks vital government programs that protect the poor, the elderly, children and other vulnerable Americans. Yet calls for shared sacrifice and proposals to modestly raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans in order to fund investments and protections that promote the common good are derided as “class warfare.” This is what passes for family values?

Social conservative leaders have shrewdly recalibrated for an election in which the economy is the top concern for voters. Baptizing as a “moral agenda” tax cuts for the wealthy, steep budget cuts to programs that save lives and deregulation of Wall Street takes a lot of nerve. But the Family Research Council — which organized last month’s Values Voter summit — and Christian conservative operatives advance a political agenda by suggesting that the priorities of corporations and the GOP fit snugly with the teachings of Jesus.

This might be good politics, but it’s bad theology. Most “values voters” with even a minimal degree of biblical literacy recognize that the Hebrew prophets and Jesus warned the powerful not to afflict the poor and comfort the rich. These bedrock Judeo-Christian principles are flouted by conservatives who demand cuts to nutrition programs that help low-income women feed their children even as they defend tax loopholes for some of the world’s wealthiest ­people.

At a time when our nation is plagued by the worst poverty rates in decades, religious leaders are not buying this narrow ideological agenda. In fact, evangelicals, Catholic bishops and Protestant leaders are leading a “Circle of Protection” campaign to defend government programs that provide a basic measure of dignity and security to those struggling to make ends meet. We are also urging a balanced approach to deficit reduction that doesn’t put the greatest burden on those hit hardest by the economic crisis.

Read:”The values debate we’re not having” (Washington Post op-ed, 11/10/2011)

We’ll report in the epilogue to the paperback copy of Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s American Grace (to come out early in 2012) on how amidst this Great Recession, attitudes towards redistribution have become more negative and ironically, views toward the rich have improved while views toward the poor have worsened.


Note: Gary A. Marx, Duluth, Ga., E.D.  of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, writes in response to Cizik’s column:

Surely a Christian with Mr. Cizik’s theological education would concede that individual responsibility, an individual relationship with Christ and individual salvation are at the core of Christian theology.

“Government/collective responsibility” is a secular tenet of the modernist left; it’s not part of Christian theology. For this reason, voluntary charitable giving is a recognized Christian virtue, as exemplified in the biblical story of the poor woman who gave her last coin in offering. Compulsory government taxation is relegated in the Gospel to the status of “giving unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

I agree with Mr. Cizik that “the Republican Party does not have a monopoly on moral values.” Rather, I believe that God, through His revealed word, does. Registering millions of new Christian voters can be nothing but a good thing. If churchgoing Christians tend to vote Republican, perhaps Mr. Cizik ought to reflect on why that is.

In answer to Mr. Marx’s letter, read American Grace on how Christians voting Republicans is only a more recent trend.  Back in the 1950s and 1960s, churched Americans were no more or less likely to vote Republican.  Starting in the 1980s, thanks to the Christian Right, the Republican Party intentionally started differentiating from the Democratic Party on the small number of wedge issues where opinions between churched and unchurched Americans significantly differed (mainly relating to issues of sex: abortion, gay marriage, etc.).


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One Response to A conflict of radical individualism, Christian values and the political right?

  1. Alicia Williams on November 23, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    When moral law is confused with civil law, the empire will fall. Historically proven.

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