This post is a rebuttal of sorts to a blog posted by the author of Burning Sugarcane, titled ‘Why all Christians should be Conservatives.” While I certainly recognize merit in her argument, I disagree with it for a number of reasons. At this point, you’re probably thinking to yourselves, “Oh boy, another liberal with a rejection letter on conservatism. Stop watching Keith Olbermann and grow some balls.” Or at the very least, some of you might be imagining my anguish upon the fiery depths for which I will inevitably suffer upon judgment day. I simply ask that you give me the benefit of the doubt, and read what I have to say. I have discussed in various posts already, and made mention about the importance of words. If I haven’t made myself clear yet, let me be clear now: words are important, and it’s vital that we understand the meaning and contexts of words rather than hurl them with little understanding. This is not an attack on the author of Burning Sugarcane, it’s a simple observation built upon from many, many political conversations.
First, I wish to discuss a matter of contention when it relates to the ideas of Conservatism, Liberalism, Democrats, and Republicans. For one, Liberalism (economic or political) vs. Conservatism is a battle of ideology, whereas Democrats vs. Republicans are parties, factions, or otherwise cliques of individuals who share a common agenda, but not necessarily the same ideology, or strength of the ideology. For example, prior to the 1960’s, Democrats held predominantly right-wing conservatism, whereas Republicans held more liberal ideas. And during the ‘70’s, many Democrats were still actually conservative. By 1980, though, political realignment had taken its full effect, and so most of those who identified with conservatism had shifted to the Republican Party, and Democrats become more liberal and moderate. Today, while Democrats are construed to be extreme-far-left, and Republicans are construed to be extreme-far-right, there is a variety of misconceptions in believing either.
The media doesn’t help one iota. For instance, many folks proclaim that William J. ‘Bill’ Clinton was a far leftist, but in reality he was more of a left leaning centrist. Clinton certainly wasn’t an extreme-leftist, considering he wrapped up deregulation with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act (A.K.A., The Banking Act of 1933 – Public Law 73-66, 48 Statute 162, Enacted on June 16th, 1933) through the passing of the Gramm-Leach-Bililey Act (GLBA) (A.K.A., Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, Public Law 106-102, 113 Statute 1338). He also signed into law the controversial Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, as well as the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-199, 110 Statute 2419, 1 U.S.C. Section 7 & 28). Those two pieces of legislation were rather large defeats to the gay-rights movement, which is more striking of a conservative than would be a liberal. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, however, was a rather moderate compromise; it wasn’t left enough for those who thought that gay’s should be allowed to serve in the military openly and regardless of their sexual preference, nor was it right enough because it was allowing gay folks to serve at all.
Let’s not forget as well, that the reason Clinton beat Bush Sr., (thanks in part for Ross Perot’s running as well which took some 18% of the vote) in some part or another is because Bush Sr. compromised with Democrats in reducing the deficit. See, Clinton rose taxes on the richest 1.2%, while cutting taxes for 90% of small businesses, and cut governmental spending. In other-words, he made a fiscally moderate compromise to balancing the budget, and voila. In any case, Clinton also expanded the death penalty to be applicable to more than 60 offenses, even ones outside of murder. Oh, and, he rejected torture tactics publically, and instead sent terrorist suspects to Egypt who would torture people for us. The fact is, Clinton’s actions as president resemble that of a moderate, along with someone who was willing to work with Congress. But I feel this last statement was in some part disingenuous, it’s not the president’s duty to work with congress as much as it is congress’s duty to work with the president. Let’s not forget that Clinton failed to follow up on roughly 13 of his promises – but the blame wasn’t placed on Clinton, the blame was placed on Congress who consistently and rhetorically voted against legislation that would have given Clinton the ability to say he kept another promise.
Sound familiar? It should. Many people like to tout about how Barack Obama is a socialist, a Muslim, and otherwise the most liberal person we’ve ever had. Obama is in fact one of the more liberal presidents we’ve seen, more so than Clinton, Carter, and Kennedy actually. While this is the case, I have to ask first, what rights have you lost under Obama that weren’t already lost prior to Obama? I’ve never actually receieved an affirmation of newly lost rights and liberties. Regardless, Obama did in fact sign into law various economic policies that Bush also passed prior to his passing the mantle. Both men have passed National Defense Authorization Acts that otherwise expanded military funding, along with the ability of the president to do certain things for which people would dislike – but those rights go back to the 1960’s, they’re nothing new. They both expanded oil drilling. They’ve both continued to pass Patriot Act extensions. If Obama’s a socialist, then every president, virtually, since 1942 is a socialist. But I don’t believe that one bit, and neither should you.
Hopefully I’ve made my point clearly: don’t confuse political parties with political ideology as they’re different. One may fuel the other, but I haven’t seen a political election based in ideology for quite some time. It has turned more into an auction ceremony for the richest folks in America to buy the next president, and typically it helps if you’re part of the most popular party who’s popularity hinges on the fringe networks of Fox and MSNBC – where news doesn’t matter, ratings do. And people like the bitching and the fighting masked under a smoke screen of big words like facts – except that there aren’t any, it’s all just opinion.
Anyway, this leads me to my next point: what kind of conservative should Christians be? Should they be fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, liberal-conservatives, conservative-liberals, libertarian-conservatives, green-conservatives, national conservatives, traditional conservatives, cultural conservatives, religious conservatives, or progressive conservatives? Some of you at this point are probably thinking “You’ve got to be kidding me, liberal-conservative? You must be a bigger moron than the oxymoron that you just made.” To be perfectly honest, that’s what I thought the first time I heard about such a stance, or like when my friend dictated that he was an Anarcho-Capitalist who was friends with an Anarcho-Communist. Regardless, these are all (yes, even the anarcho’s) legitimate ideological perspectives. Simply suggesting that all Christians should be conservative is rather vague. And just don’t forget that there are Conservative Democrats, Liberal Republicans, Moderate Democrats, Moderate Republicans, Moderate Independents, Liberal Independents, and Conservative Independents. The conservatism and the liberalism espouse to a much larger ideology than the pissing contests held between the Democrats and Republicans as they continually reject the Independents.
So why have I said all of this? Because the author of Burning Sugarcane used the word Democrat five times, and Liberal four times, and while you might perceive this to be a matter of semantics, I disagree for the very reasons I just outlined. But in any case, a typical outline of American Conservatism is as follows:
- Anti-Gay Marriage;
- Anti-Gay Adoption;
- Oppose Gun Control;
- Typically Opposed to Renewable Energies;
- Self-Reliance over Government Assistance;
- Large Military;
- Support of Israel;
- Prayer Should Be Instituted in Public Schools;
- Dependency On Incarceration;
- Low Taxes;
- Deregulation of the Economy;
- Opposed to Stem-Cell Research;
In fact, American conservatism is rather distinct from the rest of the world. If you believe in this list, than sure, you should be a Conservative. However, let’s say that you don’t believe in a large military but rather a moderately sized military, you believe that regulation in various aspects is important, you believe in low taxes but understand the reasons behind hikes, that you don’t believe Israel should be as important, that you believe incarceration to be a waste of money and should instead work to rehabilitate as compared to simple incarceration – than you move closer to the center. If you reject in any part, or any number of those, than you move to the center – you might be a right-leaning moderate as compared to a strict conservative. And I believe that this is the distinction that people just fail to understand. Further still, which of these, among others that you may add, are the most important issues to you?
And how does one define liberal? It depends. There’s Classical Liberalism which advocates for limited government, strict constitutionalism, individual liberty, and free market economics. Or there is Economic Liberalism, which advocates for Laissez-faire Capitalism, which is basically complete deregulation. Then there’s Neo-Liberalism which is supportive of privatization, and deregulation, but even within this field there’s classical and limited. But then there’s Social Liberalism (A.K.A., Modern Liberalism), which believes that the state has a legitimate interest and role in addressing certain economic and other related issues. Other such beliefs include multi-party democracy, social responsibility, free trade, and environmental issues, among others. Interestingly, Neo-Liberalism was a movement to counter Social-Liberalism. My point is that interchanging Liberal with Democrat is disingenuous and vague. I have no doubt that the author doesn’t mean for this to be the case, and honestly this is a contextual crusade that I have been on for quite some time.
There is some truth to the author’s assertion that certain beliefs are assumed when it relates to party affiliation, and her example was women’s right to choose abortions and that of the Democratic Party. In 2011, 54% of the overall population believed that abortion should be legal in all or most cases; or 35% of Republicans, 65% of Democrats, 58% of Independents, 47% of Protestants, 53% of Catholics, and 71% of unaffiliated. So a better statement would be that twice as many Democrats support abortion than Republicans. My point is only attempting to illustrate her point that people may affiliate without holding every belief. But my quarrel is that her point doesn’t explain why Christians should be conservative as compared to being liberal, she states that you should be conservative as compared to being a Democrat. That’s where I feel there’s an error, the use of ideology to reject party affiliation. Take for instance the debate over legalizing marijuana. 30% of Republicans, and 53% of Democrats are in favor of it, but this breaks down further. 27% of Conservative Republicans and 35% of Liberal to Moderate Republicans are in favor; Conservative to Moderate Democrats make up 44% of favorability within the Democratic Party as compared to 66% of Liberal Democrats. If we’re going to discuss why Christians should be Conservatives than the argument should therefore also be why Christian’s should not be Liberals. Whole I understand the author’s point, I believe that it would have been more appropriate to cite liberal support for women’s rights concerning reproductive freedom, than to compare it to the DNC. Those who argue that I am making an argument over something trivial, I disagree entirely.
Continuing along my line of reasoning here, I reach my second matter of contention. Just because someone is liberal doesn’t mean that they also believe in large government. In fact, liberalism was founded on concepts of limited government. Modern liberalism, or social liberalism simply understands that there will, at times, be the need for larger governments. I hold this point of view. But I also hold the perspective that the expansion of government, outside the natural growth of government that follows the growth of a population, I believe it the expansion should also in store a plan to reduce. But this requires that solutions are sought after in resolving the issue that necessitated an increase in government size, and spending. There’s a deeper context to this point that I will conclude with.
Continuing, the author’s next point deals with the effectiveness of federal social aid. I am not sure how the government discourages people from being a witness – that sounds counter intuitive to 1st Amendment rights to association and religion. Nor am I aware of how Christian Charities show time and time again that their aid is more efficient. I would ask anyone who supports this claim, even the author to support this. My personal opinion on this matter is that Charities are bogged down by the very same bureaucratic nonsense that the Federal Government must contend with. Charity Navigator is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization that evaluates charities based on their effectiveness, financial stability, and accountability using a rating system between 0 and 70, with a 0 to 4 star system. According to their analysis of 313 religious charities, 15% (48) achieved four stars, 33% (102) achieved three stars, 30% (95) achieved 2 stars, 19% (60) achieved 1 star, and 3% (8) didn’t receive any at all. Of those 313, 204 were about religious activities as compared to media broadcasting. 102 (50%) had between 3 and 4 stars (65 & 37 respectively), and 100 (50%) had between 0 and 2 stars (3, 43, and 54 respectively).
If you compare the 1,291 charities dealing with food banks, food pantries, food distribution, homeless services, children and family services, youth development, youth shelter, and crises centers – 80% receive a rating between 3 and 4 stars (498 & 420 respectively), and 20% receive between 0 and 2. These points are to illustrate that that charities can only do so much. Further still, there’s a lot that goes into charity work, and such work requires people to devote time and money that they may not have, especially in economic situations such as this. And to expand upon this point, we’re suffering from record droughts as the weather pattern has shifted closer to the east coast. Kentucky for example has declared that there will be severe droughts for the next 15 years, and economists are suspecting that due to the 75% reduction in corn growth, that cost of food is going to rise between 3 and 5% in the next few months. This underscores my point: charities will become strained financially as people become less able to devote time and money that they valuably need.
Regardless, I believe that there’s an important question being asked – how effective is this aid from federal government? But to further expand that, what’s efficient aid? Obviously, simply handing out money is only one aspect of it. But think about it, those who are reaching out for financial assistance like welfare, need more money, therefore, money is an integral part of the solution. Most folks fail to realize that between 40 and 60% of folks on welfare, are actually working, but making either below or at minimum wage. This brings us to the next issue, and that’s a stagnant minimum wage with an increasing standard of living along with increasing prices of fuel (thanks to two wars, two or three brooding wars, oil spills, natural disasters, and now a record setting drought). A person working full time at minimum wage will not make enough to escape poverty, especially if they have children. And this is where I reject the notion that charities can assist in full force. The solutions to these problems reside in policy. And the reason that they reside in policy making is because corporations are only out to make money – they will not increase wages unless forced to – and sometimes that’s what’s required.
But even still, it’s been 16 years since H.R. 3734, Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was passed, and signed by William J. ‘Bill’ Clinton. This piece of legislation has been criticized by many as not meeting the needs for which the recession demand. Regardless, 76% of Congress voted for this piece of legislation. At this time, 53% of Congress was run by Republicans (which meant they had the majority 53% House, 52% Senate). 23% voted no. But this breaks down further, 98% of Republicans, or 277 of the 282 in Congress voted for this legislation. On the other hand, 51% of Democrats voted for it, of 125 of the 247 in Congress. By and large, H.R. 3734 was a Republican plan, its sponsor was John Kasich, a Republican from Ohio’s 12th district.   In any case, H.R. 3734 was meant to give states a lot more ability to tackle welfare and poverty on their own turf so long as certain requirements were met. Among some of these, was that recipients were to find work within two years, along with this it meant to place a cap of five years on benefits, and it was supposed to destroy welfare as an entitlement program by making it a block grant. This legislation though was predominantly meant to get folks on welfare to work, which is why we hear the phrase “welfare to work program”. Among other ‘reforms’ were changes to applicability. These changes have largely been attributed to the reduction of welfare recipients in the first 10 years of its use and not just because of the economy, though the economy was also a large part to its success.  But to further this, many folks who qualify for welfare, don’t get welfare.
Further, the last reform to welfare was brought on through S. 1932, or the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-171, S. 1932, 120 Statute 4, enacted February 8, 2006). Among other things, it officially reinstated the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF was created under the ’96 law, but was put up for reauthorization in 2002, whereupon there were arguments for four years until finally it was reauthorized. Interestingly still, the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which was also sponsored by a Republican, Judd Gregg from New Hampshire. This bill also passed with majority Republican support. As a matter of fact, Republicans also had control of both houses at this point. This legislation though was passed with 92% of Republicans, and 1% of Democrats. In a 285 to 247 vote, 261 of the 285 Republicans voted for this, and 3 of 247 Democrats voted for it.    
So my real quarrel with the main thesis of the author’s statement is that it can summarized, in one respect, as essentially saying: “One reason why all Christians should be Conservatives is because Democrats have used the Federal Government to implement a very ineffective welfare program.” Setting aside the biblical contexts for which the author wrote, she placed blame flatly on Democrats – which is wrong. To summarize, of the 1061 votes cast between S. 1932, and H.R. 3734, 666 (freaky, I know), or 63% of those votes were in support. But this breaks down to 538 Republican votes out of a possible 567, or 95% of all Republicans approved. Only 26% of Democrats approved of this, or 128 out of 494. To suggest that Democrats have hijacked the welfare system is both false, and disingenuous.
The effectiveness of the welfare system, which has been reformed to get those on welfare to work, must then ultimately hinge on the status of the economy. High unemployment has been the single largest statistical indicator for TANF and Welfare recipient rates – not poverty. So maybe the inefficiency of welfare stems from a terrible economic situation, and that the solutions to effective welfare programs stem in the solutions directly related to the economy, and the causes for participation in welfare programs. Blaming Democrats for the problem is wrong, especially when 75% of Democrats rejected the reforms realizing that given the economic circumstances, making financial assistant dependent on a person getting a job was nothing more than austerity wrapped in conservative notions of personal responsibility. Some things are simply outside of any person’s control – like unemployment. Taking logic, and taking facts into account, American Conservatism runs counter to Christian Principles on many levels. I simply do not believe that now is the time for Christians to succumb to American Conservatism when people need the most help now, not later. Austerity packages wrapped in ill thought out ideas of responsibility and dependency on the government while helping to give huge corporations tax breaks, 2% tax rates, and cheap labor overseas, I simply do not know how someone could rationally, logically, or factually suggest that all Christians should be Conservatives.
Moreover, the context of the author’s statement seems to suggest that Christians should be Conservatives so that they can show their love and joy of God, and to be a witness to the poor, sick, and homeless. But why can’t liberal Christians do the same thing? In fact, many do. And the only reason that I arrived at a conclusion whereupon I felt as though the author is suggesting that liberals cant, is because the title of her entry is followed by an argument against Democrats and Liberals. You can look at religious practices and perspectives between Liberals and Conservatives by clicking here & here. Whether or not that was the author’s intention, I make no judgment, but the interpretation is there. But, Christians aren’t called to choose between liberal or conservative, either, so I don’t feel that the title is fitting to the context, and nor do I feel that an explanation has been given.
Why, then, should all Christians be conservatives? I don’t know, and I thoroughly disagree that all Christians should choose only one side of the political spectrum. To simply relegate your entire political ideology into one rather narrow mindset does no one justice. And just to put that into perspective, where would we be today if everyone who classified themselves as Christians maintained a conservative perspective? Given that conservatism is loosely defined as someone who holds traditional attitudes and values is further adverse to change or innovation, especially when it relates to politics, or religion. Regardless of the fact that conservative is synonymous with Tory, just think about that for a moment. If everyone was adverse to change, and innovation, we might very well be toasting every night and saying ”God save the queen”. Women might still not be able to vote, nor would blacks, or Hispanics. Communists would still be persecuted. Slavery would still be legal. Children would still be able to become married between the ages of 12 and 13. Labor laws would be non-existent which means that you might be working 12 to 16 hours a day for less than half of what you make today. Kiss minimum wage goodbye, and you can also kiss the safety standards goodbye as well – those are all expenses that corporations face.
The point is, change is necessary. Both to tradition, and to values. Obviously, not all traditions must change, and nor should all values, but when I hear someone proclaim to be a conservative, I must ask; What kind of conservative? To what extend are you conservative? What traditions must we maintain? What values do you speak of? Depending on certain answers I must then question why should certain values be placed above other values? Why should personal values be forced onto other folks who may not share the same values? But of course this delves into Christian Conservatism, and biblical values, etc. This country was run by folks who were conservative in many ways, and liberal in others. They were liberals, and progressives by the sole act of revolting against their King! They believed in liberty, and freedom. But they didn’t just believe in it, they demanded it, and they took it!
Their conservatism was embedded to their souls through their faiths, in their beliefs that certain rights were inalienable, that those rights should be preserved and fought for. Their conservatism carried on the same rituals that have grown and contorted and manifested over the last 6000 years. They took English law, and even after our Declaration and Ratification of our Independence and Constitution, we still applied English Law – which is an application of preserving certain values. But imagine if such conservatism lasted. But the point I wish to make, is that ideology is so much more than simply words. Words are small and ineffective manifestations to express beliefs, emotions, and opinion on matters that words do no justice. To relegate Christianity to one political spectrum does nothing more than polarize even more so than it should be – such polarization is exacerbating, and unnecessary.
So, as a rebuttal, I suggest quite the opposite. I believe that Christians should not relegate themselves to one narrow ideology. Be conservatives in upholding your morality, and your virtues, and your faith. Be a liberal, when it relates to other things. Change it up a bit. There’s a certain level of naivety in insisting that someone stick to one side or the other, because we as people grow, we need change, and change happened often, which invariably means that your politics will change. Many teenagers will typically be liberal, once they’re out of college they switch to conservatism, and then when they are older they revert back to the center. Don’t be so close minded to suggest that only Christians can fit within conservatism, it’s wrong.
And in conclusion, I agree with the author’s sentiments that you should ponder your own beliefs. And I must ask directly, why are you, the reader, conservative, or liberal? I will be writing another entry in due time expressly detailing why I lean in the directions that I lean on each topic. It is not enough to simply suggest that folks should lean one way or another, there must be ample explanation outside of the realms of insisting that one party – not ideology – is messing it all up.
None of what I said was meant to be a personal attack to anyone. I have spent many sleepless nights contemplating my own identity as a white male, as a liberal, as a conservative, as a person in the lower socioeconomic situation, as a person with an education. I understand my political beliefs, and I know where they stem from, and I would humbly ask everyone else to consider their own beliefs, why they have them, and to what benefit do those beliefs have, not just for you, but everyone.