One Last Appeal to Old Guard Conservatives
There is no satisfaction in having been able to predict a tragedy. What I saw on the horizon several weeks ago--the slow, ideological train wreck that I tried to warn evangelicals about--is now turning into a harsh reality. The divide between conservatives is growing wider and wider, and this divide is beginning to affect far more than politics.
Key figures in new guard conservatism are taking a stand against key figures old guard conservatism. Instead of dealing with our differences, owning our mistakes, apologizing, then linking arms to face a common enemy, we are pulling apart and declaring “good riddance” to our brothers and sisters.
I don’t know if it’s too late to repair this damage, but I’m going to try one last time to name what is happening in a way that bridges the gap. Then I’m going to make an appeal to lay aside what is tearing us apart so that we can work together for a greater good.
A Hillary Clinton presidency is a danger more serious than many America has faced, but conservatives must also acknowledge that we are being attacked on at least two fronts at present. If we continue to stare only at the face of the dragon before us, we will be undone.
Anthony Bradley’s October 27 essay in World Magazine is titled: “Ruptured beyond repair: Donald Trump’s destruction of the American conservative movement.” Bradley unpacks the deep rift that has been growing among Christians as God’s name has been used to ask for political support for Trump, then he states: “Evangelical and conservative leaders who were once allies in the culture war to promote moral, social, and political righteousness in America are now adversaries and enemies.” (https://world.wng.org/2016/10/ruptured_beyond_repair)
I think Bradley has overstated the matter— or maybe I am only hoping he has. I wouldn’t be writing this essay if I felt like there were no hope for reconciliation. Still, Bradley's piece catches a spirit that is spreading like wildfire among young conservatives.
Similar sentiments have been made by David French in his essay “Trump Has Blown the Evangelical Age Gap Wide Open.” My heart broke reading this piece, for French writes like a young man reaching out to grab an old man who is drowning, sinking under water.
French makes his appeal by reminding older, conservative evangelicals of the pressures that were once upon them to conform to progressive theology in their churches. In the 70’s-90’s, a remnant of conservatives held to orthodoxy despite progressive appeals to smooth hard teachings over and lean toward cultural relevance. French writes, “With liberal elites demanding conformity to progressivism, [those who conformed to culture] made their churches more progressive. And their churches started to die. The churches that thrived refused to bend.” Now younger evangelicals feel a similar test is upon them, though we are being asked to smooth over our political theology instead of our ecclesiology. (Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/441515/donald-trump-evangelical-age-gap)
Likewise, Rod Dreher’s, “The Religious Right: A Eulogy” in The American Conservative explains the heart-wrenching decisions evangelicals are making to hold to their convictions against the pressures of the political facet of the Religious Right. Dreher unpacks Russell Moore’s passionate address to First Things’s Erasamus Lecture. This is a painful but vital read, explaining how young evangelicals are being impacted by election 2016. As pro-Trump rhetoric intensifies, convictions are hardening, and the schism between many conservatives is growing wider.
Meanwhile, a spiritual transformation is occurring in many young evangelicals during election 2016; skins are being shed, and a new plan for impacting a post-Christian culture with the gospel is taking root— a plan that looks wholly different from evangelistic/political strategies of the 1980’s-2000’s (http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/the-religious-right-a-eulogy/). So while the old guard is holding fast to 30-year-old strategies of the Christian Coalition, the second wave of conservatism is breaking off and declaring, “No. The cost is too great.”
Despite dismissive accusations of the old guard, these new evangelicals are not liberals; in fact, many feel that they are more conservative than their older counterparts. The difference is one of values. New evangelicals do not simply worry if the GOP will survive this election but whether the gospel will survive it. They do not so much fear for the future of a nation (which is dear to them) as they do for the purity of the message of their God.
While “Christian” Trump-fury abusively dismisses those conservatives who dare stand against whatever preposterous excuses are made to win political power (http://www.nationalreview.com/article/441319/donald-trump-alt-right-internet-abuse-never-trump-movement), the younger generation is saying at last, “So be it. We will go another way.”
This divide is what I feared weeks ago. This is exactly what I have been trying to warn men like Eric Metaxas, Dobson, Huckabee, and Carson about. This is why I have appealed to them on their social media pages, asking them to stop their bellowing for a moment, to step away from the daily FOX News fear frenzy and to have sober, humble conversations with young, conservative believers instead of letting a single political race dominate every aspect of decision making. This is why I have asked them to hold fast to truth and to extend brotherly respect to their fellow conservatives instead of resorting to intimidation and name calling.
Had a more sober approach been taken, young evangelicals might have linked arms with them during this election. However, pressures inflicted by the Religious Right have passed through exaggeration, through hyperbole, into outright propaganda. Articles stating that Trump is “God’s solution” for saving America, articles grasping at Old Testament stories trying to associate Trump with everyone from Jesus, to Samson, to David have felt not just bizarre but also blasphemous.
The infamous photograph of Jerry Fallwell Jr. smiling next to Donald Trump while Trump’s Playboy cover hangs on the wall behind has become the iconic representation of old guard morality. “Whatever we have to say to win, we will say it. However far we have to bend to win, we will bend. We will sacrifice everything for our politics.”
Lifelong, younger conservative voters who would have given their lives three years ago to keep socialism out of America now feel like they are being asked to sign a contract with the devil himself. And while leaders of the old guard have barked at the hesitant to “get over their spoiled, elite morality and get in the big game,” their insults, their threats, and their severity have driven off a massive segment of the conservative population that is simply unwilling to join in the frenzy. At this point, I'm not sure we will ever get those younger voters back again.
This might not be pleasant news, but it is reality. Winning at all costs has cost far more than old conservatism seems to realize. So many bridges have been burned in the past few months.
There are several ways to differentiate between conservatism and progressivism, but one standard tends to evaluate each group’s value of the past. Typically, conservatives value the thoughts and examples of the past while progressives tend to value developing new ideas. This is the main reason why I am a conservative. I value old wisdom as an essential context for innovation.
But in recent years, conservatism has stepped beyond valuing the past to reshaping it. While we have accused liberals of “revisionist history,” we have committed some of the same errors ourselves. A strange sort of nationalism has grown which attempts to take on the ethos of our forefathers while morphing the past to fit present needs.
Perhaps the best way to explain how this is happening can be found in one example--the work of David Barton, graduate of Oral Roberts University who holds a degree in Christian Education. Barton is not a trained historian, and yet he has attempted to create materials explaining America’s faith heritage for a conservative audience.
It has been painful to watch conservative historians (not liberal historians) step in and critique Barton for his many inaccuracies. Conservative websites like Chuck Colson’s BreakPoint have admitted that Barton gave us what we wanted, and so we were vulnerable to adopting his narrative. (http://www.colsoncenter.org/features-columns/breakpoint-columns/entry/2/20123/0). Conservative publisher Thomas Nelson had to withdraw publication of Barton’s material because his work was simply not factual.
Young conservatives are weary from managing the social fallout of such escapades because the secular world mocks conservative Christianity as a whole for these flagrant mistakes. When NPR and the New York Times expose Barton, when the History News Network votes Barton’s book the least credible history book of the year, young conservatives have to live in the wake of the damage these things do.
In a similar vein, we have to manage the fallout of far-right political social media forwards that prove either untrue or exaggerated. Last week it was, “Hillary laughs at removal of ‘Under God’ from the pledge” or “Joe Biden tells lazy moms to get to work.” We Google these dramatized retellings of fumbles, looking for the real stories, and our hearts sink when we see how our own people are not being completely honest. When we try to make corrections for the sake of integrity, it feels impossible to speak the truth without being named a traitor. Any critique of Trump, any critique of Christianized retellings of history, any critique of a critique of the left is immediately subject to accusations of progressive attack.
I’m not sleeping well at night, watching this happen. Of course, I fear Hillary Clinton winning the Presidency. I'm not stupid. Clinton needs to be in jail, not running for the highest executive office in the land. She is the apotheosis of the corrupt politician—and this is why so few true liberals actually respect her. (Sincere liberals were mostly Sanders voters who are now making the best of what they've landed in 2016.)
But as much as I cannot bear to think of Clinton in office, for different reasons, I am also beginning to fear a Trump Presidency that costs the integrity of Conservative Christians. I would die for my country, but I will not make my faith bow to it. I have pledged allegiance to one nation under God, but I will not place my loyalty to the living God below my patriotism. The same Jesus who turned over tables in the temple--furious that what was once holy was being traded for earthly profit and security--still moves.
I know that God is gracious, but I don’t see how He could possibly bless what is happening now—and not just the travesty of abortion (the holocaust of our time), not just gender issues (the epitome of secular humanism), not just unbelieving men acting like unbelieving men (as they always have and always will)-- but the behavior of Christian men and women bowing to what is unholy out of fear. Our Jesus was always more severe on the religious hypocrites than he was on the prostitutes and the thieves.
Old guard conservatives seem to be expecting to patch whatever damage they’ve done after November 8, but I fear that it will be too late then. Victor Hugo wrote in Les Mis, “A man who has not been a relentless opponent in fair weather, when the enemy is at his peak, should keep quiet in foul when the enemy collapses. Only the man who has denounced the enemy’s success can legitimately proclaim the justice of his downfall.”
The point of action is now, these precious few days before the election. Now is when we need the old guard to demonstrate faith, integrity, character. Vote for Trump, if you feel this is the lesser path of two evils. Ask us to vote for him with you. But please begin to make this appeal without propaganda or deceit. Do so with honor and with a sober, honest assessment of every factor.
I am making this request because I disagree with the many growing voices who claim that conservatism should split. Dark forces move across our land, and common ground needs to be established. The elves and the dwarves need to learn to fight Mordor together. The conservative element of the church needs to have humble, painful conversations about idols we have collected while traveling through this foreign land, and we need to purge those from our midst.
Perhaps it is foolish to make this appeal when so much harm has already been done. But even if I am Don Quixote, as I look to November 9, November 10, November 11, and wonder what Christians might possibly be able to say to the world in the aftermath of all this destruction, I am heartsick. God, forgive us for all we have done to Your name.
So I appeal to the old guard, please read the articles I have linked above. Please take time to listen to us and respect us. Please realize that even if you have not seen what we are describing, it still exists, and it is still growing exponentially. Please stop accusing us for a couple of hours, dismissing our concerns because you have only one, gargantuan fear right now. We are not your enemies. This conversation needs to be had because we will soon need one another. We need one another already.