Keeping the distinctions clear
Why Christian conservatism must be Christian first and last
I am an evangelical Christian. I am a political conservative. I vote Republican. Contrary to the commentariat of the more “evolved” wings of third-way evangelicalism, my life does not find its purpose in running from these categories, or boasting of their compromised fusion, nor am I embarrassed by them.
At the same time, it is necessary for me to delineate their boundaries, knowing how my faith influences my political convictions and understanding what lines I need to draw to prevent my politics from influencing my faith. Faith must always cultivate my politics, and never the reverse. The sequencing of worldview matters. Beliefs about reality have political entailments. But it is necessary for me to make important distinctions that, if not made, could lead to the sullying of faith in service to politics.
That brings me to a column written earlier in 2021 by Matthew Walther, noting the rise of so-called “Barstool Conservatives”—a label developed from the provocative personality Dave Portnoy. It is a provocative column that you should read. Walther’s main point is that there is a growing sentiment that is crude, morally libertine, but anti-woke. It is not at all synonymous with the Permanent Things of either evangelical Christianity or traditionalist conservatism. Walter argues that while the Barstoolers may be tenuous allies with traditionalist conservatism at best, the Barstoolers will always find the reflexive traditionalism of religious conservatism fringe, and well, eccentric. So be it.
A tenuous coalition may very well be the case. Perhaps there can be common cause in the project of pushing back against the suffocating auras of the looming woketopia. But here’s my point: Evangelical Christians and traditionalist conservatives should reject the idiom of Barstool Conservatism—while identifying areas of convergence.
We must be particularly vigilant about this as the offensiveness of the Left is clearer, which could create more subtle inroads of Barstool conservatism into religious conservatism. A political ecumenism that pushes back against woke lunacy but causes Christians to adopt or excuse the disposition of cruelty and licentiousness is its own compromise. This is why it’s ever so important for religious conservatism to keep their modes distinct. A subtle but gradual shift that normalizes the ethos and pathos of secular conservatism is but another manifestation of theological liberalism.
There is a broad constellation of personalities whom some may consider conservative but others simply consider anti-woke. From Douglas Murray, Dave Portnoy, and Dave Rubin to Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan, Bill Maher, Dave Chapelle—the list goes on. Not a single figure listed above would come close to meeting the criteria for membership in my local church, but they are increasingly at odds with the worst aspects of progressivism (even if perversely enabling it elsewhere).
On the one hand, we should not be surprised that traditionalist conservatives would find limited cause with these personalities. Because of my belief in common grace, I am happy to affirm the reality of a common moral understanding. On the other hand, a review of the scandalous sins these personalities not only commit, but boast in, means that Christians must resist the slow-burn of accommodation.
Christians cannot let what is functionally pagan do our work. We cannot adopt the idiom or parrot their form. Christians and conservatives ought not piggyback off the work of non-Christian secular conservatives. We must not allow evangelical political priorities to be co-opted by functional pagans simply because we share a limited set of political objectives.
I say all of this because as we trudge along in secular America, we need Christian clarity. As Matthew Rose notes in A World After Liberalism, “Right” can devolve into a host of cultural and political pathogens shorn of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, evangelical Christians and traditionalist conservatives should be clear-eyed about what this reality represents.
The times are too fraught and the debates too significant for Christians to blur these categories. Listen to their podcasts, read their books, even follow them on social media. I’m not calling for complete and total separation. I’m calling for careful discernment, intellectual honesty, and theological integrity. Under no circumstances can we take the substance and style of our convictions from the cues of a secularized worldview, and it is time for Christians to recognize this fact.
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