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No babies at the barstool?

Christians should be wary of any tight co-belligerency with anti-woke libertines

Dave Portnoy attends a party in Montauk, N.Y., with Silvana Mojica on July 17, 2021. Photo by Scott Roth/Invision/Associated Press

No babies at the barstool?
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A recent Politico piece highlighted tensions between so-called “barstool conservatives” and traditional conservatives for control of the Republican Party. The term “barstool conservatives” was originally coined by Matthew Walter in The Week. Most recently, they are the subject of a widely discussed New York Times Magazine cover article by conservative writer Nate Hochman.

This new conservative cohort, identified by Walter as the “future of the conservative movement,” is characterized by a kind of crude resistance to the increasingly fundamentalist dogmas of the far left as expressed in corporate boardrooms, public schools, and across pop culture. Yet, as Politico points out, when the Supreme Court issued its landmark reversal of Roe v. Wade, these newfound converts were not joining others on the right in celebrating, but instead were either silent or lamented the court’s ruling.

Witness Dave Portnoy, founder of Barstool sports, where the erstwhile movement seems to get its name. He issued a response that could have been ghostwritten by NARAL: 

“We are literally going backwards in time. It makes no sense how anyone thinks it’s their right to tell a woman what to do with her body. I just don’t get it. … At what point do you look at the Constitution and say, hey this was written by people who had slaves, and maybe not everything is exactly to a tee in the Constitution?”

Politico also mused about this cohort as the future of the right, seemingly wish-casting it into existence. “Conservative thought leaders now find themselves at the same crossroads liberals once did: What price are they willing to pay—what are they willing to sacrifice, or excuse—to keep such fickle, secular, Portnoy-like independent voters in the fold?” But while there may be some issues of agreement, it’s unlikely that the GOP is going to abandon its commitment to the pro-life cause anytime soon. Notably missing from the Politico piece was input from female pro-life leaders who have built large voting constituencies and strong alliances with conservatives in positions of power.

True conservatism, at its heart, seeks to conserve the good, which is not limited to, but must include, the dignity of the unborn and the goodness of the nuclear family.

But even if barstool conservatives are ascendant in an age that rewards vulgarity, Christian conservatives should be wary of co-belligerence with them. True conservatism, at its heart, seeks to conserve the good, which is not limited to, but must include, the dignity of the unborn and the goodness of the nuclear family. Consider Dave Portnoy himself, the so-called unofficial leader of this frat boy movement of “barschool” conservatives. He not only advocates a libertine sexual ethic but holds to a pro-abortion position that underwrites it. Portnoy’s contrarian anti-wokeness shouldn’t elevate him as the next William F. Buckley. Conservatives are anti-woke, but some of the anti-woke are not conservatives.

Political coalitions are always eclectic, a gathering of multiple interest groups focused on a political goal or elected office. In a fallen world, politics is always messy. Still, when it comes to those whom Christians might invest credibility or anoint as movement leaders, we should be more circumspect about movements that don’t share the core ideas that animate our involvement in the public square. The sanctity of life and the goodness of the family are not mere inconveniences to throw off in pursuit of power.

My friend and fellow WORLD columnist Andrew Walker issued a recent warning from a piece that made it into Hochman’s article:

“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.”

I doubt that Dave Portnoy is the future of the conservative movement, but even if he were, social conservatives should be wary. We can’t allow abortion-supporting, family re-defining anti-woke party-bros to be the driving ethos of our Christian public witness. If that ever happens, our Christian witness will cease to be Christian. So while we might find some overlapping political adversaries, and we might find ourselves nodding at times in agreement, we should be wary about a tight co-belligerence, as long as unborn babies are not fully welcomed and protected at the barstool.

Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a bestselling author of several books, including The Original Jesus, The Dignity Revolution, The Characters of Christmas, The Characters of Easter, and A Way With Words. He is also the host of a popular weekly podcast, The Way Home. Dan holds a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from Dayspring Bible College, has studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Angela have four children.

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