In the aftermath of this post on Wednesday, a discussion broke out on Twitter, the center of which was helpful. I want to thank both Joe Carter and Justin Taylor for engaging with the piece, and I hope that this post will help bring more clarity to the situation. I participated in those threads, but it is sometimes different to go back and reassemble what everybody said. In addition, one friend wrote me privately with some related questions, and so perhaps I can state a few things in one place (here) that will keep the focus where it needs to be.
Of course, keep in mind that the trolls were also out in force, flinging various insights across this cyber monkey cage of ours. We do our best to ignore them, and to keep the discussion between the principals.
Remember the Central Point
Joe Carter ought not to have written as carelessly as he did. To admonish rank and file Christians for (unwittingly) using a label like cultural Marxism just because it is also used by kinists and anti-Semitic activists is an implied smear on those Christian leaders who have argued for and shown that there really has been a Gramscian strategy in play, and a quite successful one to boot. This charge from Joe either places them in the ranks of the ignorant or the ranks of the insidious. At best, Joe should apologize for the article. At second best, he should walk it back. As it stands, his article is truly offensive.
One Sense of Right and Left
Our common metaphor of “right wing” and “left wing” comes from the seating arrangements in the French legislative assembly after their revolution. The fire-eaters sat on the left side while the more moderate revolutionaries sat on the right—but they were all revolutionaries. This set-up continues down to the present day. We have left-wingers who want to nationalize health care, for example, which means they want socialized medicine. We have secular right-wingers who oppose that proposal, but have no problem with the government running the schools—socialized education. They oppose the government mangling our bodies, but are supportive when the government mangles our minds. These conservatives are simply moderate revolutionaries—advocates of increasing statist control, provided everything stays in slow motion.
When we are referring to this division of right and left, I have no problem with a Christian who decries the whole left/right model—provided that in his hand he is holding a full-orbed platform of what the gospel and biblical law require of every civic order. If he does not have such platform in hand, if he thinks there are stretches of “neutrality,” or that Jesus wants us to have a “naked public square,” then all he is doing is stepping aside for the leftists, who will always fill any available vacuum.
This maneuver—that of leaving civic space available for rent—is why Robert Conquest’s second law applies. It explains why The Gospel Coalition has been moving steadily left. I have no use for the secular or libertarian right, although I may find myself in the position of cobelligerent with them on this issue or that one.
On the Colloquial Right
At the same time, there is a common usage of right wing that we all understand, or should understand. Suppose someone does not want to have a seat anywhere in the French revolutionary assembly, and suppose further he has studied numerous issues with an open Bible, an open heart, and an open mind. And let us suppose that, in the main, he has done a responsible job on these particular issues. One day he is getting acquainted with a new neighbor, who has asked him about his politics. He replies that he doesn’t call himself “right wing” or “left wing,” but that he has decided views on a number of political issues, which in turn he grounds in Scripture. So his neighbor asks if he can ask him a series of political questions, rapid fire style. Sure.
Are you pro-life? Yes.
Do you think deficit spending is immoral? Yes.
Do you support the right of citizens to keep and bear arms? Yes.
Are you opposed to same-sex homosexual unions? Yes.
Do you believe the husband is the head of the home? Yes.
Do you believe that women should be excluded from ministerial office in the church? Yes.
Should judges and juries in criminal cases be color blind with regard to the race of the defendant? Yes.
Did you vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election? No.
Were you happy that Hillary lost? Yes.
Do you think America should have a strong military? Yes.
Do you believe that military should be used in projects of nation-building overseas? No.
Should women serve in combat roles in the military? No.
Should the government be bigger or smaller? Much smaller.
Do you support affirmative action in college admissions and hiring? No.
These questions could go on for quite some time, and my question is a simple one. What would an ordinary, politically-informed person call this guy? I would say he is on the right, and if he denied too stridently, I might also start to think he was dishonest.
We should not ask a high level question in the abstract. If we were to ask something like “does the Bible have relevance for our political life today?” Jim Wallis on the left and Gary North on the right could both answer that question in the affirmative. What makes us categorize them as left and right (fairly enough, as far as it does) would be the detailed exegetical answers they give.
The Leftward Drift Really is Undeniable
The Gospel Coalition did not tell us to vote for Hillary, but they platformed someone who certainly did—that guest writer and Thabiti both. See above. That all by itself should constitute evidence enough, and my thesis is confirmed. But there is plenty more.
I am currently reviewing Eric Mason’s new book Woke Church. Applying Joe Carter’s strict standard here, that of not using terms that are in common currency among anti-Semites, this should be problematic, right? And quite apart from the Jewish angle, what are the connotations of the word woke generally? It is a current term of the left. Why should any believing Christian want to lumped in with the woke?
Third, as Tim Dukeman noted on Twitter, “TGC publishes Revoice Conference speakers, Revoice endorsers, Revoice board members, and the guy who says that my dad killed Martin Luther King Jr. Do we really have to pretend that TGC’s leftward drift is anything less than obvious?”
I think that really is a reasonable question, requiring a reasonable answer.
One Last Thing
If we were allowed to keep our theology in one compartment, and our political views in another, it might make sense to ask, when terms like left and right are used, whether we are talking about someone on the theological left or on the political left.
But if we are integrated thinkers, and we recognize that each person has exactly one worldview, some people achieving greater consistency and others maintaining less consistency or even contradiction, we realize that left and right should be taken as descriptive of the entire package.
So when it comes to these issues, intellectual schizophrenia must be resisted as the gravest of our temptations. If you don’t resist it as a grave temptation, the day might come when some among us might think that voting for Hillary was an evangelical duty. Far-fetched, I know.