Playing With the Cool Kids

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An optical illusion is created by the pageantry of national political conventions. Because they serve the same organizational function as a junior high pep rally, and because politicians of the same party only occasionally take one another on seriously, the illusion is that the “Republicans” or the “Democrats” are on the same team. And I suppose they are, in a very rough cut way, but not nearly to the extent that people tend to think.

Because we don’t have a parliamentary system, it is not possible for us to develop microparties that can keep their ideological purity at a bunch of individual (and much smaller) pep rallies. The horse trading comes later, when it is time to form a government. In our system, the horse trading comes first, and this throws a bunch of people off.

In the parliamentary system, an ideologically pure party is allowed to fly their own flag, and march to their own music, and it is able to keep the resultant optics as their principal identity. When they band with another party to form a government (as they inevitably do), everyone knows that it is a provisional alliance only, one that could end at any time with a bloody knife fight in the cabinet meeting.

With our system, the political parties function the way a large denomination or a church might. The optics of an a priori unity are the big thing — as Ronald Reagan’s eleventh commandment testified. “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.” This is because — in part — our system of spoils gives the majority party a great deal of power in things like committee chairmanship. It therefore doesn’t matter that much to the Texans if some professing Republican senator from the upper right hand corner of the country is practically a socialist — he still helps push the party at large over the line.

These appearance come out to play whenever I try to explain to people that I am not a Republican, but that there are a bunch of good Republicans, and that I wish them well. I am consistently interpreted as throwing my support to the party at large. And then I am  told that “the Republicans” didn’t do diddly the last time they had control of the Senate, the House, and the White House. This is quite true. Not only am I told this, I have frequently said it myself. The Republicans didn’t.

Part of the reason they didn’t is that “the Republicans” don’t really exist. The committee chairs exist. The party leadership exists. The system of spoils exists, and men play the system — sometimes badly and sometimes well.

Let me illustrate this by generalizing one more notch up. This is also true of Americans. Americans haven’t done anything about abortion — any time they have had control of the House, the Senate, and the White House, which is all the time, they haven’t done anything to stop abortion. Americans talk a big game about human rights to other countries, and we send missionaries (and armies) to countries where abortion is still illegal, and we are doing it to spread our idea of human rights, which includes access to abortion.

But notice what I have done with this generalization. The fact that Americans haven’t done anything about this atrocity does not at all mean that the Americans (whose opposition to abortion is honest and sincere) are chumps for opposing abortion as Americans. You play cards with the hand that you are dealt. Americans who support abortion are my enemies, and Americans who are fighting it are my allies. It makes no sense for Americans to give up because they are Americans on the other side. That is why we have to fight.

Back to the Republicans. A number of the Supreme Court justices who have kept Roe alive (unlike the children) were justices appointed to the Court by Republicans. That’s bad. Some of this happened because of appointees who were more tricksy than they should have been (Souter) and some of it happened when the appointing president should have known better (O’Connor).

But if we shall blame “the Republicans” for these disasters, whom should we thank for Scalia and Thomas? There was a time when I would have included Roberts in that, but he’s not here anymore. He’s down at the crossroads, learning how to play the guitar.

So, who do we thank for Scalia and Thomas? If “the Republicans” exist in the way that the disillusioned claim, then we have to thank them. But of course what we need to do is thank the good guys fighting the good fight within the party. We don’t need to thank the bad guy Republicans at all. They are the bad guys.

So let’s come back to the point which kicked this discussion off. When a minister votes for Obama, he is not contaminating his soul. It is not a sin in that sense, it is not a sin like adultery. But he is revealing his soul — it is a sin like writing an inane letter to the editor. The overwhelming majority of the men who did this were being blown along by the zeitgeist, and they failed to understand the times and they had no notion of what Israel should do (1 Chron. 12:32). And they did this despite having a solemn responsibility to know.

Now I could envision a man voting for Obama while heartily detesting everything he stood for. I have never met such a man, but he does manage to show up in my thought experiment. Suppose a minister believed that America was under the wrath of God because of abortion, and that Obama was the culmination of this. This man wanted to hasten the day of wrath, and so he voted for Obama — when Elisha gave a positive prophecy to Hazael, he wasn’t approving of what he was going to do (2 Kings 8:1-13). If I met such a man, I would disagree with him, but he wouldn’t be showing us that pathological condition endemic to squishy evangelicals, that of desperately wanting to play with the cool kids. I wouldn’t hold that he was exhibiting the peculiar blindness of the multitudes of evangelicals who voted for Obama in the thrill of that great “wait up for me, guys!” moment.

But the fact that this thought-experiment guy isn’t being that way is small consolation. Vast crowds of evangelical ministers would still much rather be cool than righteous.

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Andrew Lohr
8 years ago

Remember to distinguish between lovingtrusting triune Jehovah so much that “cool” doesn’t matter one way or another, and being cool with oneself and/or with one’s group, or just enjoying the groovy feeling of thumbing one’s nose at the cool crowd.  (“I thank God that I alone in Israel am not as that accursed mob of republicans that knoweth not the Law…”)   Remember, Andrew.

BJ
BJ
8 years ago

I want to say that I agree with your main premise (a pastor must be aware of the political circumstances of his time) and partially agree with your basic conclusion (that voting for Obama should disqualify a minister if he fails to see how he hurt Christianity socially). I also agree with your ongoing analysis of the two parties and how we as bible-believing, socially concerned Christians should see them. Check! But I wonder what you would say to someone who would challenge your underlying premise that abortion is THE social ill (perhaps plague is better) of the day. Is… Read more »

Wesley
Wesley
8 years ago

BJ, suppose that the economic policy of Candidate “A” aids County “A” while it hurts County “B,” while the economic policy of Candidate “B” hurts County “A” but aids County “B.”  Pastors in each county don’t make abortion their single issue but rather vouch to vote on the economic issue, thus voting against each other… …perhaps uniting under the banner of eliminating the common evil of abortion as single issue voters is better policy than voting against each other for self-serving reasons (and I don’t think that voting for the economic good for your local area is selfish, but perhaps… Read more »

Wesley
Wesley
8 years ago

I should have added that Candidate “A” is pro-choice-to-murder while “B” is pro-life.

BJ
BJ
8 years ago

Wesley, Thank you for the comment. I appreciate the fact that you are willing to point out that it is not self-serving to vote for the economic interest of your local area. But it goes even further than that. These pastors in the examples I gave are not voting for their own good, but the good of their flock. How could a pastor look at his missionary planted church in Syria and declare that he has voted for John McCain (I realize the this was not the actual case, but speaking hypothetically) who wants to bomb them to Hell and… Read more »

Scott P
Scott P
8 years ago

BJ, which national party should I vote for if I want to limit the invasion of Middle Eastern countries or crony capitalism? I don’t see one. In the last national election I had a choice between the non-Christian, pro gay marriage, socialized medicine candidate and Barak Obama so I stayed home.

RFB
RFB
8 years ago

BJ, A few points: The requirement for pastoral protection for his people is legitimate, but within that there would seem to be a priority to the identity of “his people”. Without denigrating foreign missions, the first priority would seem to be those under his direct care. I personally do not think that lesser priorities can or should be met unless and until first principles are honored in full. While I am absolutely not extending the following to you in any way, the argument of “foreign involvement” while seeming substantive, is a type of a straw man. How can one love… Read more »

BJ
BJ
8 years ago

Scott, RFB, Thanks for the responses. Scott, touche. There is always the libertarian candidate, I guess. I supported Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012. At least he was serious about getting out of the middle east. I think his son is serious as well, but we will see how that plays out. RFB, I don’t want to make it seem like I don’t see the gravity of what I would call a genocide on children. I do. I get it. My only point that I wanted to make was that in some circumstances, a pastor who is not dealing with… Read more »

Mitch Turner
Mitch Turner
8 years ago

Doug, it appears you are going far afield to avoid applying the central point you started with to ministers who support evildoers who happen to have an R next to their name.  Your political theory discussion is nice, some of it very helpful, other parts not.  But beside the point.  Obama’s stated position is to continue the killing of babies.  You say voting for him, given that, disqualifies a minister.  OK so far.  McCain’s (and Bush’s and Romney’s) stated position was also to continue the killing of babies, and of course Bush and McCain had track records of sending hundreds… Read more »

Mitch Turner
Mitch Turner
8 years ago

Why is voting for an evildoer not a sin?  (Putting a second comment in because we can’t seem to format our comments much to break up paragraphs.).  You say it’s not a sin like adultery.  As I read the Confession and Catechisms, I see them carefully implicating not only the person who kills another, but the one who aids and abets.  A vote is not just a statement of opinion or “revealing his soul”.  It is the expenditure of political currency, without which the elected candidate cannot get elected or do the evil he intends to do while governing.  If… Read more »

JDM
JDM
8 years ago

It seems to me that a lot of the posts that disagree with Doug track along the lines of the “it’s complicated” argument. Some more eloquently some more tediously. I do not believe I have ready any of those posters articulate what they think should be done, or what standard should be held up, instead. ————————-> I say this because it is rather obvious that this is indeed a complicated issue, so how does pointing that fact out over and over again help anybody? Is the point that individual’s cannot/should not be held accountable for political decisions/actions because politics are… Read more »

Matt
Matt
8 years ago

BJ, which national party should I vote for if I want to limit the invasion of Middle Eastern countries or crony capitalism?   The Democrats.  If you think that Iraq would have happened under a Gore presidency, you are kidding yourself.  If you think that Obama is just as likely to war with Iran as McCain or Romney would have been, then you aren’t paying attention.  The Ds aren’t a whole lot better about crony capitalism, but at least they talk about it.  No the Ds aren’t ideologically pure on either matter, but then the Rs aren’t ideologically pure on… Read more »

Wesley
Wesley
8 years ago

Do people bring up the level of warmongering of either party as an issue more important than abortion because of the tacit assumption that adult soldiers are more “human” than pre-born children?
I’m not trying to assume malice by anyone, but I’m just wondering if that’s the premise.