How Evangelicals May Become Truly Conservative

In his new book From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism, historian Darryl Hart writes:

. . . modern American conservatism, as it emerged during the 1950s in the debates among traditionalists, libertarians, and anti-communists, has much to teach evangelicals and all Americans about the polity of the United States and the implications of the nation’s subsequent development from a federated republic to an international superpower. Conservative wariness about progress, efficiency, wealth, concentrated power, and mass culture is hardly reactionary but redolent with wisdom about human nature, social relations, and even the meaning of the United States . . . [J]udging evangelicals by conservative standards is fitting if born-again Protestants themselves claim to be conservative. If the assumptions and aims of evangelicals are at odds with conservatism, then concluding that born-again Protestantism is not conservative is not only fair, but correct . . . .

On the one hand, evangelicals will need to see that the way they understand morality, civil society, and the function of government is actually more compatible with the idealism of the Left than with the realism of the Right. In fact, one of the great ironies of the Religious Right is that its promotion of a biblically informed and faith-based politics cleared the way for a swath of evangelical writers who are now clearly opposed to conservatism and inclined to identify with the Left . . . .

On the other hand, if evangelicals want to be classically conservative, they will need to reconsider the way that faith relates to politics, especially within the polity of the United States. This reconsideration will involve the recovery of an older Augustinian view of the relationship between the City of God and the City of Man, in which the ultimate purposes of history are not just located in the rise and fall of empires or republics but in the church of Jesus Christ. The religious reorientation is closely related to the political transformation evangelicals will need to undergo. Rather than looking at the American nation as a divinely instituted polity to make straight the way of the Lord, evangelicals will need to take counsel from conservatives on the relative unimportance of the nation-state for securing the truly human goods of the created order. Born-again Protestants will also need to consider the ways in which the American form of government places limits on the central political institutions for the sake of human institutions that do a better job of generating real community and cultivating responsible persons. In other words, evangelicals will need to learn from conservatives that the United States is valuable less for what it says about religion than for its specific understanding of the state and the need to keep branches of government, as well as national and local authorities, in check so that the other agencies may discharge their appropriate responsibilities.

If evangelicals can come to the realization that the United States is the more superior the less it is a religious juggernaut or a military hyperpower, they may actually become truly conservative. This change of outlook will not be easy (17-18).

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One thought on “How Evangelicals May Become Truly Conservative

  1. Pingback: Combing the Net – 8/23/2011 « Honey and Locusts

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