Life in the Marketplace of Ideas
"An Awakening of Conservative Christians": Rick Santorum on Faith and Politics
You're not only a politician but also a student of political history. Progressive Christians like Jim Wallis often allege that their conservative brethren only care about abortion, homosexuality and perhaps pornography. Is that an accurate characterization of the Religious Right that you knew, or was there also a broader view of social transformation?
It's not that conservative Christians don't care about those other things. It's that they don't see the government as the operational force behind them. That's a very important distinction.
If you look at conservative Christians in Congress, many of them give financially or volunteer support for a lot of things that help their fellow men and their communities. You don't necessarily find that on the other side of the aisle. They tend not to be charitable givers, volunteers, or to be involved in community organizations.
This is a reflection of how we understand the Lord's call for us to take care of those who are in need in our society. Conservative Christians generally believe that responsibility should not be farmed out to the government. It has to be personal. It's best for those in need, and for those providing for those in need, when people take personal responsibility. It's not: "I pay my taxes and therefore I don't have to care for my brother." It's: "I pay less taxes so I can have the opportunity, and fulfill the obligation, to better care for my brother." So I find it unfair to claim that there is no genuine concern amongst conservative Christians just because they're not advocating for increased government roles in caring for the least among us. That's a false measure.
If there is a legitimate criticism of Christian conservatives on this score, it's that, because of the mindset I described, they choose not to get involved in improving the delivery system the government has in place. The attitude can be, "Let's just get rid of it." But there are things we cannot get rid of right away, perhaps ever. So, isn't it better to engage in the discussion on how we can change those systems to work better, and work in a manner more consistent with the overall theme of having government do less and people do more?
That's why I was actively involved in the debate over the Welfare Reform Act. Some conservative Christian groups—but only very few—were actively involved. Most stood on the outside and opposed it, rather than getting involved, getting into the weeds.
The Tea Party movement has been accused of everything from racism to bigotry, and some pointed to the Restoring Honor rally and said the Tea Party reflected a new religious zealotry. Are conservative Christians hyper-politicized?
Oh, I wish they were! No, if anything, I think conservative Christians have been hypo-politicized. Hopefully, what we're seeing here is just an awakening of conservative Christians to participate in politics as much as the rest of society does.
There's something endemic in the orthodox Christian believing mindset that suggests we should just pray and ask God to handle our social problems—a tendency not to take responsibility for faith and works as opposed to pure faith alone. A lot of Christians tend to burrow in and pretend they have no role to play or no responsibility to participate. I think that's an inaccurate interpretation of the gospel. We are seeing people wake up and realize that, yes, you should continue to pray, but we also live in the world not yet in the kingdom. God has a role for you to play in this world as well as the next.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.