Matthew Lee Anderson’s Four Theses on Social Conservatism (Plus Two)

Over at Mere Orthodoxy, Matthew Lee Anderson has been working through four theses on what the social conservative movement can do to bridge the gap between its older generation and the younger one:

1. “My first thesis is that social conservatives are entering a time for sowing new cultural seeds rather than reaping their cultural fruits.  As folks have recently pointed out, you can’t fight a culture war if you haven’t got a culture.  And by and large, social conservatives haven’t got much in that department to pass along to the children.  What they do have has been cobbled together by imitating mainstream America and borrowing from Nashville.  The net effect is that social conservatives are trying, desperately, to reap legal fruit despite neglecting the difficult work of sowing and nurturing cultural seeds.” —To Sow or to Reap: Four Theses on Social Conservatism (#1)

2. “For social conservatism to thrive, it needs to end its hostility toward elite institutions that are currently opposed to it.” —End the Hostilities Against Elites: Four Theses on Social Conservatism (#2)

3. “If the point of our efforts is winning, then questioning our own presuppositions is out of bounds.  That may be fine for a while, and it may raise more money and ensure that folks are on the team, but eventually intellectual stagnation will set in.  It has to:  the only way to avoid it is to question our fundamental commitments even while we are holding on to them.” —Recover Intellectual Creativity: Four Theses on Social Conservatism (#3)

4. “My final thesis, then, is that the confidence of social conservatives comes when we have the integrity within our own movement on the causes that we care about.” —Recovering our Confidence: Four Theses on Social Conservatism (#4)

A hearty amen to all of this. MLA’s theses are all valid and important for the movement to consider. If social conservatism is to remain a relevant force in society, it needs to go through a dramatic change, and Anderson is one of those in the younger generation who is doing the hard work of sorting through what needs to change. I would like to offer two more theses, and one major criticism.

First, the criticism: Why on earth would you only come up with four theses? If you stayed at three you could at least have justified it on religious grounds (the Trinity and all that), if you added one you could have been at the much more rational and aesthetically pleasing five, but four? It smacks of laziness.

My two additions:

5. Social conservatives must separate themselves from the rising conspiratorial, sensationalistic, fear-mongering, hurtful, Islamophobia. The Family Research Council, American Center for Law & Justice, and the Thomas More Law Center have all adopted platforms or made indications that creeping shariah and Islam is one of the greatest threats to our country. While I certainly do not want to downplay the very real threat radical Islam presents to the world, much of the noise surrounding Islam in the US–particularly among conservatives–is premised on misinformation, anti-immigrant sentiment, and racism (Arabs) and is supported by a highly deceptive network of figures who make a living off of stirring up ill will towards Muslims.

My fear is that if the social conservatives continue to side with these anti-Muslim extremists, they will open the door to restricting our religious liberties by restricting those of Muslims, inspire more hatred of the West and Christians by Muslims, deeply wound the Christian witness to the world, and hurt our Muslim neighbors. I suspect that conflicts between western nations and Christians, and Middle Eastern nations and Muslims will only intensify in the coming years. How the Church deals with these conflicts will help to determine the witness of the Church, and currently, among some of the most influential Christian political organizations, the trend is towards extreme and unjustified hostility.

If I have the opportunity, I hope to write a feature on this trend for CaPC; it’s quite fascinating, troubling, and relevant.

6. In order to regain credibility, there needs to be a dramatic and thorough change in leadership and rhetoric among the flagship Christian political organizations and groups.

The best sign of this kind of change that I have witnessed is the retirement of Richard Land from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) this year. Land’s rhetoric and leadership were a liability to the ERLC (see: Citizenship Confusion: The SBC’s Richard Land and Charges of Politicizing Trayvon for examples of some of his unethical and foolish statements), and with his removal, there is the potential for the commission to provide a new image for the SBC’s public, cultural, and political engagement.

However, during this same year, I’ve witnessed many other unethical, deceptive, and harmful messages from other major Christian political organizations. I don’t have the time or space to call any of these groups out here, and I don’t think they necessarily need to remove their current leaders; however, I do quite firmly believe that if social conservatives (among whom I’d like to identify myself) wish to regain credibility, they need to be a light to the world, not just in the content of their message, but also in the form it takes. And that will require many current leaders to change their approach and rhetoric.

Anyway, Anderson’s theses–despite their odd, even number–are better than mine, so go read them.

About Alan Noble

(Co-Founder/Editor/Columnist) is a part-time lecturer at Baylor University. He received his PhD in Contemporary American Literature from Baylor, writing on manifestations of transcendence in 20th Century American Lit. He and his family attend Redeemer Waco, a PCA church. Alan's passion is studying how believers can be a faithful presence in culture to the glory of God and the edification of others. In addition to editing, Alan writes his column, Citizenship Confusion for CaPC.

---Follow Alan on Twitter @TheAlanNoble and on Facebook.

---For questions, comments, or interest in speaking engagements please email me at noble.noneuclidean [at] gmail [dot] com.


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