What Does Faith Have to do with Citizenship?

What Does Faith Have to do with Citizenship? July 1, 2016

Michael Gerson thinks evangelicals have lost their faith in signing up to support Trump (via Tracy McKenzie who agrees):

…we are seeing a group focused on the rights and privileges of their own community, rather than the welfare of others — the poor, struggling and vulnerable. Many in that room do wonderful good works. But they have reduced Christian political involvement to a narrow, special interest — and a particularly angry and unattractive one. A powerful source of passion for social justice — a faith that once motivated abolitionism and various movements for civil and human rights — has been tamed and trivialized.

Somehow, Gerson thinks that a pro-life stand escapes the evangelical propensity to engage in partisan politics:

No one, remarkably, asked Trump to explain the moral theory that has guided his gyrations on the abortion issue — from supporter of partial-birth abortion to advocate of punishment for women who have abortions. That, presumably, would have been impolite.

Is it also impolite to notice that pro-choicers hardly regard pro-lifers as loving.

But the reason for calling attention to Gerson’s op-ed is this notion that Christians in the public realm have a duty to look out more for others’ interests than their own. Selflessness is indeed a virtue and Christians are called to show love and mercy to neighbors, widows, orphans — the list goes on.

But in a society premised on the idea of self-government and in a political system that features special interests, Gerson’s call for Christians to embrace common ideals is the evangelical equivalent of being Amish. At some point, if you are going to let spiritual ideals dictate your duties as a citizen, you are going to have to opt out of a system where for starters self-interest is presumed.

For that reason, a much better guide to Trump’s appeal is Donald Devine who likens support for the Republican candidate to Brexit:

The Animal and Plant Life Inspection Service spent $4.7 million on military-type equipment, and the Food and Drug Administration was backed up by 183 armed special agents. The Environmental Protection Agency has spent $800 million since 2005 on criminal enforcement. Plants, food, and pollution must be more dangerous than they seem.

Congressional oversight is minimal. There are just too few legislators to follow too many bureaucrats in a confusing multiplicity of agencies with overlapping jurisdictions. In frustration, it has turned over many of its legislative duties to the bureaucracy. It writes vague laws that sound like they will solve problems but leave all the tough details to the agencies. There are only hundreds of laws per year but tens of thousands of regulations issued by the bureaucracy. As Competitive Enterprise Institute government-administration expert Clyde Wayne Crews notes in a new report, executive actions such as Ronald Reagan’s order for presidential review of regulations are essential but cannot take the place of congressional action.

Better legislative and presidential oversight of bureaucratic actions may help, but there simply is no integrity in the bureaucratic performance appraisal system and no incentive to change it. When everyone is rated the same, there is no real evaluation and good work is rewarded the same as bad. A similar situation existed before President Jimmy Carter worked with both parties to pass the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 to tighten the appraisal system and relate performance to pay. President Reagan implemented the new law when he came into office in 1981, but it fell apart soon after he left and remains in pieces.

Still, with all those great bureaucrats, what could go wrong?

Only the people: the polls show that a majority of Americans think pretty much like the Brits. The Pew Research Center found in 2015 that 22 percent in the U.S. say they are “angry” at the federal government; 57 percent are “frustrated,” and only 18 percent say they are “basically content.” Just 42 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of Republicans say the government does a good job of lifting people out of poverty.

Eighty-nine percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats say they can seldom, if ever, trust the federal government. Six in ten say the government needs “very major reform,” up from 37 percent in 1997. Forty percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans say that government is almost always wasteful and inefficient.

If Gerson had his way, though, evangelicals in the U.S. would trust, support, and follow the directives of the federal government and its agencies (pay, pray, obey anyone?).

This sort of moral idealism is responsible precisely for the sort of naivete that Gerson himself rues:

Chuck Colson often described how, during the Nixon administration, religious leaders (as opposed to, say, union leaders) were easily impressed and tamed by proximity to power. After Tuesday’s meeting, the Christian writer Eric Metaxas, in promoting his radio show, tweeted, “I WAS RIGHT THERE!” Why such wide-eyed reactions from some in attendance? A panting desire for affirmation rooted in feelings of inferiority? A disorienting fear of fading cultural influence? Echoes, in embracing a billionaire, of the prosperity gospel? Whatever the motivation, the public has seen a movement content with a pat on the head and a scratch under the chin.

It could be infatuation with power. Or it could be the evangelical habit of spiritualizing everything. Either politics is on the side of righteousness or it is aiding and abetting the devil. If politics is somewhere in between, a realm of life inhabited by saints and unbelievers with ends that fall well short of communion with God, then perhaps you evaluate Donald Trump realistically and notice that the large institutions of the post-World War II West are on the ropes. No amount of prayer or sanctity is going to fix that.

And they you still vote against Trump.


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