Opinion: Inconsistent? A look at evangelical conservatism
On April 20, The Pillar published an opinion piece by Editor-in-Chief Ore Obiwumi, who argued that conservative policies are inconsistent with the Bible’s teachings, and that therefore “conservative Christians are hypocrites.” Obiwumi asked me, the News Editor and an evangelical, to respond. Before I examine whether a Christian can vote conservative with integrity, I would like to point out two things.
First, Obiwumi’s sweeping statement is biased and self-refuting. To argue “conservative Christians are hypocrites,” implies that liberals are not also hypocritical at times, which undercuts her argument. Personal hypocrisy transcends ideology because all people are subject to emotion and change, and therefore at times behave in ways that are inconsistent with their stated beliefs.
This is true irrespective of ideology, but a lack of conformance thereto does not invalidate same. It merely demonstrates that people are human. Thus, the term hypocrite could rightly be leveled at both camps, and if that is so, what is the point?
Second, Obiwumi’s terms are poorly defined. “Republican” and “conservative” are wrongly used synonymously, and “conservative Christian” imputes a false homogeneity to conservative religious groups that does not exist and ignores important nuances among them.
In this piece, I will refer to conservative ideas and evangelical Christianity. Not every Republican is conservative. Donald Trump is not; maybe Glenn Beck would have backed him if he were. According to Barna Group, a research group, roughly 73 percent of Americans identify as Christian, but only 7 percent meet the criteria for belief and practice needed to be labeled evangelical.
Now, as for Obiwumi’s assertions, I cannot answer them all, but she writes, “Despite the fact that God commands us to ‘fear not’ 365 times throughout the Bible, conservatives’ vote for Trump was informed and guided by fear – fear of the changing economy, fear of immigrants, fear of Muslims.”
It is true that according to the Bible, fear is a sin. From what I can tell, over 100 “fear nots,” are in the Bible, but not 365.
So, did Christians who voted for Trump violate this command? Some did, but people can do the same thing for different reasons. How does Obiwumi know they all voted out of fear? Is there empirical evidence for that? It seems to be a straw-man argument.
While I personally can think of a few Christians I know who might have voted for Trump out of fear, I also know many who did not. Also, what about the immigrants and Muslims who voted for Trump? Asra Nomani, a former reporter who is a woman, an immigrant, and a Muslim, voted for him, as did many Cuban immigrants in Florida, according to The Washington Post and The New York Times.
Also, many evangelical conservatives did not support Trump. Albert Mohler, described by the Chicago Tribune as “an articulate voice for conservative Christianity at large,” adamantly opposed Trump, as did the evangelical editors of World Magazine. Peter Beinart in The Atlantic writes, “A Pew Research Center poll last March found that Trump trailed Ted Cruz by 15 points among Republicans who attended religious services every week.”
Obiwumi claims that Christians who vote for conservatives violate God’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” because they are “turning their backs on Syrian refugees.”
Christians are not turning their backs on refugees. Christian organizations such as World Relief, Samaritan’s Purse, and Heart for Lebanon are helping Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the United States and abroad.
Richard Fausset and Alan Blinder write in The New York Times, “at a time when conservative politicians, many with ties to Christian religious groups, have aggressively sought to keep the Syrian newcomers out of their states, it is conservative people of faith who, in many cases, are serving as their [Syrians’] indispensable support system.”
There are over 4.8 million Syrian refugees, and another 6.6 million Syrians are displaced in Syria. Though President Obama in 2016 allowed a record number refugees to enter the U.S., only 12,587 were Syrian, according to the Pew Research Center. In contrast, the U.S. took in 16,370 Congolese refugees that year. In addition, the U.S. took in only 1,682 Syrian refugees in 2015.
President Obama’s refugee policy did not significantly address the crisis. Other nations are taking in tens of thousands of refugees. Germany has accepted hundreds of thousands, and has spent over 20 billion euros doing so —well over budget, according to The Independent.
In the words of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, “There’s a limit on what the United States is able to do in terms of actually resettling refugees. We have to get at the root issue: why are people seeking to flee from Syria, from Iraq, from other places in the Middle East? It’s because they’re being hounded, and targeted, and hunted down, by murderous thugs. And so, we need to address that.”
Perhaps Republican President Trump has come closer to that than Democratic President Obama, who did not keep his own red line.
In any case, even though neither Republicans nor Democrats have done much to help refugees, Christians have.
Obiwumi says the Republican Party continues “flagrant, but usually insidious racism.” Of course, racism is evil, and Acts 17:26 says that God “made from one man every nation,” and therefore there is only one race – the human race.
So are Christians who vote for conservatives inconsistent? They would be, if Obiwumi’s claim about Republican racism were true.
Conservatives oppose affirmative action because they believe that blacks are just as capable of reaching the standards whites are held to, and that when the standards are lowered for blacks, they can be hurt because they get into academic institutions for which they are not prepared, according to political commentator Derryck Green (who is conservative and black).
Also, voter ID requirements do not target minorities, according to Green. He said European nations require voter IDs, and in the U.S., IDs are required “to drive, to fly, to buy a beer, even to purchase some cold medicines.”
Nikki Haley, the former Republican governor of South Carolina (one of the most religious states according to the Pew Research Center) and now President Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, is Indian-American. So is Hirsh Singh, a Republican candidate for New Jersey governor.
In 2016, there were Hispanic, Black, and Indian Republican presidential candidates. If conservative ideas are racist, then why would Bobby Jindal (who went to Brown University), Ben Carson, (who went to Yale University and the University of Michigan Medical School) or Ted Cruz (who went to Princeton University and Harvard Law School) advocate them?
Evangelicals work toward racial reconciliation. It is an issue passionately preached on by evangelicals like Russell Moore, John Piper, and Ken Ham.
The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest and most diverse evangelical denomination in the U.S., has experienced great racial reconciliation, as demonstrated by men such as H.B. Charles and Fred Luter.
Christians are also against racism because the Bible says that all human beings have value as God’s image-bearers. Genesis 1:27 says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
In Genesis 9:5-6, God says, “for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning . . . From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”
God instituted capital punishment for murder because people are made in His image. As God’s image-bearers, people have intrinsic value and dignity. People are precious to God.
God gives murder the highest penalty because he considers it a high offense. This is because it destroys people, who have the highest value in his creation. Jesus, God incarnate, did not die on the cross for the trees, but for those made in his image.
Thus, the death penalty affirms human dignity by responding to the seriousness of murder. Yet the Democratic platform not only advocates granting murderers life, but also denies that same right to the most innocent – the unborn.
Evangelicals recognize the implications of verses like Jeremiah 1:5, Isaiah 49:1, Exodus 21:22-25, and Psalm 139:13-16. Life in the womb matters to God. If human life is intrinsically precious, then it is precious without qualification and regardless of developmental stage.
Therefore, evangelicals believe that abortion is murder. Since murder is such a serious crime, how could an evangelical vote for a pro-choice candidate?
Finally, Obiwumi says “conservatives generally have outspoken contempt for welfare and free healthcare programs, despite Jesus’ penchant for giving to the poor and healing the sick (for free!).”
Evangelicals care for the needy. For example, Pastor Timothy Keller’s Hope For New York raises hundreds of thousands of dollars and mobilizes tens of thousands of volunteer hours to help the poor in New York City.
Jesus commanded his followers to help the poor, and he exemplified it.
Yet he never forcibly took someone else’s money to give to it to the poor as the U.S. government does. He wanted helping the poor to be individuals’ personal initiative, not an impersonal government’s forced-duty.
Jesus also never advocated using government to accomplish the Church’s job.
Writing about Arthur Brooks’ book, “Who Really Cares?”, Jonah Goldberg in National Review says, “the data indicate that not only is Joe Churchgoer nearly twice as likely as Sam Secularist to give money to charities in a given year, he will also give 100 times more money per year to charities (and 50 times more to non-religious ones).”
There is evidence that conservative economic policies help the poor more.
According to the Heritage Foundation, “greater economic freedom is also strongly correlated to overall well-being, taking into account such factors as health, education, environment, innovation, societal progress, and democratic governance.”
To increase “economic freedom,” governments can “reduce taxes, rationalize the regulatory environment, open the economy to greater competition, and fight corruption.”
According to the Heritage Foundation, the United States, along with nations such as Pakistan and El Salvador, has become less economically free.
There are also reasons to doubt whether welfare reduces poverty. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” began in 1964, yet the poverty rate today is practically the same as it was in 1967, according to the Heritage Foundation. The Democratic Party’s increasingly socialist policy proposals, exemplified in Bernie Sanders, will likely only increase poverty, as socialism has in nations such as Venezuela.
Evangelical conservatives therefore share with liberals concern for the needy. They merely disagree on what is the most effective method of helping people.
So, would it be consistent for evangelicals to support candidates whose advocating for abortion and euthanasia and fighting against the death penalty does not respect human dignity, and whose education and anti-poverty policies have proved unfruitful?
My answer is no. Conservatism may not be perfect for Christians, but it is more consistent than the alternative.