Faith and politics: when it matters, when it doesn't

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Here are a couple of interesting items on the intersection between faith and politics.

On RedState, Erick Erickson, a political consultant in Georgia, has an explanation for the defeat of Ralph Reed and an evangelical legislative candidate in Tuesday's Georgia Republican primaries, and it's not that voters are rejecting religious values:

Ralph Reed and Kay Goodwin lost, not because they were the evangelical candidate, but because they were poseurs....

For some reason, there are always candidates who think that to run as a social conservative they have to play up to evangelicals on issues that only evangelicals care about. They rally the faithful and pack the churches. But in doing this they expose their achilles heel.

All an opponent has to do is cast reasonable doubt on the character of the evangelical candidate and that candidate's base will stay home. You convince a strong Christian that his preferred candidate has serious character flaws and the Christian is not going to vote for a man shown to be of morally poor character. And that's what happened in Georgia.

Erickson quotes Peggy Noonan's Wall Street Journal column: "Is [Ralph Reed] a Christian who went into politics, or a politician who went into Christianity?"

Erickson's advice:

The moral of all of this for an evangelical running for office is to run as a conservative, not an evangelical. Talk about conservative issues and let your values shine through. Be humble and don't make your values the issue. After all, in a race of multiple conservatives, it is a lot easier to tear down the guy who is running as the super Christian than it is to out Christian him.

Here's the context of that Peggy Noonan quote, and a bit more:

I always thought the question about Mr. Reed is: Is he a Christian who went into politics, or a politician who went into Christianity? Was he sincere and driven by a desire to have a positive impact on public policy, or a mover driven by a desire to get a piece of the action as American Christians, disaffected from a Democratic Party that had grown wildly insensitive to, and in fact disdainful of, their values, started to become a force in the Republican Party? Maybe one or the other, maybe both, maybe both but to different degrees....

When I read some of the emails he'd sent to lobbyist friends--"I need some corporations, I need some moolah," that kind of thing--I thought: Ick. This is a man suffering from a case of advanced insiderism. This is a guy who thinks it's cool to be cynical.

Anyway, his defeat this week came at the hands not of "them," of the left, but of conservative voters on the ground in Georgia. His loss seems to me another sign of one of those quiet changing of the guards in professional politics. Quietly an older generation recedes, quietly a newer one rises.

Good. We need new.

Not sure why, but Reed has always given me the creeps from his initial emergence as head of the Christian Coalition. My respect for him grew during his service as Georgia Republican Party chairman. He put himself in the background in 2002 and used his organizational skills to mobilize the grass roots. As a result, Republicans won the legislature and several statewide races, some that Republicans hadn't won since Reconstruction. What he did in Georgia became a model for the national Republican get-out-the-vote effort in 2004. In Oklahoma, it won all 77 counties for Bush and swept Tom Coburn into the Senate with a commanding margin.

As impressive as he is as a strategist, Reed doesn't come across well as a person. There's not even the kind of sarcastic wit that humanized Bob Dole. I'm not surprised Georgia voters passed him by.

Now for a bigger-picture lok at the intersection between faith and politics: Last weekend over at Junkyard Blog, See-Dubya posted a brilliant piece explaining the similar outlooks of traditional Christianity and modern American conservatism:

One of the greatest things about Christianity—one of its most powerful, if most cynical and unappealing, insights—is the fallen nature of man. This is, I think, one of the reasons for its worldly success: most people can understand and acknowledge that there is an evil and selfish element in even the most saintly of us.

This is one reason Christianity and modern American-style conservatism are so closely related. Both reject the notion that humans may perfect themselves. The first sin in the Garden was committed on the false promise that “ye shall be as gods”; but likewise the false promise of Marxism was that we might pull ourselves by our own bootstraps out of misery and into a terrestrial paradise. Millions and millions of deaths later, we see that’s not the case and that it was hubris to think that we could ignore those realistic assessments of human nature offered by Christianity—and by Chesterton, and by public-choice economics. The safest bet is that people will do what is in their interest. Anything else, any act of kindness or virtue, is a mitzvah, but it’s nothing to bet the farm on, or build a society on.

If you have always depended on the kindness of strangers, you have probably lived a miserable life.

He goes on to say that there are those within Christianity -- in the liberal denominations, but also in evangelicalism and Catholicism -- who want to move away from the centrality of man's depravity and need for divine redemption, not a self-improvement program. He explains why these intramural Christian debates should matter even to people who aren't Christians:

...[W]ithout a notion that redemption of our flawed natures is the exclusive province of God, then a license is granted for unlimited social experimentation in pursuit of the perfection of man.

Speaking only as a political commentator, this is a naive and dangerous direction for the largest religion in the most powerful nation in the world to take. Speaking as a Christian, it’s blasphemous.

It was hard not to quote the whole thing -- I left out some very pithy lines -- so go read the whole thing.


W. Author Profile Page said:

It doesn't take a genius to figure out why Reed lost. It's because he was implicated in the Jack Abramoff lobbying/corruption/bribery scandal. It's the, ahem, elephant in the GOP's room.

Couple that with his trumpeted Christian leanings, and voters saw not only a compromised candidate, but a hypocritical compromised candidate.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

You wrote a piece several months ago regarding what Christians brought to the table in politics. I believe it was in regard to Mr. Medlock and his run for Mayor. It was a very good piece, and appropriate re-read here.

Greed, a lust for power and Christianity don't mix. Christians should be bringing hope and the desire to do the right thing in every endeavor. Its always evident in one's demeanor which thing one is going after.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

It was in the Urban Tulsan:

"Of Faith and Political Courage"

a Profound explanation.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 20, 2006 11:04 PM.

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