Legislating Morality: Part 1
The awkward marriage between Christianity and conservatism
(Note: when I started this blog, I promised I’d keep it apolitical. This post does not take a side, but rather aims to identify inconsistencies in reasoning that should provide voters pause before deciding which candidate to support.)
I don’t need to tell you it’s election season in the United States – alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, it dominates news cycles worldwide (as it is wont to do).
This isn’t new of course. Every four years, we see the same dichotomies laid out before us: right vs. left, rich vs. poor, the 1% vs. the common man, and so on.
One that I’ve been thinking about in recent times is Christians vs. the rest (a group that includes individuals from other religious traditions and non-religious people too). It is at the very least an open secret that Western conservatism and Christianity are inextricably linked.
A shifting culture
It’s no secret that Western culture is changing. Advances in technology and science, as well as widespread immigration, are driving a shift from a culture rooted very much in Christian ideals to one that is becoming increasingly post-Christian.
Alarm bells have been ringing within Christian communities for years. Proverbs 14:34 is a verse oft-quoted by Christian leaders as they try to explain why we must do all we can to preserve a Christian culture.
“Righteousness exalts a nation,Proverbs 14:34 [NASB]
But sin is a disgrace to any people.”
Liberalism and Christianity
Liberal movements over the past decades have fought valiantly to break down barriers and establish equality across the board. Christians have welcomed these changes (and in many cases have been driving change at the forefront) – the Civil Rights movement is a prime example.
However, some of the more recent causes championed by liberal movements (most notably LGBTQI+ issues, abortion and euthanasia) have drawn staunch opposition from Christians. Such issues appear (on face value) to be in opposition to Christian beliefs, and the Christian community certainly believes this to be so.
I personally believe these key issues have been responsible for the sharp divide between Christianity and liberalism, leading to the marriage of Christianity and conservatism. This has led to the rise of the single-issue voter.
With the legalisation and widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage, many Christians see a pro-life stance on abortion and euthanasia as the last bastions of Christian values in today’s post-Christian world. With Proverbs 14:34 in mind, many feel compelled to vote for the party that upholds these values.
I understand this position – indeed, abortion is one of the (very) few political issues I care deeply about.
As such, Christians the world over have gravitated towards conservatism, because conservative parties are the ones that tend to uphold a pro-life perspective.
Voting for “Christian values” – in name or substance?
However, there is a glaring problem with this position. The highly polarised two-party nature of modern politics means that staking your entire political identity on a single issue forces you to either defend or ignore the less than ideal aspects of your side’s positions.
Consider the American conservative movement’s opposition to socialised healthcare. As an Australian, I’m incredibly grateful that the majority of my healthcare is government subsidised – nobody in my family has had to foot a hefty bill for any care we’ve received through the public system.
I’m not going to go into the details here, but there’s been plenty of analysis of the American system that reveals the benefits of pursuing a publicly-funded system (see the links at the bottom of this post).
Welfare and Social Security
Consider also the failure to place social security/welfare payments at a liveable rate. In Australia, the standard payment rate for JobSeeker (the main unemployment benefit) is a touch under $600AUD a fortnight for someone who is single. It’s clear that this isn’t enough to live off. I understand the hesitance to raise this figure – the public obviously don’t want a group of people living comfortable lives on taxpayers’ money. Yet it’s not clear that this would be the case – many commentators believe that the majority of people receiving unemployment benefits are indeed seeking gainful employment. I’ve included plenty of links below that illustrate this point, including an article discussing recent research.
I would argue that even doubling the payment would go a long way to helping struggling people cope with an ever-increasing cost of living while they look for work.
(Please note that this criticism probably pertains to both sides of the political aisle, not just the conservatives. My point here is more that Christians who view welfare recipients in this way while voting pro-life due to their religious values are inconsistent at best.)
Consistent with the Bible?
A few Bible verses come to mind when thinking about both these issues. Consider Proverbs 31:8-9:
“Open your mouth for the mute,Proverbs 31:8-9 [NASB]
For the rights of all the unfortunate.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.”
I could list many more but I think this verse captures God’s heart for the marginalised. As His ambassadors on Earth, our responsibility is to embody His love; this is a key way we can do that.
God’s heart obviously extends beyond healthcare and welfare – the orphaned, the widowed, the minority and the refugee are all encapsulated within His command to love.
Of course, the aforementioned conservative stances provide cause for the liberal one-liner (loosely paraphrased here, there are a number of variations):
“Conservatives are pro-life when the child is in the womb, but not once the child has been born.”