Social Conservatism Must Adapt to the 21st Century
Time to Expand the Mission
At the dawn of the 21st century, it has become abundantly clear that Social Conservatism must adapt to a completely new political and social environment. The social conservative movement, as bequeathed to us from the 1980s, is no longer adequate to the task or the culture. Changes need to occur in both the message and our method of engagement.
Let me begin by saying that those who hoped this diary would bash social conservatives or advocate that our stand on abortion and/or homosexual marriage should change will be sorely disappointed. The social conservative position on these two issues is the correct one and we are advancing on each of those fronts. The enemy has also made some gains but the war is far from over for both sides. Nor should conservatives, as some have argued, place these issues on the back burner. To lose the traditional family is to lose the basic building block of western civilization and the foundation of a prosperous economy. To allow the murder of the unborn – not to mention to fund it with federal tax dollars – is to descend into barbarism. No, the fight must continue on those issue.
What I advocate is an expansion of social conservatism- a broadening of the cultural wars. In 2013 social conservatives must craft a bold message to address a host of issues that now face the United States.
The Dignity of Work:
To modern Americans, “work” is a four letter word and something to be avoided at all cost. After all, it might get in the way of important things like Facebook and video gaming. [On a side note, does anyone else find it ironic that video games about work - Farmville, PetShop, VetClinic, etc - are more popular than the actual work they depict?] We used to laugh at people like Alfie Doolittle and Homer Simpson. Now, they have become the new normal. According to the modern mind, work is for suckers.
I grew up in a time and place where the Protestant Work Ethic was alive and well. All the men in my family worked and, when they were not working at a “job,” they worked on the farm. I grew up hoeing vegetables, raising cattle and other livestock, building fences, and cutting wood for the winter. Those are some of my fondest memories. To be trusted with an axe to de-limb a fallen tree or to hear my grandfather say well done was the mark of developing manhood. It was meant to be so.
Work brings dignity. God created man in His own image and He gave him the power to create as a reflection of that image. In Genesis 1, God gave man the task of ruling (“have dominion”) and “subduing” the earth. Building, cultivation, husbandry, the arts – all of these are a reflection of God. Every time we perform a task well – whether writing a poem or mopping a floor – we bring glory to God and dignity to ourselves. To deprive a man of work – or to pay him not to work – is to deny the very reflection of divinity within him. To demean work is to demean ourselves and deny our calling. Work is not a part of the curse resulting from the Fall of Man in Genesis 3. It is a gift from God and a natural response to our creation in God’s image.
Social conservatives must teach the dignity of work.
The Sanctity of Private Property:
Scripture teaches the sanctity of private property. Two of the Ten Commandments dealt with stealing and coveting. The moral and civil law given to Israel protected private property. And, contrary to liberal [read false] Christianity, neither Jesus nor His disciples advocated the abolishment of private property. Scripture taught the compassionate use of wealth and that the believer should consider himself a steward of all that God has given him but it never advocated the socialization and confiscation of property – no matter how noble the intentions.
Social conservatives who believe otherwise are ill informed. Theft is theft whether another person or the government does it. Taxation is acceptable and even good. But Scripture also warns about the dangers of a government intent on devouring its own people to enrich and empower the few. (See the warning to Israel about kings in 1 Samuel 8.) Any government or political party whose existence and success is based on encouraging one group of people to covet the possessions of another group, promotes evil and will eventually destroy the society it claims to serve.
Charity Begins at Home:
While it is an old bromide, it is also true. Scripture clearly teaches that the family bears responsibility for those in its midst who are the poor, the widow, and the orphan. Old Testament law placed the task at the feet of the family with institutions like the “kinsmen redeemer” and the practice of allowing the less fortunate to glean the field. The law required the younger members of the family to support the old and the more prosperous to protect the less fortunate (see Ruth and Boaz). The New Testament carried on that tradition. Even when on the cross, Jesus, as the oldest son and thus the one responsible for her care, made provision for his mother in Luke 19:26-27. Paul instructed Timothy to “Honor widows who are really widows. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God. … But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:3-4,7)
Nowhere does Scripture teach that charity is the primary duty of the state.
Those Who Do Not Work, Do Not Eat:
The Apostle Paul explicitly laid down that command in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 as part of a larger passage that warned against the dangers of idleness. Idleness, according to Paul, led to a “disorderly manner,” to people continually meddling with others, and eventually to the disruption of society. Anyone familiar with the modern inner city and the impact of unemployment and welfare on a neighborhood will recognize the validity of what Paul taught.
The command coincides with the belief in the dignity of work. In the Old Testament, those in need of assistance were not placed on the dole but instead given an opportunity to work for their food. [Even FDR preferred to pay for work rather than place people on the dole - see the alphabet soup of New Deal work programs.] Gleaning laws allowed the less fortunate to glean from a field following the initial harvest. Landowners were instructed to leave certain areas of the field for the benefit of the poor. The point is that people in need of assistance had to work to earn that assistance. Only those who were too sick, infirm, or young to care for themselves were the beneficiaries of charity without work. In those cases, it fell to the family or the community. At no point in either the Old or New Testament did God advocate a social welfare program that did not require people to work.
Modern liberalism and other utopian schemes that aspire to human perfection and promote big government sprang from the Enlightenment belief that man is a rational being who can use his reason to create a better world. The Word of God teaches the exact opposite: man is a fallen creature whose reason is corrupted by his own sin. Perfection is beyond his grasp as long as he remains in the world. Utopian schemes, according to the Christian view of man, are simply a siren song that have wrecked many a ship of state.
Since man is sinful and corruptible, limited government is a necessity. Our Founding Fathers realized the danger of too much power in the hands of one man or even a group of men. Therefore, they sought to limit the power of government. As an additional precaution, they then divided what power they had given to government among competing power centers within that government – legislative, executive, and judicial – and within a federal system.
The Progressive Movement (1890s to 1920) began to undue the precautions that theFounding Fathers had placed within the American system. Gradually they weakened the structure of federalism, decreased the power of the individual states, increased the power of the federal government, and ultimately created the imperial presidency. Social conservatives must reverse that course and resurrect the precautions that once existed. Along those lines, the distrust of the federal government and fear of a coercive state requires an armed citizenry as the final precaution against tyranny.
The power of the state is not absolute. The civil and moral law of ancient Israel put specific guidelines around the power and the authority of the state. The New Testament also limited the authority of the state. [Perhaps more on this in a later diary.]
The social conservative movement is widely known for its opposition to abortion and homosexual marriage. Yet, the problems now facing the United States go well beyond those two issue. Social conservatives must re-craft their message to present a systematic solution to these problems. Some conservative organizations – the Heritage Foundation for one – have already moved in that direct. I encourage the social conservative movement as a whole to follow their lead.