On the American right

By , 5 December 2008 6:12 pm

In a moment of folly some weeks ago I promised that I would try to deal with the vexed issue of why British evangelicals are wary of the American Republican Party. I am aware that for many American Christians this seems like a stab in the back. Aren’t Republicans the true upholders of the faith? Isn’t it a given that to be a conservative evangelical means you must support Republicans? Aren’t British evangelicals concerned about the way that the Democrats seem hellbent (possibly literally) on legalising gay ‘marriage’ and unfettered abortion. I tried to tease out some of the issues for you weeks ago and now want to make some general comments on the problem. I warn you though, it would, in reality, require a book and at least a year of research to truly do justice to the issues.

As I reminded you, for all the similarities of language, Britain and the States are very different countries. And although there is much that resonates favourably with us about the Republican Party (personal freedom and family values to take but two) there are many other things that are a turnoff. As I hinted we are very uneasy about appeals to religion in politics. There are very few American churches without the Stars and Stripes at the front; there are very few British churches with the Union Jack even visible. (If it is present at all, it will be somewhat mournfully draped over a memorial plaque to the fallen.) God may be little honoured in the UK but we do our best to make sure that what slender glory he has is not shared with Caesar. In fact, we prefer to keep the Almighty at arm’s length when it comes to politics. A number of people have commented that, in the manner of claiming divine support, some American politicians seem to imagine that God somehow transferred the Old Testament covenant with Israel to the United States of America. Perhaps. Of course it is perfectly possible to go the other way and not invoke the support of God for even the most necessary and blameless military action. Here, I think we in Britain, plead guilty.

Part of the problems is that republicanism seeks to press buttons which, in the British psyche, are not wired up. So appeals to frontier/homestead/’Little house on the Prairie’ ideals fall on deaf ears here. It is probably half a millennium since we had any sort of frontier in the UK. Equally the right to bear arms worries us a lot. It is probably no accident that the lethal range of the average military rifle is probably considerably greater than the distance between the average British village. Ever since we killed the last wolf, around 250 years ago, the only dangerous animal roaming the British countryside has been Homo sapiens and we would prefer not to see him armed. Appeals to defending the constitution also arouse only apathy here: we have no constitution, only conventions and concessions. Given these things, it is no surprise that, whatever her undoubted virtues, Sarah Palin aroused only two attitudes in the UK: amusement and unease.

We also rather wary of republicanism’s claims that the private sector should be involved in everything. There are very few things in Britain that we are in any way proud of, but one of them is the National Health Service. The fact that no British hospital (yet) demands that you open your wallet the moment you enter Accident and Emergency is generally held to be a very good thing. Since Mrs Thatcher privatised as much as she could nearly 30 years ago, the results have not frankly been very impressive. We have railways that would shame a developing nation, a power system that could easily fall over given a week of cold weather and a secondary education system that is probably inferior to that of urban China.

To be honest, if you are an American Christian of a right-wing political persuasion I really wouldn’t let it worry you. I see it all as being like some tense stand-off in a saloon bar of the old West. Grey-haired Great Britain, propping up the bar, watches on, with air of sceptical world-weariness, while our younger nephew takes his turn to challenge the bar’s unruly inhabitants. In short, we wish you well, but don’t ask us to join in the fight.

Have a good week. And if you must burn my books, do it in front of TV cameras!  

6 Responses to “On the American right”

  1. Boaz says:

    Hello, Chris,

    An interesting post. I was originally going to offer a personal defense of American political conservatism, but that would detract from your presentation. Instead, I’ll just note that I would not burn your books as I don’t have any spares and can’t afford replacements at the moment, and end with the question: Are British Evangelicals also wary of the American Democratic Party? If so, why? If not, why not?

    Blessings to you and your family all.

    Boaz.

  2. Christian Artists Ministry says:

    Chris,

    I personally do not hold to the belief that people here or anywhere benefit from living under a theocracy. However, I do believe that as Christians, we have a responsibility to be vigilant in helping maintain civilization with each generation. Surely any Christian would agree that Humanity under their own devices will assuredly fall into decay and destruction. Therefore, it’s logical that people must have some kind of governing body to bring order and justice. Under our own thinking, we’d likely respond like Pilate, and say “What is Truth?” But under God, we say “Christ is Truth – His teachings show us how to live.”

    I would argue that post-modernism is a precursor to a failing western civilization – one in which the individual has no purpose other than a consumption for security and entertainment. In America, Christians struggle against Democracy allowing truth to be shaped by fellow citizens who are quickly losing any sense of a moral compass. Can we in America or anywhere else think anything good could come of that? Or are we simply resigned to welcome persecution while civilization falls down around us?

    As for perhaps an added perspective, I’d recommend checking out AmericanVision.com.

  3. Chris says:

    Very interesting responses. Another factor that you need to take into account that I have merely hinted at is that evangelicalism in the UK (and any sort of lively Christianity) is very small in numerical size. In fact, the pressing concern of many churches is survival rather than vision. CAM, I will look at your website soon.

    Blessings

    Chris

  4. Gecko says:

    Chris,

    This was a most ineresting and thought provoking post. I have not read your blog before as I have only just started reading “The Lamb Amongst The Stars” series and I was intrigued to find out more. Excellent books that have kept me entertained for hours. Keep up the good work.
    I do believe we need to boost numbers in the more lively faiths such as evangelicalism. This is a most pressing issue in our christian community. My local chuch has recently been dwindling in numbers but that usually all changes at Christmas. You often hear people say “A dog is not just for Christmas, it’s for life” and I believe a quite apt adaption of this could well be “A faith is not just for Christmas, it’s for life”. Let me know what you think.

    Blessings.

    P.S. Sorry that this post was not completely in direct relevance to your current post but I have been reading through a few of your blogs and picking up on all the issues you have talked about so as my first post I have gone for a broader scope.

  5. Terry Gray says:

    Chris

    As an American Christian evangelical please let me try to comment on some of the issues on the Republican party and conservatism in general. Please accept my comments in the spirit that they were intended – healthy debate.

    First, let me say that I think that the division between right and left doesn’t exactly fit what I believe the real division is: Statism vs. Libertarianism. A statist is a person who uses government to force a person to doe what he or she believes is necessary in society. A Libertarian believes in minimizing the influence of government to what is absolutely necessary for the functioning of society. He or she would try to let individuals, voluntary organizations and private businesses solve societal problems.

    Many, but not all US Christians have come to believe that statists naturally mistrust Christians because we place our final allegiance in God, not the state. The Statist would let us give lip service to God, but don’t let Him get in the way of their grand utopian schemes to re-make humanity.

    I would feel that a libertarian society, that minimizes governmental control and encourages religious freedom (including the freedom to not believe) allows Christians to live our lives in a God-centered fashion. It is my belief that conservatism and the Republican Party come closer to the libertarian ideal that the left or the Democratic party.

    On your comment about how different the US and Britain are. I don’t think that we are exactly alike. However, we Americans owe a lot to Britain. Our culture and government borrowed a lot from the British culture and common law. For that you have our respect and gratitude.

    Terry Gray
    Indianapolis, Indiana USA
    terry.gray@comcast.net

  6. Benjamin says:

    Thanks for sharing, Chris. After three months in Europe (Italy specifically), my personal amusement at cultural variety increased greatly.

    Political certain is one thing I don’t hold, an oddity within the Republican/Christian bastion of the American Southeast. We have several who saw the world’s end with the election’s conclusion. Curious indeed.

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