Category: Republicans

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!  

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