Anyway, I think I've found a solution to Jonah Goldberg's problem with the Club for Christians, also known as the Republican Party or, as I like to think of it, the Party of Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior. Maybe the problem is not that there are too many Christians, but too many Christians of the wrong kind. If you've been one for a long time, and a sincere one at that, you're probably too judgemental. You've become set in your ways, cranky in your Christian old age. You think something's wrong with almost everyone and everything, especially anything connected with Modern Times. What you need are a few lessons from a new Christian, someone whose soul has not yet shriveled to fit a crumbling, archaic mold. You need some new wine poured into your old bottle. That wine would be someone like...Lee Habeeb.
Who? Lee Habeeb. He's a recent convert to Christianity circa 2007. He was helped along by people like C.S. Lewis. So? Well, he wrote an article for National Review with the portentous title, "Letter to a Christian Nation." Mr. Habeeb is "the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network, which syndicates Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt." He was helped along in his conversion not only by C.S. Lewis but by a "few committed people of faith. I witnessed in them the power of the Holy Spirit. It was the power of their lives. The way they lived made them stand apart from other people I knew. And in the fall of 2007, I became the most excited and reluctant convert in all northern Mississippi." He then shares the following diaglogue:
“What brought you to Christ?” my friends asked.
“Christians,” I replied.
“What took you so long?” was the usual follow-up.
“Christians,” I replied. The kind more focused on other people’s sins than their own.
He claims that prior to his conversion,
The only time I heard from Christians themselves was in the political realm. Two issues defined them — abortion and gay marriage — leading secular folks like me to believe that Christians wake up thinking only about babies in the womb and gay people at the altar.This is so true, as the kids say. Not only do I wake up thinking about these things, I have trouble sleeping because of them. I roll out of bed wondering how I can stop the murder of one more baby, and how I might convince just one member of that gay couple at the altar that what he's doing is not only wrong but unreal. Of course, I have no idea how to do either of these things, so I'm willing to listen to people like Mr. Habeeb.
Post-conversion, he joined a church in Oxford, Mississippi, a "great church," he calls it, "one where the focus is on living good lives. We rarely talk politics, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve talked with anyone there about gay marriage or abortion." I nodded in sympathy. That certainly would make a conversation go smoother. Who ever heard of anyone resorting to consequentialist morality or casting an ad hominem over the weather?
He pays homage to all the good works Christians do in society just by living their faith, but, he says, "...when I was a secular conservative, I knew none of this. I saw Christian conservatives only as a potential political liability...I thought they’d hurt the cause of conservatism by chasing secular voters like me from our ranks — and, in doing so, hurt their own cause."
Yes, I see. In fact, I think I've heard it before, just not usually from a conservative Christian. But Mr. Habeeb is here to help:
...alas, as a new Christian (I am but five years old), I must address two elephants in the elephant house. Many in the GOP are blaming social issues for our loss and for doubts about our future viability as a party, so I figured I’d address both head on.The two elephants are the aforementioned abortion and gay marriage issues. If he can teach me how to testify against these things without it resulting in one electoral loss after another, I'm listening. He begins:
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that life begins before the second trimester, or that Roe is bad constitutional law.That's one way of putting it. Another is that even an idiot knows that human life begins when it begins. There is no other beginning to its beginning. That I know of. He seems glad that Christians have been "battling" Roe ever since, and have managed to get effective restrictions put in place. "Christian advocacy is working," he says. But:
The question is this: How far do we push forward before we start slipping backward? The comments by Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock on rape and abortion were prime examples of how much damage we can do to our cause when we take our position to the extreme.
The pro-life movement is misguided if we’re demanding that a woman must have her baby once conception has occurred no matter what the circumstances, and no matter how early she makes her decision. In short, if our goal is 100 percent victory, we risk losing ground with the very public with whom we have been gaining ground, one small step at a time.
Habeeb reminds us that even if Roe were overturned, the issue would return to the states, with the result that "abortion would probably be legal in more states than in 1972. In states where abortion was illegal, leftists would provide their version of an underground railroad, providing safe harbor and transportation for women to get abortions in states where it was legal."
That sounds pretty bad, all right. But what are we to do? Give up on overturning Roe? He never says. He does say we should not give up our political efforts, but that in pursuing them we should "more profoundly engage the culture." How? By telling stories, like the one Tim Tebow's mom told in that famous superbowl commercial. and by engaging in all sorts of good works that will stand as witness to our faith. He tells a couple himself about just such Christians who ought to be better known in society at large. We also need to show "every pregnant woman that we care about her, not just her baby."
Christians are the majority in this country, but we often act like outsiders. We keep to ourselves, and spend too little time marketing our message and our works to the outside world.I confess to being a little confused now, because a mere few lines earlier he complained about Christians in the political realm "marketing" their views too aggressively. But I think I get his point. He just wants us to mind what we say and how we say it. I don't think he wants us to shut up exactly, but just not tell the whole truth all at once, such truths as that babies conceived by rape are people too. I understand that there's a time and place for everything. I just wish he'd tell me when and where that was.
As to that other elephant in the house of the Christian Party crowded with all too many tactless extremists, he says:
Just as science has proven that life begins at conception, and that the beating heart inside the womb belongs to a baby, we may someday learn that gay people are born gay. That it’s genetic.Yeah, we might. So? He doesn't say. I think we're supposed to extrapolate something from it. I just wish he'd spell it out. He does offer an answer to the essential question, though:
So what is the answer to gay marriage? From one point of view it should be easy for a conservative. Live and let live has been the credo of economic conservatives; what you do in your private life is your business.
But what should we do, we who believe that marriage is a sacred union ordained by God? Should we keep fighting at the ballot box to prohibit gay marriage? Here’s the answer, though many Christians won’t like it. We should continue to believe what we believe, and keep getting married in our churches. And let gay people get married by the state in civil services. Let the state be the state, and the church be the church.
Gay marriage is simply not the threat to marriage that some church leaders believe it is — certainly not more than adultery, not to mention divorce. I don’t see church leaders fighting to make either of those illegal.And haven't I heard that before? From Wendell Berry or something? And: "...we should be comforted that gay people support an institution Christians and conservatives care so much about, one that our culture has for decades derided as being boring and utterly bourgeois."
I'll have to admit that allowing marriage to homosexuals will certainly make the institution less boring and bourgois, at least for a while. But haven't you now ceded, Mr. Habeeb, recently minted Christian, that "gay people" can participate in that "sacred union ordained by God," though sanction for said participation can nowhere be found in the Bible or in any tradition of Christian heritage? I mean, can you just answer us straight-out: is homosexual sexual behavior moral or no? Does it have God's approval? If so, where is your evidence? If not, what do you want us to do about it? I'm trying to remain flexible, but I'm a simple man. Help me out.
Quoting the Old Testament, Washington wrote, "every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid...For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens..."Finishing in his own words:
The most important political debate of our time — the one that dwarfs all others — is about the size and scale of government, and the degree to which the state intrudes into our lives...I don't follow the transition either, but I do finally get the big picture. I see now the path to victory. Republican Christians simply need to acquire a sense of proportion. Here are the lessons I've taken away:
1. Defeat the enemy by making him your friend. In a sense, become him by using his own tactics against your other, Christian, friends; thus, you will endear yourself to him. For example, every now and then stereotype your fellow Christians: "They care more about other people's sins than about their own." Or: "They care more about babies than about women."
2. Don't get up on the wrong side of the bed. Your first thoughts should not be about babies in danger of murder or societal-wide approval of homosexual liasons in the form of marriage. These are things worth thinking about, but in their proper time and place. Just go about your business of setting a good example by being a good Christian, which does not require your thinking about abortion and homosexual marriage from morning to night, nor confronting their proponents in "the political realm" with accusations of sin and depravity.
3. (Following from #2) Don't tell the truth straight out. Basically, shut up about it. It's okay to tell the truth to friends, but not to the enemy of whom you would make a friend. Especially in the case of abortion post-rape, do not assert that the child so conceived is just as human and innocent as the rest of us. Do not make public this fact - "no matter what the circumstances, and no matter how early she makes her decision" - because the woman's circumstances outweigh the baby's life, because - since "life begins before the second trimester" - an earlier decision is better than a late one because...I haven't gotten that far yet, and because it hurts Republicans at the polls. As to that homosexual couple on the way to the altar, stop hurling accusations of sin and making metaphysical assertions to the effect that, given the presence of immorality and the absence of sexual complementarity, the condition to which they aspire is an unattainable fantasy. In fact, capitulate. Gay marriage is no threat to your marriage, and will make the institution at large less "boring."
4. (In furtherance of 3) Draw the same sorts of moral equivalencies that your enemy (soon to be your friend) does, i.e., rinse and repeat that adultery and divorce are as much if not more of a threat to marriage than the gay kind. If you insist on believing that homosexual marriage is an evil, you are nevertheless capable (with a little effort) of internalizing the fact that when other evils are already destroying an institution, you can certainly make room for one more that (probably) won't make it any worse, if that one more evil is even evil at all.
5. Invoke a Founder now and then, like Washington, to bolster the growing opinion that disapproval of homosexual unions is indeed a form of bigotry. It's not at all clear that such unions were on Washington's radar when he made his remarks, but since it's not clear it's all right to use him for this purpose.
6. Finally, that sense of proportion. Get one. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist" to see that "the size and scale of government" is far more important to the health of our culture than a baby's life or the true nature of marriage.
Okay, I've heard it all before, but I'll give it a re-think. It'll be hard to get with the program all at once because my learning curve is steep. It takes time to re-convert from a previous conversion. A lot of beams will have to be swept from my eyes. In the meantime, I'm still a little disappointed that Mr. Habeeb never told me why Romney lost, since he was just the sort of moderate, non-extremist, almost Christian Christian that the Republican Party should welcome going forward. Maybe that's a subject for another column. I'll be on the lookout for it.