Friday, January 04, 2008

Why There’s No “Liturgical Vote”

Why do Evangelicals get to have all the fun? Since when did they become the only voting bloc that mattered anymore? With Mike Huckabee’s populist and shrewdly Christian message winning over voters in Iowa, one has to wonder if such a group could really be so easily manipulated. And why, pray tell, don’t you ever hear about the mainline Protestant voting bloc, the Catholic bloc, or the “Liturgical” bloc? There must be something about being an Evangelical that really is different, that really matters, if every semi-conservative politician takes such great pains to reach out to them. As a theological Evangelical (like, I believe in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and whatnot), but also a liturgical theologian (and, hence, not what the mainstream media would call an “Evangelical”), I wonder why no one courts my vote?

I will admit, this will not be a politically correct essay. I have long delighted that Evangelicals were in my political corner. But now I’m irritated. This is writing in broad strokes, of course, and I have to give Evangelicals all the credit in the world for their religious values, charity of heart and love of God. It’s the politics that are pushing my buttons. I will be doubly irritated if another pseudo-conservative like Bush is elected in the lamentable Mike Huckabee, who strikes me as the greatest threat to thrust populism into conservatism with his class warfare mantra, a la John Edwards. So here are my thoughts on how the Evangelicals came to prominence instead of boring ol’ Christians like me.

1. Evangelicals can be swayed by single issues, even if a politician is in no place to do anything about it. Abortion comes to mind, but this speaks to culture generally. Please, name the last president who did much about abortion. I can think of none, shy of using the bully pulpit to defend the right to life as a concept. You might say, “Yes, but they appoint judges, who may overturn Roe v. Wade.” All very fine and good. But I hope the judges that overturn Roe v. Wade do so because it is unconstitutional, not necessarily because life begins at conception, even though I believe it does. In other words, it’s important to me personally that my president is pro-life, but I don’t expect a pro-life President (see George W. Bush) to change much, if anything, with regards to abortion law. I do want a president who has a sophisticated understanding of the balance of powers, and who views the Constitution from an Originalist framework. In this regard, Giuliani, even though he’s “pro-choice,” is the better choice than Huckabee, who seems incapable of much sophistication at all, but instead exceptional communication.

2. Evangelicals are not moved by the fragile relationship between church and state that preserves a true republic. That is to say their political philosophy seems to run about skin deep. In fact, I’ve heard all the finesse of a bulldozer when understanding how church and state must keep their separation. (That’s the nicest I can phrase it.) It seems as though there is a great deal of fear that leads Evangelicals to need Christianity in the public sphere. But even as a Christian, I have few fears of government persecution any time soon, and government indifference towards religion is absolutely constitutional. If Christians and/or Evangelicals so want what verges on a theocracy, I’m sure that can be accommodated somewhere. But not in America, as long as our Constitution survives. Issues like the 10 Commandments in the courthouses, even “In God We Trust” on currency are symbolic gestures at best. But these are issues that fuel Evangelicals and inspire them. It leaves little doubt in my mind, though, that the right charlatan will know what strings to pull when he/she needs some crucial votes, only to change course once in office. This is my primary fear regarding Huckabee.

3. Evangelicals are emotionally driven, and sadly, can be used. You certainly see it in their theology and worship. Why not politics as well? Don’t forget that Bush ran in 2000 as a domestic candidate, riding compassionate conservatism, pro-life policy, and tax cuts to victory. Only after September 11 did he become a foreign policy president. All of this is to say that he was elected, due in large part to Evangelicals, and even then, due in large part to one or two issues. Yes, there were other issues, but without that issue in his favor with Evangelicals, he would not have been elected and he would not have had the opportunity to spend like a drunken sailor (my apologies to frugal drunken sailors everywhere) and implement questionable programs like Leave No Child Behind, among others.

Make no mistake, there is a massive schism in the Republican party, and now I clearly see it: Evangelicals on one side, and Libertarians on the other. Yes, Democrats have serious fissures as well, probably even worse than the Republicans because they tend to pander to so many different minority groups, who very frequently do not like one another. But why don’t Republicans feel the need to pander to me, or even Catholics? Combined, we are far more powerful than Evangelicals.

So politicians, I urge you: don’t ignore the “liturgical vote.” We, who appreciate ritual, custom, and seeing the big picture of things, also want politicians who stand for values that transcend our immediate context. We understand the fragility of a constitutional republic, just as we appreciate the fragility of virtue among a sinful people. With all possible humility, in the long run, we’re the voters you need, because we’ll be sure to pass down our collective wisdom for generations to come.

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