What does Duck Dynasty mean for conservative Christians in politics?

The times are changing, and more quickly than most could have imagined. Photo: Associated Press

OCALA, Fla., January 3, 2014 — Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty is back on the air. A&E did the reasonable thing by eschewing social politics for financial profit.

Duck Dynasty fans should be happy about this. However, the hullabaloo over Robertson’s comments about gays is telling. America no longer is a place where non-heterosexuals are expected to remain quietly in the closet. 

Criticizing homosexuals can now cost you your career. At the very least, anti-LGBT remarks will raise professional roadblocks. For better or for worse, this is the way it is.

Perhaps that’s why the Republican Party didn’t make any public statements about Robertson’s fiasco, even though the GOP has a decidedly anti-LGBT rights platform.

With same-sex marriage now legal in many states, including even Utah, who knows how long that will last? And if it does not, what future does the GOP’s Christian conservative base have in American politics?

Even within the Republican ranks, this voting bloc’s future looks uncertain, a point emphasized by a FreedomWorks poll.

“Civil liberties and spending issues are scrambling the old foundations of the Republican Party,” FreedomWorks Vice President of Opinion Research David Kirby said on his group’s website. “In the 1980’s, Ronald Reagan called the Republican coalition a three-legged stool of individual freedom, traditional values, and defense. 

“Today it’s a lopsided stool. Forty percent of Republican voters said they are most interested in promoting ‘individual freedom through lower taxes and reducing the size and scope of government,’ versus 27 percent ‘traditional values’ or 18 percent ‘strong national defense.’” 

Jason Pye of United Liberty, a libertarian blog, further explained the poll’s findings: “68% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents agree with the statement that ‘individuals should be free to do as they like as long as they don’t hurt others, and that the government should keep out of people’s day-to-day lives.’

“What’s more, an eye-popping 78% of Republicans consider themselves to be ‘fiscally conservative, but socially moderate,’ which is a significant finding given the debate in the GOP on social issues.”

Most Republicans hold right-of-center views. Most are, in one variation or another, Christian. There are conservative Christians among those who favor social moderation.

Christian conservatives, on the other hand, want to keep some divisive social issues front and center. They do not care a whit about prevailing societal norms.

What is the difference between conservative Christians and Christian conservatives? Conservative Christians hold center-right beliefs on economic or social policy; sometimes both. Their politics are usually formed in a pragmatic fashion. While they indeed believe that Jesus Christ is God’s son, and while this is often central to their personal philsophy, it is incidental to their political philosophy. In essence, conservative Christians feel no need to legislate their personal values. They see politics as the process of getting the best you can, not as an instrument to perfect the world. Religion is a matter of personal belief and behavior. They are willing to compromise in the voting booth.

Christian conservatives, on the other hand, make no distinction between the tenets of their religion and public policy. They are not focused on practicality or taking the values of others into account when they seek to improve the conditions of society.

Instead, they believe that America should be made as Jesus would make it, their version of Jesus based on an often literalist, absolutist reading of scripture. They see politics as just one more stage of a vast morality play.

As a result, faithful Christian conservatives believe that their votes are instruments and expressions of God’s will. They see no logical division between religious belief and political behavior. Seeing politics and voting as fundamentally moral activities, they cast their ballots for candidates who they believe will pursue righteous policies to make America more godly.

This is why Chirstian conservatives treat routine political compromise as heresy, even within the Republican ranks. It is a violation of principle; good must never compromise with evil. Time on earth, including politics, is preparation for eternal life with God. The GOP and the United States are unimportant in the long run; the kingdoms of earth must ultimately bow to the Kingdom of God.

In the years ahead, conservative Christians will grow in influence as the Republican Party’s driving force. Christian conservatives will at the same time decline in influence, and they may ultimately strike out on their own outside of the major political parties. They have only two choices: to compromise on political issues in accordance with their own perceived best interests; or to walk out of America’s political theatre with their integrity intact.  

Whether they will compromise and remain within the GOP, walk out to start their own party, or walk out of politics altogether depends on where they see their best interests. Those with a larger stake in the economy will choose to stay to protect it; increasing prosperity makes people more open to compromise. Those who feel that politics offers them nothing and that they have no stake in the system will walk out. 

Any way we look at it, the American Right is going to change. How it will change is anybody’s guess.


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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