Compassionate Conservativism

A decade ago, this idea thundered onto the American Political stage as part of the Republican Party’s Neo-Conservative Movement, spearheaded by the Religious Right and PAC Groups chomping at the bit to move Clintonites out of Washington, DC. A decade later, where is this philosophy in the pantheon of politics. For the most part, it is completely gone, brushed aside by the post 9-11 panics and the bipartisanship of a nearly collapsed economy. Epic disasters in Haiti, Pakistan, China, and New Orleans go unresolved, while tee times and Congressional junkets continue. No one person can be blamed for a bad decade. However, after devouring readings on the theology and modern Christian ideology for nearly a decade the shine has worn off and some disillusionment set in. What does it mean for America when a majority of the government has become morally bankrupt?

In 2000, I voted in my first Presidential Campaign and chose a loser, this was not because I backed Al Gore. The GOP was going to win my home state in a landslide and I wanted to make a statement, vote for a third party.  In 2004, the same thing but this time it was because national rhetoric has devolved and the debate inside of the beltway is too much blame and not enough answers. Then again in 2008, both parties, lacking any real forethought, made ticket choices to pander towards a pseudo-base. We should encourage the development of choice. However, regret is not a part of these past choices; sadness for a loss of the Republic. What does it mean for what I believe at the core of my Political POV? Is what I really believe, when it comes to politics and the future of the Republic, so different from the rest of America? Absolutely. For too long, Christian Conservatives have been told what to expect in return for their voting allegiance. Grassroots vote getting in the Republican Party will earn you a voice at the table but no guarantees. Whereas, Radical Democrats, have used Evangelicals as fundamentalist punching bags. Religious Political Conservatism has been labeled, packaged, and sold as an empty ballot of goods that are no longer wanted. So what is it that terrifies the party leadership so much?

Compassionate Conservatism at its very core sees the living GOD, his son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as the center of our individual lives. HE is our true leader, not the political establishment, not the political machines, not the Washington wonks, or anyone one else’s false preachings of the status quo, as a means of living abundantly. I choose to define myself as one who believes in faith; thus, my hope for change is something truly better for all peoples. For abundance is not corporeal wealth, but instead an enduring journey of spiritual completion. Compassionate Conservative theory has been debated as either a moral deconstruction of the Nixonian view of the Republican Party or a Radical New Fourth Great Awakening in American Politics. The question of debate and who can or should take credit is not a matter of due importance. Many can lay some claims to the theory itself but no one person can accept responsibility for the ideas it supports. When Pres. George W. Bush made the philosophy a cornerstone of his 2000 election campaign, many tried to nail down the ideas to a collection of leaders within the Religious Right of the Republican party. Whereas, accepting it is an amalgamation of the best parts of both political parties would be more viable. A little of Berry Goldwater’s small national government ideology to combat “this creeping socialism.” He said it best, “we believe any society which proposes to relieve its citizens of all responsibility–and thus condemn them to a perpetual state of childhood–is acting contrary to the best purposes of mankind. We believe every man is entitled to an equal position on the starting line in the race for personal achievement, but no man is guaranteed a preferred position at the finish line.” This is a direct political look at the great debate of the apostles when trying to find out who was the most favored and his rebuttal is one of service. (Luke 22:24-30)

Goldwater’s view should then be mixed with the ideals of MLK’s radical civil disobedience for the betterment of the just. His ideas of taking hold of one’s actions for the betterment of others reflects both the action of service and the benefits of service. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jailhe explains that “(the) great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is… (the) moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom… Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” The time for a change, a radical one, is now. For we are the radicals, “you are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good deeds that they glorify our Father in Heaven” (Matt 5:13-16) However, what is that change supposes to looks like?

Myron Magnet says this, “Compassionate conservatives […] offer a new way of thinking about the poor. They know that telling the poor that they are merely passive victims, whether of racism or of vast economic forces, is not only false but also destructive, paralyzing the poor with thoughts of their own helplessness and inadequacy. The poor need the larger society’s moral support; they need to hear the message of personal responsibility and self-reliance, the optimistic assurance that if they try – as they must – they will make it. They need to know, too, that they can’t blame “the system” for their own wrongdoing.”  While Tony Campolo, may balk at being labeled one, he is a Compassionate Conservative. His belief that the Bible and the teachings within Jesus’ ministry are the linchpins of true democracy and civilization, holds to the truth of Compassionate Conservativism. “Believing that Jesus is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, we want to unite Christians who are concerned about what is happening in America… In adopting this name,(Red-Letter Christians) we are saying that we are committed to living out the things that He said. Of course, the message in those red-lettered verses is radical, to say the least. If you don’t believe me, read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).”

Therefore, what does the term actually mean in practice? One who is compassionate is having the received the Spirit of the Lord and bears fruit through Love. This allows you to see every human as a child of God who is either living in communion with the Holy Spirit or as one separate from God because of sin. All of mankind can be saved, many will not. However, what is sadder is that many Christians do not hold this truth as a mainstay of their faith. GK Chesterton writes of this saying, “It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It’s that they can’t see the problem.” 

Being Conservative simply means that you hold true to your beliefs. Steadfastness and Stoicism. Unyielding to secular progressivism and legal regressiveness. Conservative Thought, when compared to the secular worldview, is a radical action. It is an action of never-ending dedication to what is right and good; so that, the glory of God may be shared with all peoples.  Therefore, Compassionate Conservativism is simply the idea of holding true to the faith and by doing so, producing actions of Loving Kindness for the betterment of all peoples. Finally, the ideals of Compassionate Conservativism cannot be embodied completely by any other man than Jesus Christ. As I write this, I struggle to find contemporary words and voices for exactly what I am thinking but the ideas are a moving target for all. I keep coming back to these essentials of it all: Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20), The Fruits of the Spirit (1Cor 13), Paul’s basic truths on the Fallacies of Legalism (Gal 3), and that True Faith without Works is Dead (James2:14-26).

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