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August 26, 2011

Tea Party and Christian Conservatives: Similar but Not the Same

A diverse set of grassroots conservatives has emerged. Some are social conservatives. Some are not.

Is the tea party just a rebranding of Christian conservatives? Debate over this question is not new, but it has received new fuel recently.

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David Campbell of Notre Dame University and Robert Putnam of Harvard University wrote an August 16 op-ed for the New York Times, reporting on their recent survey that shows that those who like the tea party are not the non-partisan fiscal conservatives described by the movement's leaders. Campbell and Putnam find that the tea party has attracted Republicans—not just any Republicans—social conservatives who want religion to play a greater role in political life.


“The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government,” Campbell and Putnam concluded.


First Things editor R. R. Reno agreed that tea party supporters were religious conservatives. However, he took issue with Campbell and Putnam's conclusion that it was religion, not fiscal issues, that were drawing people to the tea party.


“The religious and social conservatism of the Republican Party intermixes with the fiscal and economic conservatism in all sorts of close and complex ways,” Reno wrote. “But it is willful of Putnam and Campbell to conclude that it’s the religious dimension that constitutes the most salient—and most controversial—dimension.”


Campbell and Putnam are not the first to find a link between the old-fashioned conservative Christian movement and the tea party movement. A link, however, does not mean that the two are the same.


Among the general public, neither the tea party movement nor conservative Christians are well-known. In last year's religion poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, only 28 percent of registered voters had heard enough about both groups to voice an opinion on them. For the vast majority of Americans, neither is something they have heard of or care about.


Of the one-in-four American voters who do have an opinion, most disagree with both groups. But of those that do find at least one of the movements attractive, very few agree with conservative Christian only. Instead, most conservative Christians also like the tea party. Many who like the tea party, however, do not agree with Christian conservatives.


The tea party, then, is a larger movement that the vast majority of conservative Christian political activists find appealing. Christian conservatives are now part of a larger grassroots conservative movement that includes others who are not driven by social issues. By appealing to the tea party, a politician could appeal to both social conservatives and fiscal conservatives. Appealing to Christian conservatives alone could alienate many grassroots conservative activists.


We can see a similar relationship in Congress. In 2010, Michele Bachmann founded the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives. Most of the members were social conservatives who scored perfectly on voter guides by Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.


The 2010 election swept in 84 freshmen Republicans, many of whom rode the tea party wave into office. Upon arriving in Congress, however, they were hesitant to join the Tea Party Caucus. Today, just 17 of these Republican freshmen have joined the group. These freshmen are, like those who started the caucus, social conservatives who are also deficit hawks and fiscal conservatives.


Among voters and in Congress, we see a similar pattern. Social conservatives are saying “amen” to the tea party. Even though many of them have joined the party, the party is larger than social conservatives. A diverse set of grassroots conservatives has emerged. Some are social conservatives. Some are not. But the tea party applies to them both.

Comments

Tea Party needs to be decentralized and keep its independence from the Republican Party. The Republican Party being owned by the the Elite Establishment in the District of Criminals are working overtime to move the movement into its control and neutering its power to elect anti establishment candidates, that votes against the status qua and institutionalized corruption.
I believe there are Christians that are constitutionalists and don't believe in DC's central global government!

Ron Paul is an anti Establishment, Tea Party candidate and he is driving the establishment crazy! Why does the establishment media down play smear Ron Paul? All Ron Paul is talking about restoring Constitutional Government, taking advice from the founders of the nation on constitutional currency, trade, not entangling in foreign wars and giving up the Republic sovereignty in treaties.
I can only hope Christians see the treason that the professional establishment politicians have done.

Observing American politics and society from the outside creates a deep sense of sorrow. Both Democrats and Republican politicians, including most Tea Party members, appear to have never read the Bible except to find proof texts that support their particular prejudices.

Whatever one thinks of President Obama’s policies or those of a Republican presidential hopeful they deserve respect as people yet this is almost entirely missing from American political rhetoric. Has no one read Romans 13 or if they have do they think it no longer applies today?

The New Testament makes it very clear that respect for political leaders is demanded of Christians however much they may disagree with a Government’s policies. What is needed in America is respect for other people who, whatever their faults, are created in the image of God. Lacking such civility, which reflects a deep disrespect for God’s commands, Americans stand under the judgment of God and American society is doomed.

Prof. Irving Hexham,
Don't believe in St. Paul or in his Romans 13, a favorite of tyrants like Hitler. These politicians have sold out the country and I have to respect them! Hmmm... I don't think so! We have no moral obligations to follow evil... as a matter of fact we have a moral obligation to stand up for truth!

To Prof. Hexham,
I would be interested in knowing which politicians, which morals, which evil, which truth you refer to. As it stands your comment seems only an opinion based on......what? Please, since you are a porfessor, explain.

To Jean Askew from Irving Hexham

Dear Jean, reading your comment it seems to me that it is actually intended as a resonse to the one by Michael David that begins "Prof. Irving Hexham ..."

In my comment, which is above his I make no mention of morals, evil or truth. All I do is talk about the importance of remembering what is taught in Romans 13.

So I think the way the comments appeared is misleading. Am I correct?

Sorry, Prof. Hexham, I now see I should have addressed Michael David, rather than you. Your post is well done. It is the directly above post which puzzles me. After reading all of the comments I am still interested in the basis for morals, truth and evil used by M.D. since he rejects St. Paul's arguments.

I agree. You must respect those who don't agree with you by treating them with the Ten Commandements' rules. However, we owe nothing to the followers of the devil. Those republicans who vote for abortion,
homosexual marriage, laws for teaching homosexual sex, etc. in schools, voting for spending, higher taxes, use entitlements to get control of the populace, etc. are not republicans and need to be dislodged from the party who seems to think it is a bunch of democrats. They say they'll vote one way and after election vote as democrats (see NYS). Respect, no, don't kill them, that's not right, but dislodge and kick them out and get back to the original party, which is believe or not, the Tea Party of today.

The cause of Jesus Christ is best met through the compassion and concern for people and their status before Christ. I see none of that in the anti-establishment and craziness of the Tea Party policies!

People mix politics and Christianity usually at their peril! There are so many dangers here! Firstly, anyone without power can claim to be a 'good Christian' to get votes from Christians. Secondly, anyone can hide behind the mantle of 'good Christian' whilst in reality being no such thing; this isn't just found in politics of course. Thirdly, people, especially powerful people, can twist even the Bible for their own often selfish ends. From here in Britain, we tend to view political Christians in America with a healthy dose of cynicism! I'm not suggesting that means we are right and every religious political impulse is wrong, but certainly discernment is needed here. There is no reason why a genuine Christian cannot stand for political office, but he or she must remain true to the gospel, which is far more about social justice, concern for the poor and oppressed, keeping godly laws and precepts before other worldly considerations, than ever it is about political power. If we put God first in all our dealings, everything else follows more smoothly, including our political affiliations whatever they may be.

This whole conversation demonstrates the secularization of Christianity in America. We have merged Biblical truths with political ideology to the point that we do not recognize that the secular political arena has replaced our Christian faith for a civil religion. We now have Christians obsessed with secular issues at the expense of genuine faith matters. The Tea Party demonstrates the surrender of Christian faith to secular politics.

Anna wrote:

"You must respect those who don't agree with you by treating them with the Ten Commandments' rules. However, we owe nothing to the followers of the devil. Those republicans who vote for abortion, homosexual marriage, laws for teaching homosexual sex ..."
This is exactly the type of reaction I had in mind with my original comment. The New Testament is quite clear that Christians must respect such people when they are in positions of political power. When the New Testament was written the rulers of the Roman world were as corrupt and committed to following the devil as any American politician today. Yet Christians were repeatedly commanded to respect and even obey them.

As Christians it is our duty to pray for such people and by our example bring them to repentance. We are repeatedly told not to judge because we cannot see into the hearts of others. That is God’s prerogative. As I said it is hard to avoid the conclusion that most American Christians do not read the Bible with the intent of taking it seriously and obeying God’s clear commandments.

"As Christians it is our duty to pray for such people and by our example bring them to repentance. We are repeatedly told not to judge because we cannot see into the hearts of others. That is God’s prerogative. As I said it is hard to avoid the conclusion that most American Christians do not read the Bible with the intent of taking it seriously and obeying God’s clear commandments."

People, even the best of people, can be blinded by power and wealth. There is no perfect person on earth, in whatever circumstances they might find themselves. When Christians stay true to the Gospel and live it as well as preach it, we are I believe doing God's will. When religion gets mixed up with politics, as we often see in America but also some other countries too, there can be a mix which just isn't healthy, and is neither one thing or the other. Just because someone says they are a Christian doesn't mean they are, and especially if they are running for political office. The question is, where do our private beliefs end and our ambitions begin?

I wonder if all those on this board who are saying we should respect and obey political leaders would be saying the same thing if there were a conservative in office? I can guarantee you that they wouldn't. It's only when there is a far leftist running the country that we are supposed to bow down and worship him. And I'd like to see even one of them explain whether they think we should respect and obey someone like Hitler or Pol Pot simply because they are political leaders? Also, why is it the leftists squawk about conservatives wanting religion in politics, but it's okay for their religious fervor for environmentalism, Darwinism, and abortion to be at the forefront of everything? Those of us who disagree with leftist views are supposed to nonetheless pay for them with our tax dollars. Hypocrisy is everywhere, but I have yet to see it in any more virulent of a form than it is on the left. Do as I say, not as I do.

I do not like the Tea party and the Christion conservatives because they do not seem to care about the lower and middle class. They seem to pander only to the very wealthist Americans because they feel the wealthiest cn cur our problems, if God cannot do it.
And I don't care for the liberals as they want to send the country into bankruptcy and trying to do everything for the little man on the backs of taxpayers!
Ahere are the politicians that are the middle of the road? I really don't think there are any.

There is at work in these comments a basic confusion between Theists and Humanists. Contemporary humanism is polarized between the aberrant left ("Liberals") and the aberrant right ("Libertarians") for whom if you are not one, you are the others -- a classic case of "either-or" thinking. Theists, and Christians in particular, are not bound by the humanist dichotomy, and judge social, poliical and economic issues from a different set of criteria. The Liberals drive collectivism of every form and the Libertarians drive radical individualism to and beyond the edge of anarchy.

On the surface one may be inclined to identify Christian "conservativlsm" with Libertarian "conservatism" -- a serious mistake! The Tea Party appeals to both types of political conservatism while failing to note the difference. The Libertarian online daily "The Daily Bell" exemplifies this very well and regards non-Libertarians as "de facto" Liberals. The Libertarians want to dominate the Tea Party and to claim exclusive ownership of the term "conservative: while bullying Christian conservatives to tow the Libertarian line.

If there is a political radical right, it is represented by the Libertarians and those Christians who lack the discernment to see the Theist-Humanist divide for what it really means. Voters have rejected Ron Paul instinctively while also rejecting the Liberal agenda. The reason for that can be traced to a fundamental uneasiness with both as at heart radically humanist.

Mr Hexman is right many of us as believers find it difficult to take an overall view of Scripture. The Bible, which I believe is inerrant as originally given, has little to specifically address the nature of power when held by believers. There examples however within the OT but these raise the difficulty of compromise. Were all the laws of Egypt Godly when Joseph was second in the kingdom? When God instructed the Israelites to settle down and pray for the prosperity of Babylon was this not it could be said to be “giving to the devil” (Original Anna’s comment) Did Daniel change every law within the Babylonian empire? Surely this teaches us our job is to be as good and holy as we can and thereby influence those around us whether in the small town or DC or any other capital.

Tea parties, christian conservatives, radical righties, self justifiers, holier than thou, the KKK, John Birch society, anti-government militias, David Koresh, Tim McVeight, Jim Crow, etc. etc. and etc.

To me, they all look the same, walk the same, talk the same, sound the same; Must be the same!

Boston Tea Party gave birth to a new, liberated America. The current tea party movement should liberate America from Obamanism. I've coined the word 'Obamanism' because the Muslim Summit convened by Obama in Washington has triggered changes in the Middle East. Pro-American Egypt and Tunisia were toppled, and anti-American Syria and Iran are retained.What is more, Turkey is pampered to become another Iran in Europe. So tea party movement should take urgent steps for the second liberation of America.
A.Yeshuratnam
India

As a summary, the below appears to be on target and worth remembering.

"There is at work in these comments a basic confusion between Theists and Humanists. Contemporary humanism is polarized between the aberrant left ("Liberals") and the aberrant right ("Libertarians") for whom if you are not one, you are the others -- a classic case of "either-or" thinking.

Theists, and Christians in particular, are not bound by the humanist dichotomy, and judge social, political and economic issues from a different set of criteria.

The Liberals drive collectivism of every form and the Libertarians drive radical individualism to and beyond the edge of anarchy".