Among the many things that are unstable in America today is the meaning of Christian conservatism. For decades now, the foremost form of American conservatism has primarily been fusionism, a blend of social conservatism and economic libertarianism. Christian conservatism has largely been a bible-flavored version of this. Reliance on the bible gives the social commentary of conservatism some serious bite that is otherwise lacking. By reference to the bible, “family values” can be grounded in transcendent truth.
This potential for grounding parts of fusionism in transcendent truth and faithfulness to Christ obscures the real weakness of Christian conservatism as it has actually existed in America in recent times. The weakness is the fact that it really is a variation of fusionism and not a political philosophy built from the ground up on Christian doctrine. The hard work, theological and philosophical, of articulating a truly Christian politics has not been done. Christian conservatism has been riding the intellectual coattails of not-particularly-Christian conservatism.
Instability is one of the major hallmarks of America today, and that instability extends to the definition of Christian conservatism. Conservatives all over are breaking from the consensus on fusionism. A notable example is seen in conservatives defending Trump’s tariffs- tariffs are contrary to what it has meant to be a conservative until now, but that may be changing.
Another part of the consensus that has come up for renewed debate is the relationship of church and state. This is particularly important for those who would follow Christ. To what extent is the increasing secularization of American politics compatible with the gospel? To what extent is it a betrayal of Christ? Exactly these questions are being asked now and Christians are not all giving the same answers.
A moment ago when I referred to what was lacking from Christian conservatism as a lot of hard work, I wasn’t kidding. Sorting through the political implications of Christian theology is serious work. And yet it must be done if Christians are going to be salt and light in the American political scene. And let me remind you that the consequences of us not being salt and light will be the destruction of America’s freedom and prosperity.
One of the major conflicts in Christian conservatism of late has been Catholics questioning the very foundations of classical liberalism. This is highlighted by Sohrab Ahmari writing Against David French-ism.
Ahmari decided to name the sort of conservative Christian politics he opposes after a man who has long worked to secure Christians a place in the public square. David French is a good man, a serious Christian, and a stalwart conservative. He has worked for decades as both a lawyer and a writer to defend the right of Christians to use public facilities. He has done this by consistently arguing that American government must remain truly neutral concerning the religious viewpoints of its citizens. In this regard he is a great example of a classical liberal.
The problem is that modern viewpoint neutrality is a de-Christianized version of Christian toleration. It is explicitly non-Christian. The link between true Christian theology and America’s tradition of religious freedom has been almost forgotten. French is a good example of this as well. Although he consistently argues for viewpoint neutrality, he does it from a foundation of classical liberalism and only occasionally connects the dots to Christian doctrine.
This is not to say that there are no dots to connect. There are. But French’s political philosophy isn’t Christian at the root, although I’m sure he wishes it was. Rather, French’s political philosophy is drawn from secular and liberal principles, largely divorced from Christ.
Sohrab Ahmari has called French out as not espousing a truly Christian politics. The precipitating event was Ahmari’s denunciation of a little thing called “Drag Queen Story Hour”, (henceforth, DQSH) which is a movement underway promoting the queer lifestyle by having drag queens read stories to little kids at public libraries. Shockingly, French claims that banning DQSH would undermine the very foundations of freedom in America.
Why does French think that DQSH is protected by civil rights? Because his understanding of civil rights is secular and liberal, not Christian. It pains me to say this, because I believe he is a real Christian, and also a better man than I. Nevertheless, it is true, and it is worth saying because Christ deserves to have a church whose political philosophy is truly Christian. It is worth saying because many of us in America desire to be faithful to Christ. David French is one such. If French can be wrong on this, we all can.
For those who have eyes to see, the DQSH controversy is a de-pantsing of a popular brand of Christian conservatism. For months now, French has doggedly opposed any sort of ban on DQSH. When he says civil rights forbid the state to act to prevent or punish DQSH, he really, really means it. He’s gone so far as to call it one of the blessings of liberty in an interview.
“And, by the way, the fact that a person can get a room in a library and hold a Drag Queen Story Hour and get people to come? That’s one of the blessings of liberty.” – David French
There are a couple of things wrong with this. First, its gross to say such a thing. DQSH is not a blessing of any kind. It’s a perverse misuse of freedom. Second, since when is the freedom to corrupt little kids part of the bedrock of the American way of life? Since about five minutes ago, really. How is it that French has internalized this to the point that he can’t distinguish between being free to preach the gospel and being free to introduce little children to cross-dressing?
Civil liberty at America’s founding was nothing like civil liberty as we conceive it today. OK, slight exaggeration, but there is a BIG difference between the two. Several states had established churches when the First Amendment was ratified. There was no consensus among the founding generation that this was a violation of religious freedom. Additionally, sodomy was illegal in multiple states until 2003. Yes, not 1803, not 1903, but the year of our lord two thousand and three.
And is sexual perversion not something that children ought to be protected from?
Here is a brief and incomplete list of things that Americans protect children from, and use the force of law to do so:
* hard work, as defined by child labor law
* marriage, without parental consent
* R-rated movies
Are these protections bringing totalitarianism upon us? Why can the state identify the potential for harm in overwork or ill-advised marriage but not in cross-dressing? In a few places it is literally illegal to try and help a child to NOT BE GAY. But to suggest they consider being gay? No problem.
If instead of drag queens, there were a movement called Joe Camel Story Hour, there would be new city ordinances against it in weeks. And that’s assuming the authorities didn’t decide existing law gave them enough pretext to shut the thing down already. Is it illegal to teach kids how to smoke cigarettes? I’m not really sure. But don’t bother trying, America will stop you.
When French defends DQSH on the basis of civil liberty he is not keeping faith with long-standing American tradition, let alone with Christ. Instead he is attempting to cast in concrete a perversion of the American system. It is not intrinsic to the conception of liberty that prevailed in this country two hundred years ago. Freedom to engage in a queer lifestyle is not one of the ratified amendments to the constitution. It is a corruption of the concept of civil liberty.
The secular, liberal definition of freedom is a cancer of the American body politic. In one sense it is inherited from the founding, since some at the founding used exactly that definition. But most did not. It is a cancer, despite having some continuity with generations past because it will inevitably kill the host. It will destroy liberty in America.
Christ gave America freedom. But too many Christians today are allowing themselves to be persuaded that a Christ-denying neutrality is the god that led them out of Egypt.