When you grow up evangelical, you view everything about politics through the lens of your religious experience. Other people are shaped most fundamentally by their connection to military culture or their work with the poor or their passion for science or something else. I honestly cannot think about political issues from an objective rational perspective; I’m almost entirely a reactionary. There is one analogy that shapes the political landscape for me: I am rabidly opposed to anyone who reminds me of the fundamentalists who have questioned the validity of my Christian faith throughout my life. The problem for the Republican Party is that Ted Cruz and the “constitutional conservatives” holding them hostage fit this analogy perfectly, and that’s why I suspect they are completely alienating what might be dubbed the Rachel Held Evans bloc of twenty-to-thirty-something moderate evangelicals like me who hate fundamentalism and hate being called “liberal.”
When I try to think about political questions objectively, I’m completely in favor of the concept of subsidiarity that libertarians like Paul Ryan say they’re about. Basically it means that decisions should be made on as local a level as possible. I think the power in our country should be primarily in the city councils, not in a centralized federal government, though I also think that something has to be done to stop the race to the bottom by which corporations get such deep tax breaks that local governments don’t have the revenue to do anything.
I would also say I’m a conservative when it comes to sexuality. It’s true that I think LGBT people should be allowed to pursue sexual holiness within the reality of their biology, but I do believe that the sexual promiscuity of our culture is a tremendous crisis. At least a dozen of my former high school students are stuck in minimum wage jobs because they had babies at a very young age. And no, the pill doesn’t solve everything. The false instant intimacy of “hook-up culture” is a primary engine of the desperate loneliness of our age and a means by which our bodies become consumer products instead of beautiful icons of God.
I’m not going to try to claim that I’m a war-hawk because I’m not, but I’m not a pacifist either, because I respect the legitimacy of the difficult vocation of protecting our country and shooting a gun in order to do so. And the last three years that I’ve spent in a congregation of mostly military families makes it unimaginable for me to caricature the beautiful, compassionate, thoughtful service members I have gotten to know. Military culture creates a level of solidarity between people that should be what the body of Christ looks like. And I’m grateful to know at least two Christians from my church who are now on the ground in Afghanistan whose faith will shape whatever difficult decisions they have to make if, God forbid, they find themselves in live combat.
I guess what I’m saying is I really could be a moderate Republican. And maybe I will be one day. But right now, I see the same kind of ruthless ideological litmus-testing among Republicans that I experienced from fundamentalists growing up. When I was in my second year in college, I was nominated for a leadership position in a campus fellowship group. I was told by another guy in the group who had the same haircut and smirk on his face as Ted Cruz that if I accepted this nomination, he would challenge it because he wasn’t satisfied that I believed the Bible was inerrant. There was a piece of paper I was supposed to sign about Biblical inerrancy, and he said he didn’t think I could sign it.
It didn’t matter that I was handing out Jesus tracts on the sidewalk, participating in multiple small group Bible studies, and attending two or three weekly worship gatherings on top of Sunday morning church. It didn’t matter that I took everything about my Christian walk uber-seriously. Because I was unconvinced that the seven days in Genesis were literal days, I was thus a Christian In Name Only who deserved to be ousted in the primaries by a real Christian, presumably the guy who challenged my nomination. I didn’t stick around to see whether he took the leadership position after having bumped me out of the way. I left, and no one came after me.
So when I look at the way that the Tea Party has cowed moderate Republicans into submission and yanked Republicans further and further to the right, it fills me with rage because I’m reliving all the “more Biblical than thou” competitions that I lost at growing up. When I see the demonization of President Obama, especially when fundamentalists like Franklin Graham say things like, “Well… he says he’s a Christian,” it doesn’t matter what Obama actually stands for politically because in my head I’ve made an analogy between him and the twenty year-old Morgan who tore up the piece of paper about Biblical inerrancy and walked out.
The one thing that would utterly surprise me and the other evangelicals like me who seem to share my experience would be if moderate Republicans were actually allowed to exist and vote their consciences. If John Boehner broke the Hastert rule and allowed a straight-up vote on reopening the government in which moderate Republicans were allowed to vote with Democrats, it would completely change the dynamics of our government. Then individual congresspeople would actually be able to negotiate with each other not between two monolithic, absolutely irreconcilable positions but within a spectrum of views. That kind of reality would shatter the analogy I’ve been making in my mind, and evangelicals like me, however many of us there are, would actually start thinking about politics objectively.
Evangelicals are the backbone of the Republican Party. Republicans will keep the baby boomer evangelicals until they’re dead, no matter what they do, because baby boomer evangelicals are as permanently defined by their rage against “the Sixties” as I am by my rage against fundamentalism. That’s why they will never stop throwing themselves into the culture wars. But the more that politicians who behave like fundamentalists are allowed to hold Republicans hostage, the more that they will permanently alienate evangelicals in my generation, at least the majority of us who didn’t get first place in all the “more Biblical than thou” competitions growing up.