When we think of religious conservatism, we likely think in terms of slogging through the trenches of the great American culture war. But does the culture war serve as a useful paradigm for understanding religious conservatism?
Long before the shouting contests over national health care and decades before Tea Partiers raised a collective ARGHHH!, a conservative, antigovernment movement was forged. The problem with government, these activists said, is that there is too much of it.
In an unusual three-way race for leadership of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, pastor Frank Page of South Carolina was elected in an upset as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, giving hope to many younger conservatives that the usual powerbrokers have suffered a setback.
I think I might qualify as a Crunchy Conservative. I wear Birkenstocks whenever weather permits. My wife and I worry about our children becoming too much the target market. We buy organic an awful lot. When my friends and I grapple with issues, we ask the age-old question: What would Wendell Berry do?
Writing months before the 2004 presidential election, Thomas Frank predicted that many members of the working and middle classes would vote on issues of culture, not economics. Being correct on this point won’t bring satisfaction to Frank, who begins and ends What’s the Matter with Kansas?
I have spent a number of years engaged in Jewish-Christian dialogue. More recently, I have been involved in extensive exchanges with Muslim scholars. I regularly visit Utah for off-the-record discussions with Mormon leaders about deep disagreements between Mormons and evangelicals. I approach all these conversations with great enthusiasm.
I’m uncomfortably aware that this room contains two very different groups of Presbyterians—both of which have ministered to me. One is made up of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. The church has developed the bad habit of talking about this group as if it is a problem for the denomination. Let me address you directly: You have not been a problem for me.
Though his opponents tagged him as “embarrassingly liberal” and outside mainstream politics, Paul Wellstone won two terms as a U.S. senator, and he had a strong chance of winning a third term when he was killed in a plane crash while campaigning in Minnesota on October 24.
Support the Christian Century
The Century's work relies primarily on subscriptions and donations. Thank you for supporting nonprofit journalism.