The Pen

Chris Christie’s Strong Conservative Voice Has Something to Say to America’s Evangelicals

Pulpit & Pen usually shies away from covering politics because, as I often say, “The problem is always sin and the answer is always Gospel.” What I see in the potential presidential nomination of Chris Christie, however, is a powerful message of conservatism that evangelicals need to listen to.

In fact, as a guy who voted for Ron Paul last time around and who is easily as Libertarian as I am Republican, I think that Chris Christie’s voice is precisely the voice that evangelicals need to hear in 2015 (or 2016). Chris Christie is a strong, strong conservative.

Documenting Christie’s conservatism is an easy thing to do. For example, writing for The Nation, John Nichols writes…

Christie is no moderate. He’s a social conservative who opposes reproductive rights, has defunded Planned Parenthood and has repeatedly rejected attempts to restore state funding for family planning centers. He has vetoed money for clinics that provide health screenings for women, including mammograms and pap smears. He vetoed marriage equality…Christie is at his most militant when it comes to implementing the austerity agenda associated with the most conservative Republican governors.

I don’t know if it could be any more clear. Christie is a conservative. After all, he has to be. He’s running for the nomination in the GOP primary, for crying out loud. How could he not be a stalwart conservative? Nichols over at the The Nation isn’t alone. MSNBC is agreeing with us strongly on Christie’s conservative credentials as well. Allyah Frumin at MSNBC writes…

In recent weeks, Christie – an establishment Republican governing a blue state –  has seeminglyhedged right to appeal to conservatives in states like Iowa. He vetoed gun control legislation, declared that the gay marriage debate isn’t over and has gone after Obama’s foreign policy.  

Cathy Burke at Newsmax also bolsters Christie’s clearly conservative credentials by indicating that he’s the only Republican candidate that would come down hard on marijuana…

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has claimed a spot on the conservative end of divide over marijuana but he appears to have it all to himself among declared and likely Republican presidential candidates. Christie… said Sunday if he were president, he’d return to federal prosecutions on marijuana in states that have legalized it.

Even Ginger Benson over at the International Business Times has spoken strongly of Christie’s conservative credentials, as well as quoting him on his own credentials at a “Faith and Family” conference in Washington last month…

He did tout his anti-abortion credentials, though, noting he vetoed funding for Planned Parenthood in the New Jersey state budget. But he said being “pro-life” is about more than just fighting abortion…Christie also invoked prayer when talking about the Wednesday-night shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine peopled were killed by a gunman who identified their race as the reason for the murders. “​Laws can’t change this; only the goodwill and the love of the American people can let those folks know that that act was unacceptable, disgraceful, and we need to do more to show that we love each other,” Christie said.

And, of course Christie is a conservative when you compare him to potential Democratic candidates in the 2016 presidential election. Lincoln Chaffee, Hillary Clinton, Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders…now that’s what you call liberal! Compared to these guys, you’d be CRAZY to call Chris Christie a liberal! Goodness, even Grover Norquist called Christie “a strong voice of conservative governance.”

So, it’s settled. Chris Christie is a fine conservative. He’s said conservative things. He claims what some would call a conservative platform. His opponents are darn-near socialists. Christie is a conservative; end of story. And some claim he’s even going more conservative all the time! Debate over! Or is it the end of the story?

Have I convinced you that Chris Christie is a conservative?

No? Why not? Because you’re not the naive? Because you’ve read the news? Because you’ve been watching him for several years? Because it takes more to be “conservative” than a few sound bytes? Because being just to the right of Chaffee, Clinton, Webb, O’Malley, and Sanders doesn’t make you a conservative, but it only makes you a “little less liberal.” I’d say that about 5% of American evangelicals would consider Chris Christie a “conservative” in spite of what all I’ve mentioned (and he’s mentioned) in regards to his supposed conservatism.

In reality, Christie has the following problems with his conservative credentials…

When you look at the full picture of Chris Christie, you’ll realize that he’s further left than even most blue-dog democrats 20 years ago. He’s certainly more liberal than the vast, vast majority of Republicans 15 years ago. But as American politics evolves and our culture changes and our Democratic opponents are going further and further left, what was once considered flaming liberal seems kinda… sorta…conservative. Compare this to Barry Goldwater’s epic campaign in 1964 and his conservative-defining book in 1960, Conscience of a Conservative (which the historian in me feel compelled to tell you that the book was actually written by William F. Buckley, even though it was attributed to Goldwater). That book defined conservatism for the 20th Century, saying things like this…

“…the Conservative has learned that the economic and spiritual aspects of man’s nature are inextricably intertwined. He cannot be economically free, or even economically efficient, if he is enslaved politically; conversely, man’s political freedom is illusory if he is dependent for his economic needs on the State.”

Barry Goldwater would not recognize Chris Christie as a “conservative.” Neither would he, probably, a good number of the other Republican candidates for nomination during this election or at least the last two prior. The sheer idea would be laughable to him. Take it from me – a guy who named his daughter after Ronald Reagan, his son after Oliver North, and knows his conservative politics – Goldwater wouldn’t have considered either of the last to Republican candidates for president “conservative” in the slightest. And yet, they have that title.

When guys like me look at Russell Moore or his transgender bathroom-of-choice affirming, LGBT fundraising research fellow, Karen Swallow Prior and say they’re not conservative, some laugh. Some deride. I think they have no idea where we’re coming from. “Of course they’re conservative,” they say. “No, of course they’re not social progressives,” they argue. They can’t be. Moore is a Southern Baptist. Prior (recently, anyway) stopped being a deaconess at that CBC church and is a member of Thomas Road Baptist Church. They just can’t be socially progressive! They claim a belief in inerrancy. They both think abortion is bad. How could they not be conservatives?

I’ve said it until I’m blue in the face – in the SBC, all one has to confess to be considered a conservative is (A) the inerrancy of Scripture and (B) abortion is bad. Prior and Moore both fit the description. One individual even pointed out in social media today that Russell Moore is bravely and courageously calling out Planned Parenthood for selling the body parts of aborted infants (short of Democrats and members of the 1939 Nazi Party, who wouldn’t agree with him?). Is that where the bar is set in the SBC? Believe that selling body parts of murdered infants is bad and that’s all that’s necessary to be a conservative?

Just as there are people in the political realm who think I’m crazy for saying that Chris Christie is not a conservative when he has certain conservative stances, some think I’m crazy for saying that Moore or Prior are socially progressive because, after all, they have certain conservative stances. But like with Christie, consider the full picture.

  • Moore has said that he would attend gay wedding receptions
  • Moore has advocated for amnesty for illegal aliens, and called Jesus an illegal alien
  • Moore has pushed again and again “Creation Care” environmentalism
  • Moore was a Democratic staffer, and named his child after an Obama-voting Democratic congressman
  • Moore uses terms and code words from the gay agenda lexicon, repeatedly and unapologetically
  • Even the secular press has noted (repeatedly) the “softening tone” and “softening approach” to the topic of homosexuality
  • Moore has spoken many times about “social justice,” using that loaded term and advocating for that term explicitly
  • Moore has surrounded himself with social progressives both in and outside the ERLC
  • Moore has been unashamedly ecumenical, partnering with everyone from Catholics to Cultists to accomplish ideals of social justice
  • Moore has led prayer at the “Multi-Faith Room” – an ecumenical and interfaith meeting of people from all different religions
  • Swallow Prior is credited by a gay student at Liberty with supporting his decision to “come out”
  • Swallow Prior took glowingly happy selfies with that gay student – and other sodomites – at an “LGBT” film festival red carpet ceremony
  • Swallow Prior spoke at that fundraiser for the “LGBT” organization as well
  • Swallow Prior said that “…gay marriage is an act that stems from love.”
  • Swallow Prior said that letting the “transgendered” use the restroom of their preference was “as commonsensical as it is refreshing.”
  • Swallow Prior runs in circles of Rachel Held Evans and has “affirming” relationships with other liberal feminist evangelicals.
  • Swallow Prior positively tweeted Jonathan Merritt’s article on a “third way” and said on Twitter that she’s not necessarily against that idea

I’ll happily admit the inherent problem with using terms like “conservative” and “socially progressive” when dealing with Russell Moore and Karen Swallow Prior. I think that genuinely confuses people, in the same way that some are confused when they hear that a Republican presidential contender isn’t a conservative. Politically, we often use terms that are not fluid and that do not change with the weaving tide of cultural compromise like libertarian, constitutionalist, strict constructionist and so on. When we use those terms that are “concrete” and aren’t regularly being adjusted on a sliding cultural scale, we’re able to have a better defined conversation.

So long as Moore and Swallow Prior are right of Jim Wallis and Held-Evans, some will consider them conservatives (regardless of how much further left Wallis and Held-Evans go and how much Moore and Swallow Prior move left with them). So long as they stay to the right – even the slightest bit right – for some, their conservative credentials can’t be questioned. So what that Swallow Prior takes selfies at red-carpet events with a gay student she supported when he “came out” and spoke at the LGBT fundraiser and thinks transgender preference restrooms are “commonsensical and refreshing” – she admitted that homosexuality was sinful back in [that one time]. See? She’s conservative, obviously. So what if Russell Moore would go receive a homosexual couple as husband and wife husband at a reception and watch them stuff gay wedding cake in each other’s mouths…he still affirms traditional marriage. He can’t possibly be socially progressive.

Well, here’s the thing. What I consider politically conservative doesn’t change because I’m one of those fuddy-duddy libertarians and strict constructionists that think the Constitution should determine what is “liberal” and what is “conservative” and not focus groups every four years. Likewise, what I consider to be theologically conservative doesn’t change because I’m one of those inerrantists who think the Bible should determine what is right and wrong and not the shifting winds of cultural change.

I don’t think Jesus calling Zacchaeus to repentance over dinner is the same as taking a selfie with some sodomites at an LGBT fundraiser you just spoke at, while opining that gay marriage is an act of love and folks should use whatever restroom they want based off of their self-identifying gender. I don’t think Jesus would bring a George Foreman Grill for Adam and Steve to enjoy in their new sodomy-centered home together at their wedding reception or stand in line to catch the bouquet or applaud those that do or make a toast to them or anything else that happens at a wedding reception. I think know Jesus would call us to be kind to the alien and sojourner, but I don’t think he’d accuse his parents of sin by claiming they broke some nonexistent Egyptian immigration law by fleeing from Herod. You get the point.

The problem in evangelicalism is that Moore and Swallow Prior look conservative compared to mainstream evangelicalism with “Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors” slogans. They look conservative compared to the rainbow-colored vestments down at the Episcopalian Church. And they’ll continue to be considered conservative so long as they stay slightly right of the far left.

But compare Moore and Swallow Prior to the Southern Baptists that reclaimed the SBC from the throes of liberalism in the Conservative Resurgence. Frankly, these two are more like the ones kicked out during the Conservative Resurgence. By that standard, we can see exactly how liberal the SBC and evangelicalism has become when Moore and Swallow Prior seem conservative. Far be it from me to give glowing accolades to the clumsy, inarticulate (and Calvinist-disliking) Richard Land, and much has been said about the failure of the 80’s Moral Majority, but the fact is, compared to Moore and Swallow Prior, I miss both.

If Chris Christie were to win the Republican nomination (which is doubtful), many Republicans calling him liberal today would be championing him as a conservative afterward. After all, there are two sides, and we’re going to cheer our own team like people are inclined to do. Republicans, the last two elections have shown, even have the penchant to convince ourselves that moderate Republicans aren’t that moderate after all, when the alternative is worse. This is where we’re at with the ERLC. We know they’re not conservative by our standards of 20, 15, 10 or even 5 years ago, but we’re afraid of the other team winning. So, we pick a team and then we defend that team in the face of inconvenient facts.

Folks, we shouldn’t be on a team. Jesus has this game wrapped up. Jesus will win the culture war when he rules with a rod of iron. He has not called us to compromise. He’s called us to proclaim unashamed truth. And frankly, that’s something the ERLC seems petrified to do.


[Contributed by JD Hall]