If, as we have here asserted, the real root of the divide inside the Republican party is religious, how do we repair it? It is not easy. For as we have also here contended, schism is an almost defining factor of modern Evangelical expression. But it is only one of two competing impulses in the Evangelical mindset.
On the one hand the Evangelical demands a sort of religious or ideological purity. Never has this been more evident than in Al Mohler’s address at Brigham Young University yesterday: (HT: Justin Taylor)
I am not here because I believe we are going to heaven together. I do not believe that. I believe that salvation comes only to those who believe and trust only in Christ and in his substitutionary atonement for salvation. I believe in justification by faith alone, in Christ alone. I love and respect you as friends, and as friends we would speak only what we believe to be true, especially on matters of eternal significance. We inhabit separate and irreconcilable theological worlds, made clear with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity. And yet here I am, and gladly so. We will speak to one another of what we most sincerely believe to be true, precisely because we love and respect one another.
I do not believe that we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together. I do not mean to exaggerate, but we are living in the shadow of a great moral revolution that we commonly believe will have grave and devastating human consequences. Your faith has held high the importance of marriage and family. Your theology requires such an affirmation, and it is lovingly lived out by millions of Mormon families. That is why I and my evangelical brothers and sisters are so glad to have Mormon neighbors. We stand together for the natural family, for natural marriage, for the integrity of sexuality within marriage alone, and for the hope of human flourishing
What’s the lede there? Certainly not the shared political concerns, rather it is the theological divide. Before he can talk about joining Mormons in common political cause he is seemingly compelled to not merely acknowledge the theological differences, but to carefully delineate and explain them. What could have been glossed over with a few words, consumes an entire paragraph of the pullquote, and several paragraphs in the entire transcript of the speech. This is the schismatic impulse. No bridge can be build too permanently – it cannot be shored up – it must be built in a fashion that it can be destroyed in an instant.
And yet, the other impulse seems in opposition. That is the impulse to win. Despite the recent rise in “spiritual but not religious” among young people – Evangelicals in the midst of their schismatic impulse run from megachurch to megachurch. They seem to like being in the herd. One would think that the “spiritual but not religious” movement amongst the young was the ultimate expression of the schismatic impulse, but it is not – it is a violent counter reaction to the schismatic impulse. It is the very temporary nature of the institutions of Evangelicalism that make them appear valueless to the young.
Evangelicals, as they run from megachurch to megachurch, are simply using the “mega” as a measure of success and seeking to affiliate with that success. It is the ultimate expression of the old adage “nothing succeeds like success.” Apparently even if that success lasts only a decade or so.
Republicans do not currently appear to be winning. Fred Barnes in this morning’s WSJ:
In the deal that ended the government shutdown, Republicans lost. They got almost nothing they’d sought. But what has been largely overlooked is that the deal didn’t curtail, much less end, the automatic spending cuts known as the budget sequester. And undoing the sequester is what President Obama and Democrats wanted most of all.
The survival of the automatic spending cuts gives Republicans the upper hand in confronting the White House and congressional Democrats on budget issues and new proposals by Mr. Obama that would involve new outlays, such as his plan for universal pre-K education. For Republicans eager to corral federal spending—and that’s most of them—the sequester is a gift that keeps on giving.
Democrats, especially Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, are fit to be tied as they watch cherished social programs gradually shrink.
Yes, there is a silver lining to what happened – but silver linings are not success and therefore they do not help build more success. But if you think about it for a moment, the spiritual but not religions young people have a point. A temporary institution is not really a win either – it is more the appearance of a win.
However, what is most interesting is that the temporary appearance of a win seems to override the schismatic impulse since Evangelicals flock to megachurches – at least for now. Schism eventually reasserts itself when the latest thing does not deliver permanence either.
So, how do Republicans win back the religiously motivated voter? Accusing them of having competing impulses and chastising them to pull it together clearly is not the answer. We need to act to on those impulses. If the preservation of the sequester was the win we got, at least the conservative outlets should have been talking about needing to do that a week before things plummeted to a conclusion. The appearance of a win is based largely on expectations.
Who even knew the sequester was at stake in that whole thing? Only deep in the bowels of Washington was it known. And it matters not that the MSM would not discuss it, the appearance of a win needs to only happen for the loyal. “The sequester is at stake” should have been the cry from Rush Limbaugh to Local Talk Radio Guy X. My Twitter feed should have seen “Obama wants the Sequester Eliminated” hundreds of times. Then its preservation would be perceived as a win, at least among the loyal and that is a sufficient enough success on which to build more success.
Yes, we still have to build permanence and suppress the schismatic impulse after that. But that simple bit of messaging and that simple bet of forming expectations would have been enough for now – it would give us the opportunity to address the other issues. We do not even have that opportunity at the moment.