Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “pray away the gay.” It is used to describe the action religiously conservative people recommend in relation to homosexuality, which they regard as a “choice” rather than a biological part of the human condition.
While there are a few references to homosexuality as a sin in the Bible, they are quite often contextually positioned with a host of other sins that include avarice, greed and other examples of human desires gone out of control. Yet homosexuality remains a favorite target of religious conservatives because it is far less common than uncontrolled greed, which is so common there always seems to be an excuse to justify it as a lifestyle that exists to the benefit of others. In fact one could say there is a strategy to uphold the worship of wealth because the power conferred by such appetites is so admired on this earth it seems senseless to tear it down. But that worldview’s is not really the way of God. It just seems like it sometimes.
These hypocritical excuses for biblically contradictory behavior are essentially institutionalized in the belief system we know as conservatism. Jesus Christ warned against the radical actions of the Pharisees who ran religion in his day. He called them a “brood of vipers” for their attempts to control the lives of others while personally benefitting from their station in life. Jesus reserved genuine anger for these manipulative conservative rulers who turned scripture into law and ran a religious state where religious power-mongering and corruption ruled the day.
And of course the controlling yet hypocritical tendencies of religious and political conservatives continue to vex the world to this day. Yet these modern day Pharisees radically refuse to see themselves in any sort of biblical light when it comes to their desires to impose their visions of moral values on society. It is so interesting to witness, for example, Pope Francis calling even his own church leadership to account for bad behavior. Of course conservative media attack any logic that runs counter to their blathering talking points calling Pope Francis a “radical” when all he’s doing is pointing out what the Gospels really say and advocate.
That is not to say there are no benefits to conservatism as a rule. Where the damage occurs is in the contradictory aspects of the conservative belief system as a religious and political movement, which essentially demands hypocrisy as a foundation of its worldview.
Let’s take a look at why this is so.
The conservative influence on culture
The admirable goals of political conservatism; keeping the powers of government in check, protecting citizens from excessive taxation, maintaining moral certitude as a principle of government, and encouraging free trade and commerce are all noble ideals. 20 At a values level, conservatism prides itself on support of tradition, liberty and love of God and country.
And despite its reputation as a staid element of social structure, conservatism has at times been quite progressive in the manner with which it has pursued its goals. This has been particularly true in using the media to communicate its message.This trend has escalated from the 1980s to the present. As a result, conservatism’s doctrinal approach to seeking power, influencing culture and leading government has attracted many followers.
If you are looking for a single factor in the success of conservatism with the American public, convictions are the political capital of conservatism. Any discussion of politics, social policy or human welfare must contain a healthy dose of “convictions” to be taken seriously by conservatives.
People with strong convictions love clarity. Yet the desire for absolute moral clarity among conservatives can lead to intolerance for other viewpoints and cultural prejudice. This may be one of the principle points at which conservatism contradicts the true message of the Bible. It is difficult for people to have compassion and tolerance for others if they are blinded by a discriminatory fixation on the competing interests of a material, political or personal priority. The missing component of doctrinal conservatism as it relates to Christian beliefs is therefore unqualified compassion. That is a Christian principle advocated by none other than Jesus Christ. Yet it is violated on many fronts, and every day, by those who brand “liberals” and “liberalism” as a sin.
There have been attempts by the conservatives to manufacture empathy for its political causes through use of terms such as “compassionate conservatism.” But there is little room for compassion in a political movement bent on doctrinal dominance. The fact that a term such as compassionate conservatism even needs to be invented is evidence of the moral contradiction—one might even call it hypocrisy—at the heart of the conservative alliance of fiscal, social, political and religious conservatives.
By definition, hypocrisy means, “a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not.” And, more specifically; “the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.”
Hypocrisy is a strong accusation to make toward any belief system. But the alliance of fiscal, social, political and religious conservatives fits the description in at least one critical sense, and perhaps many. Conservatism as a social movement struggles in particular with its ability to reconcile the market-driven demands of its fiscally conservative constituents with the call to charity and compassion inherent to religious faith and the liberal agenda of Jesus Christ.
Specious terms such as “trickle-down economics” that celebrate the supposed beneficence of the free market show only how cynical some elements of the conservative alliance can be toward those in need. If the most conservatism can manage is the grudging spoils of the rich, then greed remains in control and the collective ideology remains contrary to the liberal agenda of Jesus Christ.
Free market = no free rides
Ardent belief in the free market holds that traditions and institutions are useful only as instruments to create and trade wealth. We see this principle in action in corporate mergers, buyouts and dissolutions. The supposedly Darwinist principle of “survival of the fittest” is alive and well in the market economy. Fiscal conservatives are known to celebrate their brand of social Darwinism with joy and fervor, embracing the idea that “greed is good” and that the pursuit of wealth is the right and responsibility of every individual.
And among strict observers of fiscal conservatism, there is no such thing as a tithe or any moral obligation to share. Wealth is wealth. Those who earn it deserve to keep it. That makes fiscal conservatism the most radical element in the company of conservatism as a movement. True believers face an absolute dichotomy between the Ayn Rand philosophy of personal objectivism (be selfish) and the call of Jesus Christ to love all others above self. What more clear contradiction can there be?
What the Bible says about wealth
Absolute contradictions enter the picture when conservatism seeks to justify the doctrine of free market conservatism with the liberal agenda of Jesus Christ. In Mark 10:12, we find the story of a rich young man who wants to know what he can do to reach the kingdom of heaven:
“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good––except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
“Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
“At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Granted, this passage may be steeped in hyperbole. But this and a good number of other passages (John 2:12-17, Luke 12:22-34, Luke 12:16-23, Matthew 27:3) leave little doubt that pursuit of personal wealth and social advantage are not the top priorities of Jesus Christ. As Mark 10 suggests, a ministry in the name of Jesus calls for a selfless disregard for wealth as opposed to the “winner-take-all” focus of unbridled capitalism.
Trusting the Bible, not conservatism
If the Bible is to be trusted as a tool for social justice and democracy, then those who borrow its authority must keep in mind the liberal standard at its core. That predicates treating people as equal souls, avoiding discrimination and exploitation and promoting the virtue of charity through actions as well as words. Jesus emphatically calls us to reach out to others with resources that we might normally keep for ourselves. The liberal agenda of Jesus Christ always puts the needs of others first. Otherwise its message is captive to motives that have little to do with the ways of God.
All told, it appears the priority of Christians should be to pray away the hypocritical aspects of conservatism that have long undermined the real meaning and message of scripture. That’s what Jesus recommended, and that’s what we all should do.
Today’s blog contains excerpts from The Genesis Fix, A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age, a 2007 published book being revised for release in 2015. Christopher Cudworth is the author of The Right Kind of Pride, a book about facing life’s challenges with positivity and hope.