Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Paul vs. Gingrich: Beliefs vs. Values

Evangelical Belief vs. Evangelical Values

The lone evangelical remaining in the Republican nomination battle came in fourth in last Saturday’s South Carolina primary.

Who is that evangelical? Ron Paul. He was baptized a Lutheran. He became an Episcopalian when he married, and his children were baptized Episcopalians. He and his wife are no longer practicing Episcopalians but attend a Baptist church.

On the other hand the winner, who dominated “the evangelical vote” is thrice married, confessed adulterer Newt Gingrich who converted to Roman Catholicism when he became convinced of the centrality of the Eucharist. Rick Santorum, another Roman Catholic, who is has been a faithful husband and father and who got the backing of a smoke filled room meeting (no doubt lacking the smoke) of evangelical power brokers, came in third.

Evangelicals profess that their faith makes a big difference in the way they vote.  Paul is an evangelical who says the Jesus Christ is his “personal Savior.” If he accepts the doctrines of the church he attends, then he is doctrinally an evangelical. Why don’t his brethren go for him?

One factor probably is his kookiness. He is a rather odd person which makes him interesting but fails to inspire confidence in those who are not his core true-believing followers.

Another no doubt is that evangelical beliefs (doctrines), are not nearly so important to evangelicals as we sometimes think. Two things are more important. One is “evangelical experience.” Paul just does not look, talk, or act in a “born again way.” He says he is uncomfortable talking about his faith in a political campaign.

.The other thing more important than doctrine to evangelical voters is “evangelical values.” Paul does not claim his positions are an outworking of his faith. He take a distinctively “Christian approach” to the issues. He does not hold to or promote the usual evangelical values on important issues. His views on national defense, marriage laws, foreign intervention, and marijuana, for instance are not what evangelicals expect of evangelical politicians.

Perhaps Ron Paul needs 90 days at Coral Ridge Rehab to learn how to share the faith he doesn’t talk about and to learn the positions on the issues that his evangelical faith requires.

Then there is Newt. Why? Perhaps there is the evangelical fervor of his debate style. (But, why then did not Rick Perry, who looks and speaks like the quintessential Southern Baptist preacher, catch on?) Perhaps there is fact that evangelicals don’t like “the establishment” whether ecclesiastical or political telling them what to do. The Republican establishment is scared to death of Newt and doesn’t want him, so there’s a good reason to support him! Perhaps there is a willingness to disconnect his political advocacy of evangelical values from his failure to practice some of them.

But what all this ought to do is to raise a big question in the minds of those who think there is an evangelical politics (one aspect of “a Christian worldview). Perhaps there really is not so clear and inevitable a connection between faith and politics. The only evangelical still in the race does not hold evangelical positions on the issues. The Roman Catholic frontrunner does hold those so-called evangelical positions. And so called evangelical voters are willing to overlook both doctrinal confession and moral practice in choosing their candidate. Perhaps there is really no such thing as evangelical candidates, positions, or voters. Or, as D.G. Hart keeps saying, perhaps evangelicalism itself doesn’t exist.

What I know is that as 2-K Christian who happens to be a Republican I don’t have to get my panties in a wad (I know it’s ok to say “panties in a wad because evangelical Sarah Palin said it) about politics nearly so much and surely not for the same reasons as my world-and-life view friends.

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