Many will find the heading bizarre. Surely to be a Christian is to be conservative? Well, yes and no! If being conservative means protecting values such as truth, integrity, fairness, justice, equality; then being conservative and being Christian are on the same page. If being conservative means being modest or circumspect (conservative) about oneself in order to advance another then again being conservative and being Christian sing from the same song sheet. If being conservative means a refusal to exploit, a desire to protect culture, diversity and the environment then again, being one could mean being the other. If being conservative is an ambition to use gifts and talents to the fullest and for the good of all, parables of Jesus applaud this mind set. If being conservative is to value all lives equally regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or religion then being one is to exemplify the other.
If however being conservative means promoting an unregulated free market even when it is clear that an unregulated market produces gross inequity and promotes growing division between rich and poor then being conservative and being Christian cannot be on the same page.
If being conservative means growing a military budget out of proportion to budgets on welfare, education and health, being conservative and Christian cannot be the same.
If being conservative means being critical of science and scientists when they warn that exploitative human activity is damaging the natural order, being conservative is a choice against creation and therefore a choice not to be Christian.
If being conservative means everything is for sale and little if anything is to be held in public trust then being conservative is at odds with being Christian.
If being conservative means such an emphasis on the self governing individual that under all circumstances tax is to be minimised, welfare is to be avoided, overseas aid is to be cut back and every activity is to be ‘for profit’: then being conservative and being Christian are at polar ends of the spectrum.
If consideration of human ethical behaviour by a conservative mindset is solely cocooned in personal morality so that matters of sex, gender, marriage, abortion and euthanasia occupy the front and centre, pushing social justice, exploitation, greed, dishonesty and misuse of power into the closet, then conservatives have not heard the teaching of Jesus.
I grew up on the land, the son of a dairy farmer. My early ambitions were all to do with the land. My only venture into party politics was as a member of the Country Party younger set in the early 1960’s I consider myself a natural ‘conservative’ in that I implicitly understand that the destiny of the earth and the destiny of all human lives are inextricably bound together. I understand that we human beings must tread lightly and not allow our combined hubris to exceed the limits of our ‘appropriate place’ on the planet – indeed the universe..
What now passes for conservative politics frightens and appals me. It appears to be all about, the individual, selfishness and populism with no intellectual base. Fear appears to be its primary political tool. 2017 is shaping up to be the year of the political conservatives. Its proponents, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, Cory Bernardi, Pauline Hanson, George Christensen, Tony Abbott, are each in their own way very influential.
Because many of them are well known for their Christian convictions, two implications that might flow from connecting Christianity with the politics of conservatism, need to be guarded against. The first is that some Christians may be drawn to this aberrant, and in my view, dangerous form of politics, because of an implicit assumption that conservative politicians are necessarily Christian. The second and equally appalling outcome would be for Christianity to lose even more of its credibility as a voice worth hearing in the public arena because of its perceived association with this brand of politics as has happened with the Tea Party in the US.
2017 needs to be a year of considered debate and public discussion so that popular grabs like ‘I will make America great again’, or ‘I stand for common sense’, or ‘we stand for family values’, are examined to discern what they really mean and whether the ideology that lies behind the headline delivers its intention, or is in fact its antithesis.
In a globally relational world if individual freedom means each individual can and should do what they consider to be primarily in their best interest without reference to others, then, as the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur argues, ‘freedom’ of the individual (or nation) has become the source of the world’s violence and evil.