March 2011


To Love and Cherish

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Christianity: The Basics

What is Wrong with Social Justice

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Archive for March 9th, 2011

How can Christians be Conservative?

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

As I mentioned on my other blog, the wife of a liberal friend of mine recently asked some sincere questions trying to understand Conservatives.  I answered her more political question there.  Here I will address the more religiously oriented questions, though they all still have a strong political component. In general she was basically asking, how a sincere Christian could be a Conservative.

Before answering that question, I want to be clear that I do not subscribe to the opposite position, i.e. I do not question how a Liberal can be a Christian.    While politics and religion do overlap in some areas, rarely are things so clear cut as to lead to a clearly “Christian” political view, be it on the Left or the Right. Also, I want to note that the Conservative movement is itself a broad spectrum of beliefs and not all Conservatives will agree with my answers, especially since not all Conservatives are Christians.

But back to her questions; as a background she referenced three major touch stones of the Christian faith, at least when it comes to social policy.  The first was the Sermon on the Mount; the second was Jesus’ statement in Matthew 25:40, “I tell you with certainty, since you did it for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.” (ISV)  Finally she mentioned Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, because either he will hate one and love the other, or be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches!”

Against this background she asked three questions. How can conservative Christians oppose the workers right to collectively bargain?  How can they show a lack of concern about the uninsured as seen in their objection to Obamacare? Finally how come, since they are so against government intervention, they seek to use government to impose their view of morality on others, in particular with the Pro-Life movement? I will deal with the last two in future posts.

As for the first question, as it turns out, this is an issue that Christians are pretty evenly split on.  But I will address it from my view.  First, I have a problem with the whole notion of “workers rights” and see this as part of the general confusion that exists concerning the whole understanding of rights.  In brief, the concept of rights developed from the belief that we are special creations of God, created in his own image, and that God has given us abilities, such as the ability to think and reason.  The basic notion is that what God has given, no one, not even the King, as a right to take away.  Thus we see in the Declaration of Independence,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Given this view of rights, there is no such thing as a right to collectively bargain.  Unions, and the arrangements that they make with management, are just one of many potential financial arrangements that employees and employers could enter into.  Thus I would argue that collective bargaining is neither Christian nor Unchristian, and this may very well explain the divergence of views.

This of course does not meant that particular employers, or particular unions, have not acted in Christian and/or unchristian ways from time to time. This does not mean that employer or unions are always good. History is full of examples on both sides of greed, bad faith, and unconcern of the welfare of “the least of these.”

In terms of the recent attempt to restrict unions in Wisconsin, and in other states, I have a particular problem.  When dealing with a company driven by profit, there is always the possibility that management is greedy and simply trying to exploit the workers.   Yet when with comes to government employees, they are not unionizing against a greedy owner, but against the people.  In addition, there is the dichotomy, at least for those on the left, that government is supposed to be a benevolent force, not driven by profit, and looking out for our best interest, as opposed to corporations who are out for profit. Yet when it comes to unions, government is just another employer to be demonized.

Then there is the fact that it is hard to hold that state workers are in “the least of these” category when both the pay and benefits they receive are significantly better than those in the private sector who must pay the bill.  This is especially true where the public sector unions have become a significant political force, such that they have been able to elect politicians beholden to them into office.  These politicians then repay the favor by giving them pay and benefits that well exceed the private sector.

As a result, many states such as California are in serious financial problems and have huge unfunded liabilities resulting from these union contracts.  Unions can claim that the state made the contract, but they cannot ignore the fact that these contracts were made often under a threat of strike, and often by the very politicians the unions sought to elect.

Thus one could just as easily turn the whole question around.  Is the Christian position really to side with those workers who are the best off, at the expense of those who must pay the bills; many of whom are worse off, or who will suffer a loss of services, because the money is not there?  Is the Christian position, really to ask those struggling on fixed incomes to do will less even less, because their property taxes must rise to pay the wages of government workers making far more.

Bottom line: I believe this is a place where Christians of good heart can and do disagree. Not because of the principles of the Christian faith, but how they are applied and how they view the issue.