David Brody, the Christian Broadcasting Network's White House correspondent, Wendy Wright, the president of Concerned Women for America, and David P. Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, discuss what place Christians have in the tea party movement.
Christians Belong in the Front Row of the Tea Party
Start marching at your local rally.
When it comes to politics, I'm not a big fan of CW (conventional wisdom). After all, Hillary Clinton—not Barack Obama—would be President today if CW ruled. Joe Biden would have cleaned Sarah Palin's clock in the 2008 vice presidential debate if CW had held true. It didn't.
Now comes word from the CW experts, better known as the mainstream media, that Christians and the tea party just don't go together.
Their reasoning goes like this: The tea party movement cares only about fiscal issues, so Christians should take their social issues and go play somewhere else. News flash for the CW crowd: Wrong again. Strike three. You're out.
The tea party movement is the perfect place for Christians to lobby for biblical values and priorities, and many Christians seem to know that.
I have traveled across this great land and flocked to tea party events and rallies. Who do I see showing up? Conservative, Bible-believing Christians. A seat at the table is reserved for this key voting constituency because, as strategist and leading evangelical Ralph Reed tells me, "If you protect marriage and you protect life, but the federal government is destroying our future through a $20 trillion debt, that threatens our future just as much as moral decay does."
Besides, just because fiscal issues dominate the tea party agenda doesn't mean issues like abortion are gone and forgotten. While Christians may not be marching with their pro-life signs at tea party rallies, the heated debate over the recent health-care bill proved that abortion is always in the mix.
The mainstream media like to say that racism is rampant in the tea party movement. If this were true, Christians would be concerned; racism, too, is a moral issue, and something true Christians reject outright.
Yet the funny thing is, tea party rallies are not filled with racial epithets. The language is more indicative of love of country and love of God. I remember tea party favorite Senator Jim DeMint once saying, "… the motivation behind these tea party crowds is a spiritual component. I think it's very akin to the Great Awakening before the American Revolution …. 'I'm praying for you' comes up more than anything else in these crowds."
In our society, we love to put everyone in boxes. The media do a great job at this. But reality is always more complicated, and no one fits in one box. It's not unusual to see a fiscally conservative, gun-owning, flag-waving, home-schooling, stay-at-home Christian mom show up at a tea party event. This woman encompasses many special interests, but they are all wrapped up in one purpose: to take our government back and send a message to the current administration.
Start marching to a tea party near you. There's a seat waiting.
Christians Belong Inside the Tea Party
Christians can show that the strength of America's foundation is the wisdom revealed in the Bible.
"Spread my work ethic, not my wealth," proclaimed one sign at a tea party gathering. "Compassion is voluntary, not compulsory," said another. These pithy statements express principles that make America great and have their roots in the Bible. Personal responsibility, charity, the proper role of government, and fiscal discipline are biblical principles that are woven into the fabric of America.
The government's profligate defiance of these virtues and of constitutional limits is driving millions to the tea party movement. "We live by the rules," tea party activists say, "so Congress should abide by constitutional rules."
This ideology is particularly attractive to women, who fill the movement as leaders and activists. Women usually manage household budgets and health-care decisions. Mothers who diligently instill morals in their children find the government undercutting their teachings and challenging their ability to make medical choices.
The movement also opens doors to talk about Christian principles. Eager to articulate and defend their beliefs, many people enthusiastically study America's founding, igniting a "constitutional revival." This provides a unique opportunity for Christians. Over the past 30 years, evangelicals have rediscovered America's Christian roots. Concerned Women for America state chapters hold book clubs with tea party activists to study constitutional principles. This naturally leads to curiosity about concepts like "inalienable rights, which come from God." Biblical principles are woven throughout the Constitution—principles some current leaders seem to have forgotten. Such principles include the following:
• The rule of law. This comes from the Ten Commandments. Laws applied to Moses as well as the people and were available for all to read and understand.
• All men are created equal. As John Adams wrote, "The doctrine of human equality is founded entirely in the Christian doctrine that we are all children of the same Father, all accountable to him for our conduct to one another, all equally bound to respect each other's self love."
• Our officials represent us—hence the term "public servant." Jesus said, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among must be your servant" (Mark 10:42-43, ESV).
• A separation of powers. Government power is diffused among three branches: executive, judicial, and legislative. Authority is delegated to federal, state, and local governments. Why? If too much power is given to one person or entity, it will be abused. America's founding fathers seem to have known Romans 3:23 well, that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Tea party activists believe the government has strayed from its foundation. Christians can show that the strength of that foundation is the wisdom revealed in the Bible. The tea party movement is an effective way to bring our leaders back to their roots.
Christians Belong Outside the Tea Party
The tea party movement opens a discussion worth having, but Christians are called to care for the underprivileged.
David P. Gushee
The tea party movement is primarily a reaction to the November 2008 election of Barack Obama and an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress, and the policies they have undertaken since January 2009. Obama's election and the particular policies he and Congress have pursued have triggered this populist movement.
Tea partiers reject nearly everything the Obama administration and Congress have done since January 2009: the stimulus bill, the auto industry bailout, proposed "cap and trade" environmental legislation, and, especially, health-care reform.
At a policy level, the tea party movement is most interesting in its general opposition to the expansion of federal government power and spending in the name of American constitutionalism. Because both Republicans and Democrats have presided over that expansion and both have regularly failed to balance the federal budget, the tea partiers present a challenge to the prevailing political order of the country. Their "Contract From America" demands as its first item that any new law must name the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the authority to legislate in that area.
Perhaps a healthy dose of this kind of scrutiny might rein in excesses of both the warfare/national security state we have developed since World War II, and the welfare/economic security state that has evolved piecemeal since the 1930s. (I think the former is the greater problem, and hope the tea partiers will press for its rollback.)
But the tea party movement also has ugly weaknesses. I saw a new bumper sticker this week. It said, "Take Our Country Back: November 2010." It's hard to deny the evidence available from tea party events that much of the passion driving the movement flows from visceral opposition to President Obama.
"Birthers" (disproportionately represented among tea partiers), the nearly universal tea partier belief that Obama is a socialist and/or communist, and, yes, the occasional racially tinged incidents and comments, all signal disbelief that this country ever could have elected Obama.
President Obama is the Other. The symbolism of "Don't Tread on Me," the emphasis on gun rights, and the tea party's links to America's revolutionary days lend a frightening undertone to the movement, at least on its fringes.
To the extent that the tea party movement is simply a contemporary expression of low taxes, small government, and leave-me-alone libertarianism, it carries all the weaknesses of that libertarianism in terms of Christian social ethics. We Christians are called to care for the underprivileged, not leave them to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
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David Brody is the Christian Broadcasting Network's White House correspondent who blogs at The Brody File. Wendy Wright is the president of Concerned Women for America, the nation's largest public policy women's organization. David P. Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, where he directs the Center for Theology and Public Life.
Previous Christianity Today articles on the tea party movement include:
Tea Party Insurgence Ripples Through Missouri Synod Election | Confessionalists say the standing president has taken a nondenominational, evangelical megachurch approach. (April 30, 2010)
Channeling the Populist Rage | How should we respond to the loss of confidence in the government? (April 6, 2010)
More Prayer than Protests | Conservative groups were less interested in recent tea party protests than a U.S. District Court decision that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. (April 23, 2010)
Christian Conservative Groups Promote Tea Parties | Groups like Focus on the Family Action, Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and the American Family Association helped promote the demonstrations. (April 15, 2009)
Previous Village Green sections have discussed Afghanistan, Bible smuggling, creation care, intelligent design, preaching, immigration, Lent, premarital abstinence, aid to foreign nations, technology, and abortion.
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