Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tea Party is No Moral Majority

The 1980 presidential election ended the way it did because Evangelical Christians got angry and got involved. In 2010, there is another very angry and highly organized movement that seems to be turning American politics on it's head: the Tea Party movement. Frantic liberals hate both of these popular revolts with such white-knuckled intensity that they easily identify them. (As in, "Oh, here come the backward, racist, Christian hillbillies again.") Jim Wallis, of Sojourners fame, seems particularly concerned that his secular leftist friends not get the idea that the Tea Party is Christian of any sort, so he tries to deep-six the idea in a Huffington Post article entitled, "How Christian is Tea Party Libertarianism?," (May 27, 2010).

In my column this week, "The Year of the Tea Party," I distinguish the Tea Party from the Moral Majority then show briefly that the Tea Party movement's much narrower agenda is arguably Christian at its core, or at least not unchristian.

The Moral Majority was intentionally a largely, but not necessarily, religious organization. It presented itself as a moral majority, not a Christian majority. Their concerns were threefold: family, foreign policy, and fiscal responsibility, if I may put it that way. Family issues included opposition to homosexuality, abortion, divorce, pornography, and feminism. Foreign policy concerns included standing effectively against world communism and supporting the state of Israel. To this they added a call for lower taxes and a balanced budget. The group’s agenda mirrored the GOP coalition of moral conservatives, foreign policy hawks, and fiscal conservatives, though the Moral Majority was chiefly concerned with family issues. There was an evangelical ministry called Focus on the Family, but nothing called Focus on Firepower or anything like that.

The Tea Party has a narrower agenda. It’s all about money. The movement was triggered by concerns over wild government spending, initially the implementation of TARP to stabilize the financial system, but then the group began to rally against various other stimulus packages, interventions, and pork barrel spending orgies that seemed to exploit the crisis to pillage several generations of taxpayers while the getting was good.

But money is not a dirty word. While balanced budgets are not the stuff of gospel preaching, financial responsibility is not an ungodly concern. In fact, concern for it is implied in the Eighth Commandment: “Thou shalt not steal!” Jim Wallis says, “[T]he Tea Party can legitimately be examined on the basis of Christian principles—and it should be,” then proceeds to attempt it. Yet he manages to overlook this feature that is arguably Christian and definitively Tea Party.

You can read more background on the Moral Majority in the column itself.

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