God, Conservatism, and Donald Trump
The recent imbroglio between Donald Trump and Pope Francis brings to mind the real meaning of "conservative principles."
Recently, because of Trump's comments on immigrants and immigration, and due to his desire to wall off the southern border, the pope himself questioned the man's Christian credentials. When asked by reporters for his thoughts on Trump's ideas for ending illegal immigration to the U.S., Pope Francis answered, "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel."
Forgetting for a moment the pope's sloppy analogy (it must have been a while since the bishop of Rome has been home, or read the Book of Nehemiah), of all the things over which to question Mr. Trump's Christianity, immigration was a poor choice. Unlike abortion, homosexuality, marriage, divorce, financial stewardship, fornication, and forgiveness – all areas where, from a Christian perspective, Mr. Trump's words and deeds are at best questionable – there is no clear-cut biblical direction on the matter of immigration.
Also, can you recall a time when the supreme pontiff (at least this pontiff) was so quick to question the Christianity of a leading American liberal politician? How "Christian" is it to kill children in the womb, promote every kind of sexual deviancy imaginable, promote an enslaving welfare state, or redefine the oldest institution in the history of humanity? When then-presidential candidate Obama was using some of the most radical pro-abortion language by any politician in U.S. history, I recall little if any protest from Vatican officials. Tragically, for decades now, much like many liberal denominations across the U.S., the Catholic Church has shown tremendous indifference toward sin.
Of course, a devout Christian in the White House won't cure sin in our culture. Nevertheless, history and sound conservative doctrine prove that a strong Christian worldview is the surest means by which to secure and promote liberty, peace, and prosperity in the U.S. and the world over.
At The Heritage Foundation, Edwin J. Feulner highlights the conservatism of Edmund Burke. "The principles of true politics," Burke said, "are those of morality enlarged." Dr. Feulner also notes that "Burkean conservatism," as he calls it, "is a branch of ethics which separates him sharply from Machiavelli and the modern idea that power is supreme in politics. Burke's basic political principles are based on the classical and Christian natural law, derived from God and perceived by good men through 'right reason.'"
Such "right reason" led Burke, whom many consider the father of modern conservatism, to oppose the godless and bloody French Revolution. Reflecting on "the new liberty of France," Burke concluded, "I should therefore suspend my congratulations ... until I was informed how it had been combined with government; with public force; with the discipline and obedience of armies; ... with morality and religion; ... with peace and order; with civil and social manners. All these (in their way) are good things too; and, without them, liberty is not a benefit whilst it lasts, and is not likely to continue long. The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: We ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations."
While observing what Americans did with their newfound liberty – and noticing the lack of summary executions, genocide, and the guillotine – Alexis de Tocqueville concluded, "In the United States the sovereign authority is religious[.] ... [T]here is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth[.] … The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other."
The brilliant Russell Kirk agreed. Author of the seminal The Conservative Mind, Kirk said that Christianity and Western civilization are "unimaginable apart from one another." The first of Kirk's "Six Canons of Conservatism" declares, "Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems."
In The Portable Conservative Reader, Kirk concludes that "all culture arises out of religion. When religious faith decays, culture must decline, though often seeming to flourish for a space after the religion which has nourished it has sunk into disbelief."
The "decay" of Christianity in America has most certainly coincided with a "decline" in our culture. Thinking they are "progressing" toward a society with more freedom and greater happiness, far too many Americans ignore Burke when he warns, "Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters [chains]."
We have forgotten what "America's Schoolmaster," Noah Webster, taught us: "The religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and His apostles[.] ... [T]o this we owe our free Constitutions of Government." The size of our economy, the might of our military, or the abundance of our natural resources matters little if we are a nation filled with people devoted to a "theology of self."
A nation whose laws and lawmakers will not protect the most innocent and defenseless among us, who will not guard the oldest institution in the history of humanity, who protect the pervert and punish the pious, is a nation that will not long endure. A nation who cannot see the clear eternal truths when it comes to life, marriage, the family, and so on cannot be trusted to get its immigration policy right, cannot be trusted to get its foreign policy right, cannot be trusted to maintain fiscal discipline, and cannot be trusted with the most powerful military the world has ever known.
I sometimes like to refer to myself as a "John Jay conservative." Jay – a Founding Father, member of both Continental Congresses, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, and first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court – stated that "it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians as their rulers." This is why, when going to the ballot box, faith is foremost in my mind. And this is why, in the GOP primary, I will not be voting for Donald Trump.
Trevor Grant Thomas: At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World.