Are conservatives guilty of purity testing?
In the "Dear Abby" section of the Chicago Sun-Times this week, there was a question from a nanny about having to keep her sexual preference a secret from a conservative family. The nanny doesn't work for that family any longer but maintains a close relationship with the parents and children. The parents asked the nanny to keep her relationship in the closet around their children. Naturally, the nanny feels conflicted by the dilemma.
The question this raises is, are conservatives guilty of purity-testing?
The concept has a provocative history. A December 2019 article from the Atlantic described how "purity tests" were dividing the Democrat Party. Purity-testing is part of the kit and caboodle of "woke" politics. A person's position on a social issue or his preference on a lifestyle choice comes under scrutiny. He must pass a barrier to entry to gain access into the tolerant left's tent.
In the nanny case, the parents in question are within their domain to shield their children from information the parents don't want to discuss in their home. The parents are the final arbiters of what sort of upbringing they want for their children, regardless of how the general public perceives that. As long as the children are not harmed or neglected, this is a hands-off area for meddling officials and social experiments.
That premise doesn't address the issue directly, though. Yes, the parents are perfectly entitled to raise their children in a home that looks askew at homosexuality. No justification is necessary. It is a matter of prerogative. Still, how is asking the nanny — a member of the home for years — to remain quiet about the woman she lives with honoring the nanny's commitment and relationship with the family?
The nanny obviously wants to maintain a close relationship with the parents and children. It comes through in her question to Abby. It should come as no surprise that a caregiver wants to stay close to the people she cared for. The totality of the circumstances in this case point to an age-old problem that has shoehorned conservatives for generations: how do churchgoing folks reconcile their scriptural beliefs with a secular society that does not universally subscribe to the same belief system?
Pre-Trump, Republicans could safely assume that their figurehead would check off enough boxes to satiate the religious crowd on the right. It was a foregone conclusion that whoever would carry the mantle would share enough overlap that the questions of sexual and gender preference did not warrant thorough investigation. After Trump shook the GOP tree, dumping many bad apples to the ground and down the hill, the party has seen an influx of individuals who never saw themselves cheering for Team Red. As a result, there is severe dissonance between lifelong conservatives who follow strict religious practices and a new breed of MAGA-types who subscribe to varying degrees of Republican ideology.
The resulting Catch-22 is both an understandable growing pain for the party and an inevitable concern about growing the base to include as many voices as possible. The question should not center on asking politically homeless types to take a purity test to join the conservative ranks. Instead, it should focus on finding common ground and respecting differences that make no never-mind in another's person private life. Until this growth spurt has passed, more gatekeeping will probably be the norm and not the exception.
Image: Petri Damstén.