Why Republican: A Christian Examination of History and Conservativism

John Mark Reynolds | The Torrey Honors Institute | Friday, October 22, 2010

Why Republican: A Christian Examination of History and Conservativism

A Grand Old Party

I inherited a lip that will not let me play the trumpet, a love of Christ's Church, and a heritage in the Republican Party. The first is regrettable but survivable, the second essential and unchangeable, and the third better than the alternatives.

I am proud to be a Republican, usually.

My grandfather put our family history best when he pointed out that when Virginia seceded from the Union, the Reynolds' family seceded from Virginia. Who could be proud to join the Democrats: the party of slavers and rebels?

We were for Lincoln and liberty, too, and that Grand Old habit has survived to the present day.

Nobody needs feel shame to be a Republican, because when it came time to confront the original sin of the nation—slavery—the Republican Party was on the Lord's side. In the great battle of my time, the war against communist tyranny, the Republican Party led in the defense of free markets and freedom of thought.

The Republican Party has always been the party of Evangelicals. Lincoln was elected by appealing to our beliefs and this has not changed in one hundred and fifty years. The party base of Northern Evangelicals abides in states like Iowa and Ohio, though it has faded in secularized New England. When many Southern Evangelicals saw the light in the late twentieth-century, they were coming to their natural home.

The Republican Party may hate socialism, but it is not afraid to confront big business when needed. We are the party of Theodore Roosevelt, a president who helped save free enterprise, by using a big stick to remind big business there was a morality higher than profits.

Of course, Republicans are also the party of Warren G. Harding and Richard Nixon. We have not always been consistent with our core values. Former segregationists, like Strom Thurmond, used the party's natural conservatism to throw a splash of Lincoln over their thinly veiled conversion to equality.

No Christian puts his trust in princes. We remember that no earthly party is God's party, because He is never a Republican or Democrat, being a committed monarchist. No Christian votes simply for party, but is open to good men and women where ever they may be found. We are, at all times, first subjects of Christendom and only secondarily citizens of this Republic.

But King Jesus has not yet come to rule and reign on the Earth and so we must go on living in anticipation of His coming. We live this side of Paradise and so have to spend centuries developing a political philosophy.

The philosophy we develop might be wrong, so we hold it more loosely than doctrine. We know other Christians have not yet given up on socialism or a bigger government than we are willing to tolerate. It is not so much their goals we attack, but their means. We long to help the poor and believe in universal health care, but believe that bigger government will do neither well and will hurt our freedoms.

We would give all our money in taxes if we thought it would end poverty, but have seen that it only enriches the state at the cost of liberty. We create statist masters and the poor are with us always.

We know our own sin, so we do not look for political messiahs and distrust any party that claims a monopoly on truth. We know that whenever we have hoped any politician ccould be "God with us," instead of a messiah we at best get Rahm Emmanuel. At worst we get a tyrant.

We have learned, often through the most frightful errors, that just because a thing is immoral does not necessitate making it illegal. We have learned that a small government allows a Christian majority to tolerate religious minorities best and allow them freedom to pursue their eccentric beliefs. We have learned that some basic Christian principles must be codified to protect human rights and liberty. Alongside Christian philosopher John Locke, the intellect behind the Declaration of Independence, we believe that life, liberty, and the ownership of private property must be protected.

Liberty and Law

Politics before the coming of Jesus is a balance between law and liberty. Christians utterly reject the idea that the measure of man is his ability to contribute to the economy. We believe every human, whatever their condition, has a right to life, liberty, and a rich human life. We know that if a person cannot benefit from labor, that such a person is not free.

Children must be cared for, but Christians refuse to make infants of any adult. God Himself gave mankind the ability to defy Him in the garden, so we are hesitant to make any person do good by the force of law.

As a result, traditional Christians are attracted to small government in the modern age. We know that not every American shares our views and so we must pass on institutionalizing as many of our values as possible.


The liberty of the soul, for each man to choose God or to reject Him, is of primary importance to us. By painful historical failure, we have learned that forced conversion and external obedience are worse than useless. We will compel only when we must.

It is the Republican Party that best represents those values. The Republican Party recognizes that the government cannot replace the family or the church. At its best, the Party refuses to use law to do what parents and bishops ought to do.

Of course, the Republican Party also knows that if life, choice, and property are not safe, then freedom of conscience is a charade.

As a result, the Republican Party, alone of the two great parties, works to protect the unborn. The Republican Party refuses to put into law the covetousness of most of us that would take what is not our own. The Republican Party best represents those who do not wish to enslave our children to our own choices through running up massive debt.

In this critical moment of our history, it is the Republican Party that supports the bedrock of culture, the family, against unwise innovation.

We do not wish many laws, but we do wish laws that are most likely to produce healthy children with strong values. You cannot save a nation of slaves, just as you cannot enslave a nation of virtuous men.

The Republican Party wants a government small enough to allow liberty, but strong enough to protect our rights.

Living to Make Men Free

No adult needs to be told the modern Republican Party often betrays these ideals. When they most recently had control of the government, the size of the government grew as did the debt. Bill Clinton, when handed a Republican Congress, was more fiscally prudent. 

This was shameful.

It was equally shameful when leaders like Newt Gingrich attacked Clinton for his moral failures while indulging the same passions. They were right to condemn, but hypocrites of the first order to ignore their own misbehavior.

Not many of us have been perfectly righteous, certainly not me, but it is unthinkably vile to condemn a sin at the very moment one is committing it. Gay marriage is not nearly so great a problem to families as our culture of quick and thoughtless divorce.

Nor are we helped when conservative or Republican advocates do the work of devils by demonizing their foes. I am personal friends with Democrats who support traditional marriage (a position they share with President Obama), life, and private property.

Few Democrats are actually socialists, though many of us think they move too far in that direction.

There is no wonder that a generation too young to remember Carter and Reagan became turned off to the hypocrisy, lies, and failures of the Republican Party. We promised smaller government, but failed to deliver. After we defeated communism, we failed to press consistently for so-called allies like the house of Saud to end their vile ways.

The Republican Party can be proud that it successfully defended the nation against terror. The Party, with the overwhelming consent of the other Party, defeated the Taliban and liberated Iraq. If the War did not always go well, the Republican Party was consistently in favor of winning it.

When the polls turned against what politicians all supported, it was the Republican Party that snatched victory from defeat in Iraq.

Yet at the same time, the Republican Party too often sounded like Woodrow Wilson and not like George Washington. We became too ambitious and too eager to export good values that could only be imposed by force. The noble ends too often were corrupted by ignoble means such as the use of torture.

The young generation was right to punish us.

And yet at this moment of our nation's history, there is no chance that a majority of the Democratic Party will cut spending. There is little chance that they will pass up the siren call to rob from the productive to give to the deficit. The modern party has none of the virtues of Bill Clinton, but all his vices.

A Democratic majority will not protect the unborn, and free health care is no good to the dead.

A Democratic majority will not protect Christian schools and churches from being forced to compromise their beliefs in order to satisfy modernist sexual mores.

In another age, the Republican Party helped popularize an American anthem that recognized that only Christ could make men holy, but that He had chosen His people to make men free. We sacrificed our lives, our fortunes, and pledged our honor to preserve this Union and free the slaves.

The Republican Party can, if we work inside it, once again become the vehicle for such a mission. It will not be perfect, it will never be a church. Gaining allies, wherever we can, it is the party most likely to never ask any man to say, "Caesar is Lord."

As a result, for at least this Fall I plan to give my grandparents' party, Lincoln's party, another chance. I will vote to make men free.

John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester. John Mark Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily. 

Publication date: October 22, 2010