A raucous red glare, bombast bursting in air . . .
That's the face and sound of media conservatism these days, as celebrated on bestseller lists, top-rated talk shows, and books like Brian Anderson's South Park Conservatives (Regnery, 2005). That title comes from the cable cartoon program known for its helpful ripping of political correctness but its harmful endorsement of rage and sarcasm.
These days, being a South Park conservative is in, and the working definition seems to be: Hit hard and don't worry about hitting below the belt, because there is no belt. If you counter the left's sputum with your own, talk-show appearances and book contracts will follow.
What big shots endorse, little shots snort. Mr. Anderson approvingly quotes one undergraduate talking about himself and cohort members who "get drunk on weekends, have sex before marriage . . . cuss like sailors-and also happen to be conservative."
Conservative, maybe (although if South Park is our future, there won't be much to conserve). Clearly not Christian, though. Those who follow the Bible are to be firm but courteous-as the saying goes, hating the sin but loving the sinner. Christians should not adopt the bipolar belief that either you're (Michael) savage or you're a wimp.
The Christian way is to practice what New Jersey pastor Matt Ristuccia calls "earnest grace, the reassociation of sensibilities that we moderns have judged to be beyond association: specifically, passionate conviction and profound compassion. . . . [The apostle Paul was] so wonderstruck by the way God brought justice and judgment for human sin together with forgiveness and hope in the death of this Jesus, that Paul's earnestness could not help but be seasoned with grace."
That's certainly the way things oughta be-but contemporary culture does have peculiarities. Ann Coulter spoke in May at the University of Texas; I was still in New Jersey, but a perceptive Christian student I've taught, Amy McCullough, was there.
Amy reports that the first question to Ms. Coulter was, in essence, "couldn't she be a little nicer? Ms. Coulter said people don't respond to subtle reasoning; one has to 'bop them over the head' and use humor to make people see the light." She's probably right: Earnestness on TV shows and during after-dinner speeches doesn't turn people on, and Ms. Coulter's rapid-fire attacks do.
But Amy also noted a rare, slow-motion answer: "When a young, conservative woman asked how Coulter could stand the awful things people said about her because of her stand on abortion, she hesitated, messed with her hair, and said: 'Well, it's the same way I don't care about anything else: Christ died for my sins and nothing else matters.' I think my jaw hit the floor."
Ms. Coulter is impressively right: It doesn't matter what people think about us. We know that those apart from Christ will often view Christians as fools unless God changes hearts, so the advice offered by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is good and right: "Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world."
And yet, while it doesn't matter what people think about us, it does matter what people think about Christ. Sophisticates showed contempt toward Paul's words in Athens (Acts 17), but some listened. What if, instead of arguing logically, he had ranted? Or, despite Paul's own personality and preferences, what if Areopagus leaders had allowed only sound-and-fury acts? Should Paul have contented himself with bopping the heads of his listeners?
Amy's conclusion about Ann Coulter: "I enjoyed a lot of what she had to say. It'd be nice if she was nicer." I hear Ms. Coulter is personally nice, so some of her stage persona is an act. But do we have a culture in which she needs an act like that to break through the propaganda that suffuses so many college courses?
How would Paul act in today's culture? How, for that matter, would 18th-century members of the religious right like Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry? I suspect they would still be firm but courteous, displaying bravery without bombast. I'm not knocking Ms. Coulter; I only hope that she finds a way to rout liberal stereotypes without fulfilling others. She's too good to be South Park. So, for that matter, is any Christian.