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Right thinking

As conservatives battle each other, Christians should make the Bible their guide

Issue: "History speaks," April 1, 2006

I've said before in this space that not much spoils my editorial day more than a letter or e-mail accusing WORLD of being nothing other than a right-wing conservative rag. To the extent that we come across that way, either the complaining reader has blinders on-or we're not doing our job.

To be sure, our pages regularly reflect a conviction that folks who unashamedly call the Bible true, and then strive to have their worldview shaped by its wisdom, will also tend very often to find themselves in the company of others who call themselves social and political conservatives. We think a "biblical" worldview has many components that fit with a so-called "conservative" perspective.

But not always. The two categories are hardly mirror images of each other. And perhaps less and less so.

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We live in a time when even conservatives don't know for sure who other conservatives are. Political labels of all kinds are becoming less and less dependable. Even Ronald Reagan, the most dominant American conservative of the last generation, would have a hard time sorting out what litmus-test issues ought to govern the movement he helped coalesce.

The present squabble among mere conservatives, neo-conservatives, paleo-conservatives, social conservatives, economic conservatives, and all the rest is all too real to ignore. For example:

The war: Conservatives are terribly divided on the propriety of the war in Iraq, on the wisdom of using our nation's resources to try to plant "democracy" in other parts of the world, and-even if the goals are right-on the competence of the Bush administration in the whole effort.

Immigration: Conservatives are all over the map on these volatile issues. Even if you divide the question and leave out all the issues related to illegal immigration, good folks have radically different opinions about maintaining an open-door policy that has historically given our nation so much of its character.

Trade and tariffs: There's as little agreement on these issues among traditional conservatives as there is between conservatives and liberals.

National security and personal liberties: It hasn't been just the liberals and the mainstream media who have jumped all over the Bush administration on these matters. Some archconservatives are deeply bothered over what they see as reckless treatment of bedrock American freedoms.

Spending: If there's a difference between the liberals and the conservatives on this anymore, it takes a highly specialized lens to see the distinction. My own very conservative congressman, in a newsletter to his constituents last week, included this bizarre sentence: "In spite of our efforts to cut wasteful spending, I am proud to report . . ."

-and there followed a long list of pork-barrel items he had achieved for our district.

Foreign aid and relief: Not the least of the impact of the war in Iraq is the way it handcuffs America in responding to problems like the one in Darfur, Sudan. Everybody worries about the incremental demands that might follow what seems like a simple and safe helpful gesture.

Family issues: Even on all-important issues like abortion and the protection of the traditional family against radical homosexual redefinitions, you'll find some traditional conservatives debating among themselves.

Many conservatives are distressed at such fractures in their ranks. They worry that the coalition loosely joined under the "conservative" banner will fall apart if we work too hard at sorting out differences between being "conservative" and being "biblical."

Not to worry. For Christians, the goal should never be to prop up some dying movement-and that includes every worldly ideology. Conservative humanism is ultimately just as poisonous and deadly as liberal humanism; the fuse just takes a little longer to burn.

For thoughtful Christians, meanwhile, the current intra-movement squabble can be a blessing as we seek to clarify our own biblical understandings and standards. The ongoing debate gives us a chance to ferret out the nuggets of wisdom that frame a biblical way of looking at the issues listed above-and then more and more to mold those nuggets into an overall perspective of life that is consistent with a godly way of looking at things.

Easy assignment? By no means. Thoughtful Christians have labored for centuries to determine just how God's truth is meant to shape public life, government, and politics. But just because it's hard doesn't mean we shrink from the task. Since when do we pretend that God's assignments are meant to be easy?

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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