Archive for category Politics

Gun control regulations disarm women

“Guns make women safer. In a violent confrontation, guns reverse the balance of power. Armed with a gun, a woman may even have the advantage over a violent attacker. More than 90 percent of violent crimes occur without a firearm, according to federal statistics. When a violent criminal threatens or attacks a woman, he rarely uses a gun. Attackers use their size and physical strength, preying on women who are at a severe disadvantage.”

Read my piece here on why safeguarding Second Amendment rights preserves meaningful protection for women.

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The Death Tax Cometh

You can read my piece suggesting we put the death tax six feet under here, and you can watch my interview with James Freeman of the Wall Street Journal here.

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The GOP’s disconnect with women (AM COLORADO)

Click here to listen to my discussion on AM COLORADO about the GOP’s disconnect with women.  I chime in at minute 9:12.

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At CPAC, new kind of culture war

You know things have taken a turn for the dramatic when a Baptist preacher declares, “Thanks to Obama, we are all Catholics now.” And not just any Baptist preacher, but Mike Huckabee himself.

That happened on Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference here in Washington, D.C. Only a month before, the true believers among conservative pundits had dismissed Rick Santorum as more of a Catholic than a conservative. Read more here.

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Santorum: More a Catholic than a conservative?

Read my thoughts about presidential hopeful Rick Santorum and his Catholic faith.

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Redemption of a White House Insider

Former Presidential Special Assistant Timothy S. Goeglein talks with Gayle about politics, forgiveness and conservatism in this revealing and personal interview

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Bucking Buckley’s Rule

Read my thoughts about the 2012 Republican presidential nomination contest.

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Is “Christian” the New “Gay”?

Gayle recently spoke with D. Michael Lindsay, sociologist, newly appointed president of Gordon College, and author of multiple books, including Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite. Lindsay spearheaded a study of former White House Fellows (an elite group that includes Jeri Eckhart Queenan, who recently spoke with me about her faith and career). You can learn more about Lindsay here.

Gayle Trotter: This is Gayle Trotter, and you’re listening to gayletrotter.com. Today I’m speaking with Michael Lindsay, author of Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite. Dr. Lindsay is also the newly installed president of Gordon College. Dr. Lindsay is a sociologist, and he has done some important work in the area of faith and power. Dr. Lindsay, thank you so much for speaking with me today.

Dr. Michael Lindsay: Great to be with you. Thanks very much, Gayle.

GT: Why did you want to research faith and power?

ML: It seemed to me that there’s been a lot of stuff that’s been written about religion in America, but there have been very few projects that talk to people who hold powerful positions who are also deeply committed to their faith. It’s interesting because I’ve particularly focused on American evangelicalism, which is the most discussed but least understood constituency in American politics. And so I set out to try and interview a hundred or so senior leaders who are associated with evangelicalism, and in the end, I was able to do about 350. It was a great project, and the main thing that I got out of this study was a chance to hear directly from the people who are in powerful positions about the relevance of their faith in public life.

GT: What is an evangelical?

ML: Evangelicals are characterized by three big items. They believe in the importance of a personal relationship to God through a conversion to Jesus Christ which can be a dramatic experience. That’s what some refer to as a “born again” experience. Or it can be a gradual process of renewing one’s faith or coming to faith. Second is that they believe in the importance of the Bible. It’s more important than church teaching or church tradition, which is why evangelicals differ from faithful Roman Catholics in some significant ways. And they have an activist approach to faith. So faith compels them to lead their life a certain way, and they try to bear witness to their faith in both word and deed.

GT: What is populist evangelicalism versus cosmopolitan evangelicalism?

ML: This is one of the things that I encountered when I was working on Faith in the Halls of Power. Most of the time when people study evangelicals they say, “Oh, it’s a generational difference.” The old evangelicals are very conservative. The younger evangelicals are more progressive or liberal. Or they say it’s fundamentally about political division, so you have evangelicals on the left and evangelicals on the right. What I found is that actually the dividing lines don’t work nearly that neatly. I found that there was a whole group of evangelicals who had this sort of worldliness about them — worldly in a very positive sense. They were people who were rubbing shoulders day in and day out with people of other faiths and people who have no faith at all. They were people who read the New York Times, but they also read Christianity Today. They could listen to contemporary Christian music but also were big fans of NPR. And this worldliness influenced the way that they approached their faith. It shaped their understanding about evangelism and about church involvement. It shaped their priorities in their life of faith. You compare that with what I call populist evangelicalism which is principally the image that most people have when they think of evangelicals. This is the arena of the megachurch, of the Christian subculture, and that’s a very vibrant and important dimension of contemporary religious life, but I actually find that many of the people that I interviewed fit into the cosmopolitan category as opposed to these more populist evangelicals.

GT: You interviewed former White House power player Karen Hughes. How is Karen Hughes representative of other evangelicals in public life?

ML: She’s an interesting figure because when I sat down to interview her, she talked about how she had been very involved with President George W. Bush’s political career, had worked for him as a close aide when he was governor of Texas, and she was very committed to his election in 2000. But she said, “I had a bit of a crisis moment when I realized that he was inviting me to come work at the White House because I wasn’t sure if that was the right thing for me to do.” And you’d think this is the kind of obvious thing that people would be thinking about. But I think for her and for many other public leaders, it’s a more evolutionary process, and she felt conflicted about moving to Washington in particular because she had a teenage son, and she knew that he was happy in Austin and was concerned that the pace of life in D.C. would be difficult on her family life. And this is probably one of the biggest struggles that everybody faces, but it’s particularly challenging for women and even more challenging for religiously conservative women because for them motherhood is not just a calling, it’s a deep, deep commitment. And when you’re working the hours that people work if you’re in a senior position in the White House — oftentimes getting to work at 6:30 or 6:45 in the morning, which means that they had to wake up at 5 or 5:15 and not getting home sometimes until 9 or 10 o’clock at night and keeping that pace up five, six days a week and often working on the seventh day — it’s corrosive to building a close relationship with your spouse and with your kids. So I think that Karen Hughes represents this whole cohort of people who now find themselves in positions of power who are also deeply committed to their faith and oftentimes feel quite conflicted about the different allegiances those two require.

GT: How have evangelicals modeled the gay and lesbian community in the workplace and entertainment industry? How is “Christian” the new “gay”?

ML: This comes from a quote that one woman who I interviewed in Hollywood recounted to me a story that she had where the conversation basically was a Hollywood producer telling her that it had become new and interesting for committed Christians to “come out” in Hollywood. And they actually used that language of “coming out” where one publicly identifies in this way. I think what it really reflects is although historically Christianity has been a very powerful force in this country, within the pockets of elite cultural life — in Hollywood, at universities like Harvard and Yale and the rarefied heights of arts and entertainment — being a deeply committed person of faith, whatever that faith tradition may be, is seen as unusual or odd. There’s pressure when you’re in those high positions not to be too public about your faith and certainly not a faith that is evangelistic in approach because that’s seen as overbearing or narrow-minded. And so that has been the framework for the last 20 to 30 years. Over the last 10 years, however, there has been a gradual opening up of opportunities for committed Christians to become more open about how their faith is relevant to what they do in public life. So you have journalists, Hollywood writers, directors, as well as other public figures who are willing to talk about the relevance of their faith. You can think of Patricia Heaton, the actress who co-starred on Everybody Loves Raymond. She’s a committed Christian, and there are more possibilities for someone like her to be public about their faith. In the same way, folks who are gay and lesbian once felt they couldn’t be public about their identity, but now are feeling a little bit freer, so also are Christians in public life.

GT: What is signaling behavior by evangelicals in leadership positions?

ML: This was a very surprising phenomenon. What I found was that very few of the evangelicals that I interviewed would be evangelistic about their faith in the sense that they would turn to a colleague and say, “Let me tell you about Jesus.” They were uncomfortable with being that overt or direct. Instead, they oftentimes employed these signals that were sent out whereby fellow believers would recognize their faith but those people who didn’t recognize the signals, it would just pass them by. For example, I was at Renaissance Weekend, which is a gathering held several times a year for leaders from different walks of life, and I was at one particular gathering in Charleston, South Carolina. The Renaissance Weekend became really prominent because Bill and Hillary Clinton had attended it for a number of years. They were at some at the very beginning. There was a senator speaking before this group of probably 1,000 people, and in the course of the conversation he was being asked what were meaningful influences in his life. He didn’t say Jesus or God, but he said, “You know, I’ve found a great deal of solace in the writings of C.S. Lewis,” and then he described some of the things that he’d read by Lewis and why it had made such a difference in his life. Now, for every other committed evangelical in the crowd, mentioning the name of C.S. Lewis is a way of alluding to one’s faith because Lewis was a professor at Oxford and Cambridge and is known as an apologist of the Christian faith in the mid-20th century. But for those people who don’t know that part of Lewis’ life, they just think the senator was quoting from some particular writer from England. So these signals I found to be all over the place. I had a very good faculty friend who was a secular Jew, and she also was at Renaissance Weekend and she said, “I think there’s lots of God talk going on but I don’t always recognize it.” That’s pointing to this phenomenon of signaling behavior.

GT: What do you think of Peter Wehner’s book, City of Man, and his view of the changing nature of evangelical political involvement over the years?

ML: Pete Wehner and Mike Gerson are two very smart folks. They are both committed evangelicals, and both were involved in the George W. Bush administration. And Pete and Mike talk about how evangelicals throughout the 1970s were trying to get a seat at the table, to feel like they had significant political muscle. It wasn’t really until the beginnings of the Moral Majority and Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson’s activities in the late seventies which coincided with the administration of Jimmy Carter who is a fellow evangelical, but who did not always share the policy positions of Falwell and Robertson. Wehner’s book looks at this process by which evangelicals who for many years were clamoring for a seat at the table and then finally realized that they actually had that seat at the table. There was one incident where Jody Powell, who was head of communications in the White House for President Carter, reaches out to Jerry Falwell and asks him not to oppose President Carter’s agenda. And Falwell realizes at that moment, “I’ve finally arrived. The White House is now calling me for political cover and support.” Carry that process forward 20 and 30 years later and with the administration of George W. Bush, you have more evangelicals in senior positions in the federal government than at any other time in the last 50 years. The difference between President Carter and President Bush is not one of theology. They actually agree on most of the important theological questions. It’s on strategy. President Carter had very few people who shared his faith commitment in senior positions whereas President Bush had a number of people — including Pete Wehner and Mike Gerson — in the inner circle of political power, who shared the president’s faith commitment. And I think that also reflects a maturation of evangelical political activity, so that whereas in the seventies, evangelicals are just begging to get the scraps from the table in D.C. — they just wanted to be part of the conversation — whereas by 2002, 2003, they are actually setting significant policy agendas. And you think about PEPFAR, for example, which resulted in the largest allocation of U.S. government aid in history for a nonmilitary action which was allocating $15 billion for AIDS relief in Africa. That really came as a result of two people working together and building a coalition within the administration and then eventually in Congress: Michael Gerson, who was President Bush’s speechwriter and a committed evangelical, and Josh Bolton, who’s actually Jewish but who also shared a deep commitment to ending human suffering in Africa. The two of them worked together and were able to build a coalition, and this is an example of how evangelicals work together with people of different faiths or no faith at all in order to get their policy agenda. In the seventies, working with people who didn’t share their religious conviction would have been unthinkable to most evangelicals in politics.

GT: Right. You learned that President Jimmy Carter, while in office, evangelized world leaders. How does evangelicalism influence U.S. foreign policy?

ML: It’s a much more significant influence than most people realize. When most people think about evangelicals in politics, they think about abortion and same-sex marriage, which are largely domestic policy issues. I’ve found there is much greater latitude given to a president and his administration in foreign affairs, and that’s because the national media doesn’t cover the topic nearly as deeply and the general American public isn’t as interested in foreign affairs. So President Carter, for example, in opening up more relations with China, he was able to take some of his Christian convictions and bring that into the conversation with the Chinese premier when he came to Washington, I think it was in 1978. And you can see it carried all the way through to President Bush or even President Obama, both of whom are committed Christians. Foreign policy is the domain where there is a little bit more flexibility for the relevance of faith. International religious freedom being seen as a basic human right: that’s probably one of the most important developments in religion and public policy in the last 25 years. It came through a bill passed by Congress in 1997 and signed into law by President Clinton: the Religious Freedom Act which said that because freedom of religion is a basic human right, we’re going to have the State Department monitor religious freedom around the world. We’ll set up an independent commission which will identify countries that are not allowing religious freedom, and we will work to strongly urge those countries to reverse course. In some of those countries it works and in some it does not. We’ve seen in Southeast Asia, for example, there’s been some real significant movement, and that’s something that’s come as a direct result of this legislation. Foreign affairs is the arena that I think is a more interesting place where you can really see the relevance of faith to public policy.

GT: After all of your extensive research, do you find that evangelicals are effective leaders?

ML: Being an evangelical does not necessarily make you a more effective leader compared to other religious traditions, but I do think that being an evangelical makes one have a deeper sense of purpose and mission in life. It gives you an opportunity to be concerned about issues that go beyond the near term and helps you to see that, at its very finest, Christianity is a message of hope and renewal for the flourishing of our world. And that’s a fundamental framework that people of all faith traditions and of no faith tradition can embrace. To the extent that evangelicals can be involved in business, the arts, public policy, law, entertainment and media, to the extent that their activities can help lead to the flourishing of our society, a place where religious freedom is allowed, a place where people suffering from AIDS are given medicine that can lead to the extension of their lives, to the extent that scientific discovery can occur and be informed by people who are deeply committed to ending human suffering: These are all good and important things, and I found them time and time again while I was researching Faith in the Halls of Power. Evangelicals can be enormously effective leaders, and ones who can draw upon their faith to advance not only their particular agendas or their religious identities but, perhaps even more significantly, can work for the common good.

GT: Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Dr. Lindsay.

ML: Great to be with you Gayle.

GT: This is Gayle Trotter, and you’ve been listening to gayletrotter.com.

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Rick Santorum’s Constituency of One

“Who would think that they are actually able to do a job of this significance and difficulty?”

Rick Santorum2

Gayle recently spoke with former Senator Rick Santorum about faith, politics, the presidency, and life.  Click here to listen to our fifteen minute discussion or read the transcript below.

Gayle Trotter:  This is Gayle Trotter, and you’re listening to gayletrotter.com.  Today I’m speaking with former Senator Rick Santorum of the Great State of Pennsylvania.  Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Senator.

Rick Santorum:  It’s a pleasure to be with you, Gayle.  Thank you for having me on.

GT:  You think that President John F. Kennedy made a mistake about the role of religious faith in politics.  What was his mistake?

RS:  Senator Kennedy — he was a senator at the time — made his initial statement in his speech.  He said, “I believe in an America where the separation of the church and state is absolute.”  That is not an America that our founders would have understood.  They believed that faith had a vital role in shaping and forming the discourse of our country.  And that the provisions of the Constitution which were put in place to prohibit the establishment of religion, were put in place to protect faith from government, not to protect government from faith.  And Kennedy went on and used the phrase that Thomas Jefferson had used in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, but that letter was written some eleven years after the Constitution had been ratified, and by the way, Jefferson wasn’t even involved in the writing of the Constitution.  He was overseas at the time.  But Jefferson wrote that in response to a letter from the Danbury Baptists who were concerned about the state interference with their faith and the practice of their faith.  And Jefferson wrote that there was a wall of separation between government and the faith to protect the faith, to protect believers.  And what Kennedy did was turn that on its head. 

And said that, no, that this wall of separation was to protect government from people of faith.  And in fact went on in his address, and said that he will take no counsel from any person of faith, that faith will have no role to play.  Not only would he not listen to the pope, but he won’t listen to anybody, any clergy, and said that he will simply be guided by his conscience which, of course, is the great place that those who make these kinds of statements hide.  But they forget to say that, of course, your conscience is formed by something.  You are not born with a formed conscience.

GT: Right.

RS: And so the question is what does form your conscience?  He, of course, doesn’t reveal that.  None of the folks do actually talk about faith being thrown out of the public square, and the goal that there should be a separation of people of faith from being in the public square, to participate in government.  They don’t tell you what should be legitimate in forming people’s conscience.

GT: In the world but not of it — how do you do that as a Christian and still get elected as a politician?

RS: I always said when I first was elected that I had a constituency of one.  And if you are serving God in your daily work, what you know is right and you are being transparent about what you are doing and why you are doing it, then it is up for the people then to decide whether what you believe, and what you think is in the best interest of the country, is what they think.  I believe that a legislator or a president or a governor owes the public one thing: that is their best effort to do what they think is right.  When I say best effort, to get all the facts, all the information, analyze the situation and to be transparent with people as to what you’ve considered, why you’ve considered it, and why you came to the conclusion you came to.  And that to me, we owe the public our industry and our best judgment.  But we don’t owe them the proverbial finger in the wind as to whatever the public at the moment decides that they want to be for because in a republic, in a representative democracy, there is a delegation of duty to that representative, to that executive to do the job of, having as your job, getting all the information, being able to consider that information.  Whereas most people, they have jobs.  They have other things to do.  This is your responsibility and you can’t defer to others whose job it isn’t, to do your job.

GT: How do you stand up for your principles in the face of the nastiness of your opponents?

RS: One of the things that I really work hard and try to do when it comes to the attacks that we get is understand that number one, these people don’t know me.  They know the positions that I hold or they know at least the representation by some of the media as to the positions I hold and what I say.  But they certainly don’t know who I am.  And so the viciousness and the nastiness which unfortunately is so much a part of politics in America today, it has come over time not to bother me in the least.  In fact, the more vitriol I see, and unfortunately I see probably more than my fair share, I tend to feel sorry for people who do that, who are so filled with hate and just seem to be preoccupied with this venomous need to lash out at those with whom they disagree.  I make it a point every day to pray for all those people who say the things that they say and try to make sure that I understand it.  There is a great line — actually, more than a line — from St. Thomas More who was asked by his daughter when he was in the Tower of London shortly before he was executed how he could have such equanimity towards his detractors and toward those who wanted to kill him.

GT: Yes.

RS: He drew a rather beautiful explanation, as you said, of having one foot in this world and another in the next, looking at ultimately what was going to happen to the people who were his prosecutors.  He said, “Well, either they are right, and I am wrong.  And if that’s the case, then why should I hate them because they were right and I was wrong.  Or if I was right and they were wrong, then one of two things.  That they will repent and they will be my brothers in heaven and so why should I think ill of them now just because right now they are doing things that are wrong. Or they will not repent and they will be damned to eternal damnation and what kind of man am I that would hate someone who is to be pitied as such?”  And so, that’s sort of the way I look at it.  You have to think of things, that what ultimately matters is not what’s going on here.  What ultimately matters — when it comes to people — I’m not talking about issues.  On issues, I’ll be passionate, I’ll fight, I’ll work.  I’m talking about in having animus towards people — I don’t think of people the way I think of issues.  Unfortunately, there are many who don’t see the world that way, who hold people’s positions as a personal affront and aren’t able to separate a public policy dispute from something that’s personal.

GT:  People who run for president always talk about giving and about service to the country, but isn’t ego a part of it as well?  Do you think that people who run for president think of themselves as the one person that the nation needs right now?

RS: That’s a very tricky issue, and that is a matter of who would think that they are actually able to do a job of this significance and this difficulty?  At the same time, we need people who believe that they can do this job and put themselves forward.  As I said, it is a very tricky issue.  I’ve always tried to focus on: What is God’s will?  What is God’s call in my life?  I try to discern whether this is what He wants me to do and be open to accepting whatever that is.  Do I think I am the best person in the world to do this job?  I have no idea, but I do know, that having had experience at the national level, and worked with a lot of people including people who have this job, that whoever has this job is deeply flawed and is going to need a lot of help and support and is going to need a lot of prayer and need a lot of help from God for discernment.  So I put myself out there that I’m going to be as flawed as everyone else, but hopefully I have some ability to discern and to rely on the people that any leader needs to rely upon to be able to execute the duties of his office.

GT:  What prepares you for the sort of decision President Obama had to make recently in regard to killing Osama Bin Laden, not just the decision to kill the enemy — which is relatively easy — but to take on the risk of failure of such an operation?

RS: I would say that that was a relatively easy decision in this respect.  The decision about to kill Osama Bin Laden had been made ten years ago.  The President was simply continuing a policy that was already in place. The question as to whether this particular military tactic would be successful was one that pretty much all of the people that he had consulted recommended that this was the course he should take.  What would have been a difficult decision was to go against all of these recommendations and actually do something different.  I believe he made the right call.  I believe he had good advice and he followed it.  Was it an easy decision?  It was easy in the sense that he followed what was recommended.  It is always hard because you take on the responsibility, as you mentioned, of failure.  But that certainly comes with the position.  If you are afraid of failure, don’t run for president.  If you’re afraid of being criticized because you did something wrong, do not run for this office.  You better have a thick skin, and you better be able to understand that you are going to make mistakes.  You are going to work hard not to, and you are going to do the best you can.  But the idea that the decisions you are going to make, that all of them are going to turn out well and that you are going to be applauded for all these decisions, you are not living in the real world if you believe that.

GT:  Right.  Bush really found that out, didn’t he?

RS:  Every modern president.  Again, if you go into this with the idea you are going to be president because of your ego or because you think you are going to be adored by the public, name me a president other than Reagan who has left office in the last fifty years who left office with a better approval than he had when he started.  It just doesn’t happen.

GT:  I’ve read some about your baby Gabriel.  How did the death of baby Gabriel affect your commitment to the pro-life stance on abortion?

RS: It’s a very long story so I will try to shorten it up.  His life and his death occurred at a very monumental time for me in my faith journey, as well as in my journey in fighting for the values of life on the floor of the United States Senate.  Prior to the fall of 1996, I had never really engaged in any debate on the floor of the Senate or the House before that on the issue of abortion, and felt that it would not be in my political interest to do so.  And yet, I felt compelled because of the faith journey I was on that I needed to step up on this issue of partial birth abortion and ended up taking the floor and managing the bill and leading the debate.  Within a week after that debate was ended, we found out that Gabriel had a fatal defect in utero and was going to die.  We did everything we could do to save him, but he was born premature and died.  It was that maelstrom of what we went through with Gabriel mixed in with this faith walk, and this finally coming forward and risking representing life and fighting for life and having what happened to my son be very much like what was happening to mothers who were having partial birth abortions.  It just profoundly affected me in a way that ultimately affirmed what I was doing, even though we lost our son.  We went through some times — certainly my wife details in the book — “shaking your fist at God” moments that she had.  For me, it was more of a reflective time and just wondering why God was doing this. He provided more than one answer and understanding that, of course, only the understanding that the peace of God can give.

GT:  If it hadn’t been politics, what would you have done with your life?

RS:  That’s just a question I can’t answer.  I’m many things, but I’m not a planner.  I’m not someone who sat down and said this is what I want to do.  I very much live in the moment. I very much live in what I feel like I’m called to do.  People say, “What are you going to do if you don’t win?”  I don’t know.  I have no idea what I’m going to do.  I don’t even think about it.  When I was in the Senate, I never thought about the next day with respect to me and my life.  I just figured that if I’m doing God’s will and things don’t go well, then He will open up another door or another window, and we’ll go do that.  I’m very comfortable in my faith in that regard that if we continue to do what I feel like God has called me to do, everything else will work out just fine.

GT:  Thank you.  That is so inspiring for all my listeners.  Thank you so much, Senator Santorum, for taking this time to speak with me.

RS:  My pleasure.  Thank you so much.  Have a great day, and God bless!

GT:  This is Gayle Trotter, and you’ve been listening to gayletrotter.com.

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Peter Wehner Discusses the City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era

“If we were pacifists, we would have been in the wrong jobs, because I don’t think it’s advisable to have pacifists in the White House, particularly for situations like 9/11.  In government, you take an oath to protect your fellow citizens and you have to take that seriously.”

Peter Wehner

Gayle spoke with Peter Wehner, co-author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New EraPeter Wehner, former deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He writes widely on political, cultural, religious, and national security issues for Commentary, the Weekly Standard, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications.  Click here to listen to our twenty-five minute discussion or read the following transcript.

Gayle Trotter: This is Gayle Trotter and you’re listening to gayletrotter.com. I’m with Peter Wehner, author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era. When I was an undergraduate government student at UVA, one famous professor, Larry Sabato, adopted the slogan, “Politics is a good thing.” Is your slogan, “Politics is a good thing for Christians?”

Peter Wehner: Yeah, it’s a good thing for Christians with caveats. [Co-author] Mike [Gerson] and I argue in the book that Christians should care about politics because politics in its deepest and best sense is about justice and Christians should care about justice. And political acts can have profound human consequences and Christians should care about that, too. So as a general matter we think that that’s an arena that Christians should be involved in but it’s an arena that’s filled with traps and snares as well. For one thing, political power is not something that was central to the teachings of Christ or his disciples.

GT: Right.

PW: In fact they were largely non-political. Secondly, when Christians get involved in politics, it’s easy to get caught up in the power game, to speak in ways that are apocalyptic and sometimes uncivil and that harms the Christian witness. Mike and I in our book analyze the so-called Religious Right, Christian conservatives, a movement that developed really in the late 1970s and we try and give it a fair accounting. We’re sympathetic to what much of the Christian Right did, and believe they made important contributions, but one of the things that we’re critical of is the fact that they, in some instances, I think hurt their Christian witness by the way that they conducted politics.

GT: Your book was critical of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. What was wrong about how they approached engagement in the political arena?

PW: Well, some of it was the apocalyptic language I was referring to. Jerry Falwell said that liberals in America wanted to do to Christians what Hitler did to the Jews in Germany and I just think that’s a reckless statement. Secondly, Mike and I think that they made some important theological errors. For example, they blamed the attacks on 9/11 on the ACLU and on abortion in America and essentially on the liberal social/secular agenda and we just think that’s bad theology. And thirdly, there was a kind of apocalyptic language that I think they used and a sort of breathlessness in a sense that everything depended on them or their movement or the outcome of particular elections. Now, I’ve been involved in politics my entire adult life and I’ve worked in three administrations and the George W. Bush White House, so I care about elections and indeed my job sometimes depended on it, so I felt strongly about them. But I had the sense that the language that’s sometimes used in fundraising letters and speeches and so forth overstated in a sense the importance of politics to the future of America or at least overstated the importance of elections to that. And Mike and I also think that the way that the Religious Right, particularly via Falwell and Robertson, conducted themselves sometimes made Christianity seem subordinate to a political party, as if it was an appendage of a political party or a political movement. Mike and I argue in the book that Christianity should stand in judgment of all political ideologies and all political movements. It shouldn’t be seen as subservient to anyone or putting political causes above faith and we think that sometimes that happened.

GT: You mentioned in your book that the media took up the tone of Robertson and Falwell, which led to kind of a cycle of success for Falwell and Robertson for getting fundraising support and then the media liked it because it drew a lot of attention to what they were broadcasting, too.

PW: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think that the media tended to overstate their influence and they began to describe the entire Christian conservative movement as if they were all clones of Falwell and Roberston and that there were really no distinctions among people and of course there were. So I think the media had a vested interest because it created a controversy. I think it caricatured the Christian conservative movement and I think Robertson and Falwell were interested in getting attention, as lots of people in politics are. And it probably helped their effort to be credited with an enormous amount of political power, which I think at the end of the day was important but probably overstated.

GT: When we use the term Religious Right, who are we referring to?

PW: Well, it depends. I mean, in a narrow sense you could be referring to the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition. In the broader sense you can be referring to people of conservative theological and political views who are themselves Christian, evangelical Christians. Most self-professing evangelical Christians in America tend to be conservative. So it could be a narrow or a broad definition and people use them often virtually interchangeably.

GT: In the book you talk about political theology. How would you define political theology?

PW: Well, political theology is the theological views that one takes as they approach politics. That is, how does one’s view of Christianity and of the world and certain moral truths inform one’s practice of politics? Both the principles of politics and even the practical application of them as it relates to issues, but it’s a kind of template, a framework, a paradigm, that people of faith use to try and interpret politics and events in their lives and the world.

GT: How did you choose your title, City of Man?

PW: A colleague, Yuval Levin, a very very bright guy and a good friend of mine and Mike’s came up with the title. We were throwing around other titles, none of which were very good and Yuval came into my office and I think I’d asked him about it and he said, “Why don’t you do ‘City of Man’?” and that had immediate resonance with me and of course it was a play off St. Augustine’s monumental work, City of God. So it seemed to fit.

GT: And what was Augustine’s City of God work about?

PW: Well, it was a hugely significant work in the fourth century, I think, where he laid out a kind of theology of history and God’s role in history and what the Christian’s role in history and in public affairs should be and he distinguished between the City of Man, which is the world in which we live in, which is a fallen world but has the capacity to achieve good and important things, and the City of [God] which is our true home and where our true allegiance is. And the tensions that sometimes arise when you’re a citizen of both the City of Man and the City of God.

GT: In the book you quote James Davison Hunter, who says, “No real political solutions to absence of decency or to the spread of vulgarity exist.” You disagree with Professor Hunter, right?

PW: Yeah, I mean, in a broad sense he makes an argument for sabbatical from politics that Christians, because they have not executed their involvement in politics very well, have hurt their faith and not produced very much in politics. But Mike and I disagree with that. I should say I am sympathetic to much of what Hunter writes, I think his book is good and it’s an impressive book. But on that particular issue I think that he underplays the significance of politics. To simplify things, I think he is of the school that culture is upstream of politics. Culture is key and if you can fix the culture then that in fact will trickle down into politics and then politics is very limited in its capacity to change the life, including the moral life, of a country. Now, there are limitations to it but on the other hand, the law is an expression of certain moral beliefs and indeed the law itself can shape certain moral beliefs because when you have the imprimatur of law, it carries a lot of weight. Take, for example, drug use. If we were to legalize drug use, you would see an explosion in the use of drugs, not simply because they would be more available but because it would be sending a signal to people, particularly young people, which is that this society has made the determination that this is not problematic and it’s fine if you use it. In addition, the Civil Rights Era is an example of how laws, the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act in ‘64-‘65 helped change people’s moral attitudes and sentiments toward the issue of segregation. Now these things are complicated; they’re mutually reinforcing. There’s no question that culture can influence politics, and there’s no question that politics can also influence culture. And Mike and I make the argument that a lot of people who downplay the importance of politics tend to be Christians in a pretty comfortable situation but if you’re a young inner city kid in New York City in the early 1990s then public policy and politics would make a heck of a lot of difference and you would actually see examples of how the social, cultural and moral life of the nation has shifted because of public policy. Welfare is one example. Crime and the transformation of New York City by Mayor Giuliani is another. So while these things are complicated, it’s not as if one has complete dominance over the other. But Mike and I believe that Hunter, for all the virtues of his book, overshot in this particular case and underplays the importance of politics.

GT: You wrote this book from a wealth of experience. You were in the Bush White House on 9/11 and in the book you talk about how you were assessing what kind of response the United States would have to 9/11 and you said, “We were not in a mood to turn the other cheek. And we did not feel then and we do not feel now that this violated our consciences as Christians.” Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

PW: Sure. Mike and I are not pacifists and we don’t believe that the Sermon on the Mount is a political philosophy. And often Christians make the mistake of assuming the words of Christ and the individual commands, or commands that apply to individuals, apply to governments as well. One of the distinctions we make in the book is the requirements on government is different than on individuals so you allow government certain powers that individuals themselves wouldn’t – and shouldn’t – take just for themselves. And in our view, self-defense and violence in response to attack – violence even in an effort to promote justice and human dignity and human flourishing – can be justified. Now, it’s not justified in every instance and it’s a very high bar that you have to cross to use violence, but when you have a situation like 9/11, which is that we were attacked and thousands of innocent Americans were killed, then we didn’t have any problem at all in believing that the United States should respond forcefully. And if we were pacifists, we would have been in the wrong business anyway, or at least in the wrong jobs, because I don’t think it’s advisable to have pacifists in the White House, particularly for situations like 9/11. If you’re in positions of influence in government, you take an oath to protect your fellow citizens and you have to take that seriously and if you can’t do it in good conscience, then you ought to do something else.

GT: It reminds me of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, saying, “You want me on the Guantanamo Bay line,” and, “You can’t handle the truth.”

PW: That’s right, that’s right; it’s a good movie.

GT: In the book you go into the history of the Religious Right and as an example of that you talk about President Carter’s interview with Playboy Magazine. And Jerry Falwell objected to Carter’s interview with Playboy and Carter’s aide called Falwell and criticized Falwell for basically what he saw as attacking candidate Carter and – I think he was candidate then and not president, actually – and you said that that was kind of a change for Falwell from being disengaged in the political process to seeing what kind of an influence he could have in the political process.

PW: Well, that’s right; I think what it told Falwell – and understandably so – is that he has a lot of influence. Now here he was getting a complaint from a key advisor to the person who was eventually elected president of the United States and that can be heady stuff. And you know if you’re noticed, even by your critics, that can be nice. It certainly can underscore influence and it can also go to people’s heads, so it’s complicated. But it was a sign to Falwell, I think, that the Religious Right was a political force to be reckoned with, and in that respect he was correct. And that of course was a big change for Falwell because in the 1960s he was much more in an Anabaptist tradition that the obligation that a Christian has is to share and promote the gospel and to win people over to the Christian faith. Now that’s an extremely high calling in Christianity, but Falwell believed that politics was an arena that Christians ought to stay out of and he of course changed dramatically from the 60s to the late 70s and that incident with Carter underscored just how dramatic the change was.

GT: In your book you detail the kind of changing of the guard of Robertson and Falwell to people like Rick Warren and Tim Keller, who actually wrote the forward for your book. And Rick Warren – you have a quote from him when he was interviewing Obama and McCain during the presidential election: “I’m so tired of Christians being known for what they’re against.” From that quote, what do you take from what the new leaders of the Religious Right are trying to advance?

PW: Well, I think people like Rick Warren and Tim Keller just approach things in a very different way. Now, they’re much less political than Falwell and Robertson; Warren is somewhat more political than Tim, and Warren got involved in the Proposition 8 debate about same-sex marriage in California and he hosted the presidential debate with McCain and Obama and did a splendid job. But they’re not the obvious successors to Falwell and Robertson because they have somewhat different roles. But the point Mike and I were trying to make was that there’s a kind of spirit and mode of argumentation and mode of conversation that Rick Warren and Tim Keller embody which is very different I think than what Falwell and Robertson embodied. I think it’s much more open-minded, much more willing to engage with other people of different views. A kind of civility and a certain high-mindedness to their arguments, combined with a very solid, I think, philosophical as well as theological foundation and I think that both of them are persuasive. You can think about public figures in terms of: Are they trying to energize the already converted or are they trying to win over the unconverted, the fence-sitters, and I think if you use that as a model, Falwell and Robertson are more in the first category where as Tim and Rick Warren are more in the second category – I think they’re more persuasive. I think there’s a tone and a spirit that animate Tim and Rick Warren, not just in politics, but it’s the kind of tone and spirit that I think can translate to politics and be very effective and I think it’s the kind of thing that the younger generation, the Millennial Generation, is looking for. I just think that the tone that Falwell and Robertson used is very much out of step, particularly with younger Christians who themselves are sympathetic with some of the moral beliefs of the so-called Religious Right but were not so enamored with the way that they presented their case.

GT: Your book also discussed the idea of human rights and advancing human rights as part of political theology and one topic that’s really hotly disputed right now in universal human rights is reproductive choice. Some would say that reproductive choice is a universal human right. What is your response to that?

PW: No, I mean, Mike and I have a section in the book on abortion and we count ourselves very much in the pro-life camp and we make the argument for it, not out of theology so much as basic science and medicine, which is that there’s no question that that’s a living human being that a mother is carrying and to have violence committed against that we think is morally problematic in the extreme. Now, how that translates itself in terms of public policy is an open question and Christians disagree on abortion in terms of where on the continuum as an unborn child goes longer in gestation, do certain moral rights begin to adhere later in pregnancy as opposed to earlier? Does a fetus at eight months have the same moral claims that it does 24 hours after conception? People of goodwill will disagree on that. Christians themselves over the millennia have disagreed with that, but as a general matter, certain things are indisputable and the entity we are talking about is both living and human and if it’s allowed to progress it will itself become a human being, not an alligator or a giraffe. So the way that people on the left in particular frame this issue as just choice, we don’t think is a compelling argument because there is something involved here more than the mother, and that is the life of the child.

GT: As an example in your book of how Christian convictions can influence political decisions you use the example of PEPFAR and how President Bush allocated 15 billion dollars over five years to promote prevention, treatment and compassionate care in Africa for AIDS and malaria and other health issues.

PW: Yeah, that is I think one of the great achievements of the Bush administration and Mike Gerson was a key figure in that effort. And when President Bush made that decision there was no real political upside to it; it was a huge increase in the funding that program had received before. It was by far the largest amount of money that was committed to a single disease in history as it relates to government funding and it had huge effects. There was a Stanford study that said there were a million – more than a million – lives that were saved within the first three years of that program going into effect. So that’s the kind of issue that Mike and I argue that Christians should care more about. It’s not as sexy and lively as some of the more culture-war issues and we don’t mean to downplay those issues, like abortion and same-sex marriage and the ones that usually come up, but we argue that the Christian agenda should be broader than it has been in the past. And indeed during the 1990s you began to see the broadening of that agenda, like issues with aid and development, issues like religious liberty and religious freedom, and getting involved in situations where genocide is unfolding. Those are the kind of issues that we think should galvanize Christians because they have to do with human rights and human dignity and human flourishing and those are the kind of issues that Christians above all should care about.

GT: In the book you give us three concluding propositions and one of them I just love because you had a G.K. Chesterton quote and I think he’s great; the quote is, “Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel.” What did you mean by that quote?

PW: Well, that was in the context of the complaints by people like Jim Hunter that Christians have often done politics poorly. But we say so did other people in the democracy and the answer is to do politics better, that political engagement isn’t a luxury and I think the way we put it in the book is, “The fighting of raging fires requires not contemplation but a fire extinguisher. Urgency can involve errors but these should be admitted and corrected.  But, as Chesterton said, ‘Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel.’”

GT: Well, I think that’s a great way to end this; thank you so much for your time with us.

PW: Sure, I enjoyed it. Thanks very much.

GT: This is Gayle Trotter and you’ve been listening to gayletrotter.com.

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