I have been asked to explain what it means to be a Christian American Conservative. After all, that’s how I identify myself and that is what it says on the mast head of my website, ever since I began this exercise in ranting and raving in April of 2010.
Let’s perform a dissection, shall we?
First word: Christian – A follower of Jesus Christ.
I was raised as a Christian by my parents and accepted Christ as my personal Savior many years ago.
Dr. Ray Pritchard offers some interesting insights about Christianity for us to consider:
1) The name “Christian” was not invented by early Christians. It was a name given to them by others.
2) Christians called themselves by different names—disciples, believers, brethren, saints, the elect, etc.
3) The term apparently had a negative meaning in the beginning: “those belonging to the Christ party.”
4) It was a term of contempt or derision.
5) We can get a flavor for it if we take the word “Christ” and keep that pronunciation. You “Christ-ians.”
6) It literally means “Christ-followers.”
7) Over time a derogatory term became a positive designation.
Occasionally you will hear someone spit the term out in the same way it was used in the beginning. “You Christians think you’re the only ones going to heaven.”
9) There was a sense of suffering and reproach attached to the word in the New Testament.
In working my way toward an answer to “What is a Christian?” I decided to check out the dictionary. I found these two definitions:
1. One who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus. 2. One who lives according to the teachings of Jesus.”
That’s actually quite helpful because it gives some content to the word. To be a Christian means that you . . .
A Fully Devoted Follower To borrow a contemporary phrase, we could simply say that a Christian is a “fully devoted follower of Jesus.” As I think about that, two insights come to mind.
1) It doesn’t happen by accident. You are not “born” a Christian nor are you a Christian because of your family heritage. Being a Christian is not like being Irish. You aren’t a Christian simply because you were born into a Christian family.
2) It requires conversion of the heart. By using the term “conversion,” I simply mean what Jesus meant when he said that to be his disciple meant to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him (Luke 9:23). The heart itself must be changed so that you become a follower of the Lord.
Second word: American – A citizen of the United States of America.
So what, then, does it mean to be an American? I suspect that most of us believe, like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in describing pornography, that we “know it when we see it.” For example, John Wayne, Amelia Earhart, and Bill Cosby definitely are Americans. The day laborers standing on the street corner probably are not. But how do we put this inner understanding into words? It’s not easy. Unlike most other nations on Earth, the American nation is not strictly defined in terms of race or ethnicity or ancestry or religion. George Washington may be the Father of Our Country (in my opinion, the greatest American who ever lived), but there have been in the past, and are today, many millions of patriotic, hardworking, upstanding Americans who are not Caucasian, or Christian, or of Western European ancestry. Yet they are undeniably as American as you or I (by the way, I am Jewish of predominantly Eastern European ancestry). Any definition of “American” that excludes such folks — let alone one that excludes me! — cannot be right.
Consequently, it is just not good enough to say, as some immigration restrictionists do, that this is a “white-majority, Western country.” Yes, it is. But so are, for example, Ireland and Sweden and Portugal. Clearly, this level of abstraction does not take us very far towards understanding what it means to be “an American.” Nor is it all that helpful to say that this is an English-speaking, predominately Christian country. While I think these features get us closer to the answer, there are millions of English-speaking (and non-English-speaking) Christians in the world who are not Americans, and millions of non-Christians who are. Certainly, these fundamental historical characteristics are important elements in determining who we are as a nation. Like other restrictionists, I am opposed to public policies that seek, by design or by default, to significantly alter the nation’s “demographic profile.” Still, it must be recognized that demography alone does not, and cannot, explain what it means to be an American.
So where does that leave us? I think the answer to our question, ultimately, must be found in the realms of ideology and culture. What distinguishes the United States from other nations, and what unites the disparate peoples who make up our country, are our unique political, economic, and social values, beliefs, and institutions. Not race, or religion, or ancestry.
Third word: Conservative – a person who holds to traditional values and attitudes.
Ronald Reagan often spoke of a “three-legged stool” that undergirds true conservatism. The legs are represented by a strong defense, strong free-market economic policies and strong social values. For the stool to remain upright, it must be supported by all three legs. If you snap off even one leg, the stool collapses under its own weight.
A Republican, for instance, who is conservative on social and national defense issues but liberal on fiscal issues is not a Reagan conservative. He is a quasi-conservative socialist.
A Republican who is conservative on fiscal and social issues but liberal on national defense issues is not a Reagan conservative. He is a quasi-conservative dove.
By the same token, a Republican who is conservative on fiscal and national defense issues but liberal on social issues – such as abortion, so-called gay rights or the Second Amendment – is not a Reagan conservative. He is a socio-liberal libertarian.
Put another way: A Republican who is one part William F. Buckley Jr., one part Oliver North and one part Rachel Maddow is no true conservative. He is – well, I’m not exactly sure what he is, but it ain’t pretty.
Even the Brits understand what American Conservatism is.
Conservatism is thriving in America today because liberty, freedom and individual responsibility are at the heart of its ideology, one that rejects the foolish notion that government knows best. And its strength owes a great debt to the conviction and ideals of Ronald Reagan, who always believed that America’s best days are ahead of her, and for whom the notion of decline was unacceptable. As the Gipper famously put it, in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in 1988:
Those who underestimate the conservative movement are the same people who always underestimate the American people.
I am a Christian American Conservative – a follower of Jesus Christ and, by the grace of God, a citizen of the United States of America who holds to traditional values and attitudes.
I pray that you, the reader, are able to glean that from my writings. Because, as the Apostle Matthew relates:
For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.
May God bless you and yours,