A Collusion of Confusion

D.G. Hart hits it spot on regarding the relative confusion and pathos that is the presence of the evangelicalism on the right and especially in the Republican party. Theocratic tendencies will always attempt to assert themselves in a vacuum of political sensibility and absence of a true, formal and active distinction between that which is Sacred and that which is Secular.

Evangelical anti-formalism helps to account for one of the odder aspects of the recent culture wars. On the one hand, born again Protestants are publicly committed to standards of decency and propriety in popular culture and to a basic, no-frills curriculum in education that is sympathetic to the classics of Western civilization. The want cultural and artistic expressions that will nurture and support wholesome values. On the other hand, in worship evangelical Protestants are among the least traditional of Christians. Their most popular services rely upon a soft version of rock music whose lyrics are devoid of the historic prayers, rites and creeds that have informed Christian worship, whether Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant. In effect, for six days of the week evangelical Protestants are cultural warriors doing battle against artistic deviancy, but on their holy day of rest and worship they are on the opposite side in the so-called worship wars, doing to liturgical norms what their political opponents do to cultural standards. Anti-formalism is an important factor in this glaring inconsistency. In worship, experience is foremost, and liturgical forms, as opposed to contemporary worship music, are incapable of producing the experience so many evangelicals desire. Consequently, while evangelicals are conservative about most obvious aspects of cultural deviancy, their conservatism has not extended to their worship.

A similar inability to see the links between political convictions and legal or political forms hampers evangelical reflection on public life. Born-again Protestants invariably appeal to the Bible in political reflection not simply because the books authority, but also because the American political tradition’s conventions of federalism, republicanism, and constitutionalism are merely formal arrangements that may be discarded if a better option surfaces. In fact, the absolute truths of Christianity trump most lesser authorities because of the perceived call to implement those truths everywhere in God’s creation. Accordingly, evangelicals are largely indifferent to the forms that define political life, whether through legislation, policy, or jurisdiction. If a law or policy eliminates a certain vice, evangelicals are less worried about said law or policy does to the separation of powers established in the Constitution, for instance…for many rank-and-file evangelicals, not to mention their prominent leaders, anti-formalism haunts their approach to public life. (D.G. Hart, From Billy Graham To Sarah Palin)