But when I became a pastor, I put a lockdown on voicing my political opinions in public. I felt that it was a distraction from the higher mission to which I was called. I also felt that being publicly on one side or the other of a candidate or issue could form a barrier between me and parishioners who were on the other side. I noticed that a lot of my colleagues were openly ideological – openly partisan, even. The people we used to call liberals and now mostly call progressives have a lot of politically mouthy clergy. I felt they were abusing their office a lot of the time, so I was determined not to go there.
In all the years between my entry into the clergy and the election of Barack Obama, I can only remember twice when I publicly addressed a political issue. The first was when Bishop Woodie White was trying to mobilize all our UM resources to fight against riverboat gambling in local referenda. I was pastoring in a community that was pretty much in favor of gambling, and I gave a fairly mild rebuke to what I saw as bad governance. It was not appreciated by some of my parishioners, but our county (Warrick) was the only one that ever turned down the boats. The other time was when Bill Clinton’s behavior with Monica Lewinsky was scandalizing the country. So egregious was his behavior that not to mention it at all would amount to endorsing it. “Silence implies consent,” as the saying goes. So, I addressed it in a newsletter column, limiting myself to his personal conduct and not his politics.
And then came Obama. I have been an unremitting opponent of Obama and all he stands for the last six years, and I find myself saying so in more and more public ways. I should hasten to say that this is not because of personal antipathy to the man himself, though I can’t find much to admire in him. He is vain and brittle and not very good at working with people, but that’s not worth losing one’s cool over. And I certainly don’t dislike him because he’s black; indeed, I can think of any number of black politicians I admire greatly and would gladly vote for. So, why am I so urgent about opposing Obama and so glad to see the Republicans take the Senate?
The main reason I oppose Obama and all he stands for is that he brings the poison of progressivism into our public life. Progressivism is, as Jonah Goldberg pointed out, just liberal fascism. It’s a big-government fantasy that seduces people with promises to take care of them and winds up inevitably abusing them – and that on two counts: it abuses them because government that big is inevitably incompetent and indifferent to those it claims to serve; and it also abuses them because it gives free rein to the desire to boss others about for their own good and so leads to tyranny. Power corrupts, as Lord Acton said, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Progressivism starts out seeking power to do good and winds up seeking power for its own sake, making more and more rules because the idea that there would be any field of human endeavor – even children’s games – without rules (which would mean, without a rulemaker) is unthinkable.
The second reason I oppose Obama is that his vision, such as it is, of foreign policy is dangerous. I fear for our country in a world of his making. And not only is he making the world more dangerous by the way he acts – or fails to act – in the Middle East, in Eastern Europe, and in Asia, but he has made us much weaker, militarily. Our ability to cope with danger is greatly reduced.
And the third reason I oppose Obama is that his kind of government is economic suicide. Not only in that unemployment and low growth is becoming endemic, but because the debt and deficits cannot be sustained. A terrible crash is coming if we do not act; some sort of crash is probably coming even if we do act, and still he goes on, spending money we do not have on stuff we do not need. (Republicans share with Democrats much of the blame for this, I know.)
Finally, it has to be said that Barack Obama has divided Americans on the subject of race like no President in my lifetime. Claiming to be a racial healer, he and his supporters have engaged in vicious demagoguery on the subject of race. He has done the same with sex. A committed conflictualist (cf. Conflict Theory), he sees people primarily as members of groups, rather than as individuals. Some of those groups are seen as “our” side, and all others are on the “wrong” side.
Obama is, of course, only the point man for the progressive cause, for American weakness, for the fantasy of voting oneself rich, for racial and other preferences in public policy. He does not speak for himself alone. Which is why opposing him is not a matter of simply replacing him, or restraining him. The argument before the country is whether we shall share his vision or adopt a different one.
William Wilberforce said, upon his election to Parliament, that he aimed at two great causes: the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners. The reformation of manners – the inculcation of a better vision of what society and government should be – is the real object. The progressives have reached the point they have because they spent two generations winning the argument in the institutions of popular culture, such as academia, entertainment, and even religion. Which means that in order to get out of the mess we’re in, we have to aim at nothing less than re-engaging – and winning – the argument in all those arenas. Which is why this pastor, who has spent so many years biting his tongue, is finally speaking out. This is more than a personal political preference, more than a partisan cause. If we are to save our country from decline, we must aim at the renewal of all our institutions which Wilberforce described as “the reformation of manners.”
According to legend, the Rev. Peter Muhlenberg, a Lutheran pastor, took as his text one day in 1776, Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season.” Upon reaching the eighth verse, “a time for war and a time for peace,” he removed his preacher's gown to show that he was clothed in the uniform of a colonel in the Continental Army. Declaring, “and this is a time for war,” he promptly began recruiting men to join his regiment to fight the British. Sometimes, you just gotta take sides.