1980 was a revolutionary election in many ways. It marked the end of a major period in American politics and ushered in a new era of conservatism. It would be wrong to say the last 40 years have been dominated by conservative politics. We had Clinton for eight years and Obama for eight years. Contrary to popular belief, neither really governed from the left.
All that being said, the miracle of the 1980 election wasn’t the fact that trickle down economics was actually bought and sold. The miracle was that the Christian Right became a thing. It became a thing with a candidate that had been divorced and was a Hollywood insider. He took on a candidate that was quite literally a Sunday school teacher. Jimmy Carter might not have been a great president, but he is undoubtedly a great man. He still builds homes for Habitat for Humanity. The man is past 90.
The entry of the Christian Coalition into politics itself was something. Most ardent Evangelicals shunned politics and for good reason. American politics is a mine field for dedicated followers of Jesus. Everyone focuses on abortion, but if you believe in sanctity of life it’s hard to argue for the death penalty. Then, when it comes to social justice you have a virtual quagmire of different policy options and debates to consider.
The big mistake was when the liberal wing of the Democratic party began to seem anti-Christian. Every political party wants a big tent. You want to attract all kinds of people and the Democratic party wanted to appeal to those that weren’t Christian and were concerned about religious freedom (or freedom from religion).
A whole generation or two later and it seems impossible for some to understand that someone could be a Christian and a liberal at the same time. The concept seems foreign to them. Wait, you must not be reading the Bible right. Maybe you need to pray on this and talk to your pastor about where you might be confused. You can’t be a liberal and a Christian at the same time.
What they might not understand is that I’m not a liberal in spite of being a Christian. I’m not a Christian in spite of being a liberal. I’m a liberal becausee I am a Christian. I’m a Christian because I am a liberal. My beliefs definitely motivate my politics. It’s impossible to separate the two. Of course, this is the way it works for conservatives as well. The idea is what you choose to focus on.
The Democrats in 1980 had the ultimate candidate on this front. Carter was always considered a good man. Many disagreed with his politics, but the party began running away from Christianity. All of the presidents have been Christians and most were regular church goers, but they really couldn’t run on that. That’s because the Democratic party bought into the battle that the Christian Coalition laid out. They set up abortion as the number one issue in Christian politics.
If Christ is supposed to be the center of Christianity then it would make sense that we should focus on what Christ focused on. Go back and read the Gospels. Read them again. Show me where Christ talks directly about abortion. Yes, he talks about the law and he talks about sin, but he never mentions abortion specifically. This is because the whole concept of abortion is a modern construct. I’m sure it happened, but this is a fairly modern phenomenon.
This isn’t to say that he wouldn’t have been opposed to it. This isn’t to say that it isn’t wrong in the vast majorirty of instances. This is simply to say that abortion really wasn’t the core message of his ministry. So, if it wasn’t the core message of his ministry then why are we making it the core issue in American politics? Even if you follow religious teachings from today, they would consider abortion to be a sin. A mortal sin, but still a sin. Is avoiding sin or calling out sinners really at the core of his ministry? Are we simply reduced to our sin? Wasn’t the whole Easter miracle about overcoming that?
So, if abortion really isn’t the most important issue then what is the most important issue? I go back to the two main commandments he talked about. Loving God with all our heart, mind, and strength and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. What does that love look like? Well, this is well worth the debate and it is something that people on the left and right can debate about. Ceding the argument to the right was never the right answer. We have a whole lot we can offer on the subject.
One thought on “The Big Mistake”
Once again, great piece.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if the Dems had countered back then that Republican policies across a span of issues were, in fact, anti-Christian.
My sense is that conservatives don’t care about dead babies, but instead care about restricting women’s agency. What if the Democrats had been more effective in reframing the Christian Right’s attempt to relitigate the abortion issue as being draconian and anti-woman.
It’s like all the strategists were on the Right back then.