When confronted with the views of a candidate from “the other” party, have you ever felt so upset that you had to change the channel in anger or disgust? Have you ever become profoundly anxious at the prospect of having to engage with your family about politics?
Have you ever transferred out of a course because you couldn’t handle the ideology of the instructor? Have you left a church community because you disagreed with the views of the pastor or your fellow worshippers?
Many have. Many of us refuse to have our perceived enemies, even thoughtful ones, challenge our safe, comfortable views. We prefer not to engage.
We might be tempted simply to dismiss this state of affairs as what any pluralistic Western republic has to put up with. After all, if a culture genuinely tries to welcome multiple and even antagonistic understandings of the good, could there really be another outcome?
Maybe. Three years ago, in the heart of the 2016 presidential election cycle, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said, “It is clear that we need a new politics — a politics of the heart that emphasizes mercy, love and solidarity.”
This kind of politics is especially important, perhaps, to Christians caught up in the country’s polarization and incoherency. These plagues don’t just shove today’s complex issues into a simplistic right/left framework; they prompt us to view our ancient theological traditions through the lens of the culture wars.
Christian liberals and Christian conservatives as a result often hold views indistinguishable from those of secular liberals and conservatives, putting Christianity at the service of America’s political tribes.
There are a few reasons for hope.
As Eugene Robinson recently stated, “My view is that the traditional left-to-right, progressive-to-conservative, Democratic-to-Republican political axis that we’re all so familiar with is no longer a valid schematic of American political opinion. And I believe neither party has the foggiest idea what the new diagram looks like.”
The old coalitions do seem to be falling apart. Donald Trump, who won without being clearly liberal or conservative, has remade the Republican Party (if it still exists at all) into a very different thing.
At the same time, many evangelical Christians, whose “moral majority” generated the last iteration of the Republican Party in the late 1970s, are increasingly uncomfortable with today’s GOP.
Southern Baptists have also begun to distance themselves from the Republican Party, as evidenced by the protests surrounding Mike Pence’s speech last year to the Southern Baptist Convention.
Working class Catholics — once the Democratic base — have been pushed out by a hyper-secular party driven by sectarian identity politics. Large numbers of Latinos and Latinas, despite the Democratic party’s “all-in” stance and purity tests on abortion, strongly identify with the goals of anti-abortion pro-lifers.
Many pundits see the trend reflected in the 2018 midterm elections, arguing that the voting reflected not a so-called “blue wave” but, rather, the uncertainty and turbulence of a country undergoing a profound political realignment.
If the ranks that took shape in the 1970s and 1980s culture wars are finally breaking apart, it may be younger people who finally make them scatter. Half of all millennials refuse to identify as Democrat or Republican, and 71 percent see a need for a major third party. They are fiercely committed to social change and don’t see government as a primary way of effecting it.
There is no script for replacing a political culture. Some worry that radical moral diversity will leave us so fragmented that we will never find a way to write such a script together.
Indeed, if we plow ahead too quickly — if we settle for politically motivated “10-point plans” or “contracts with America” — we will miss a rare opportunity to do something lasting and significant.
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Source: Religion News Service