Near the beginning of his busy, busy day over at The Corner, our friend Jonah Goldberg wondered whether the splintering of religious conservatives would be a good or bad thing politically. He received some responses.
Let me offer mine here, taking as a point of departure this most excellent RC2 post (which I urge you to read so that I don’t have to repeat her points). I’d like to begin by stressing two things in particular. First, "Christian conservative" is a vast oversimplification, covering up the complexities of both terms ("Christian" and "conservative"), not to mention the varieties of the ways in which they interact. The former term includes everything from charismatic Pentecostals to the Eastern Orthodox, and from traditionalists to modernists. (Permit me for the moment to be "catholic" and not "fundamentalist" in the use of the adjective.) "Conservative" also admits an array of meanings (once again: "catholic," not "fundamentalist").
Second, even if one speaks of "mere Christianity" and "mere conservatism," there remains questions of prudence or political judgment. How do we weigh various considerations of policy, politics, and personality? God knows the right answer, but, as a fallible human being, I have to admit that there’s a range of possibilities available to "reasonable people."
In other words, there’s nothing about the term "Christian conservative" that even implies a political monolith, even if you leave out the following consideration: there are in fact lots of morally and theologically conservative Christians who rather consistently support Democratic/liberal candidates. Most of them are African-American, and they make a "prudential" judgment about how they can protect and project their genuinely conservative moral and theological concerns in the political arena. But I guess you’d call them "conservative Christians," not "Christian conservatives."
In the end, I’d be surprised if "Christian conservatives" ever and early coalesced around one candidate, even if they might occasionally be unified in their opposition to someone.
Two more points and I’m done. First, Jonah wonders if it wouldn’t be better for conservatism if there were some conservatives who were Democrats. Some moral and theological conservatives already are (see above). And in the past, some conservatives were--when there was still such a thing as a Southern "yellow dog" Democrat. In Georgia at least, they’re pretty much gone, and the Democratic Party that remains in my state is awfully hard to distinguish from its national counterpart.
Second, Jonah excerpts an email wondering whether some Christians are drifting toward Christian Democracy and away from "American constitutionalism." If "American constitutionalism" is short-hand for a small national government with limited responsibilities and a heavy emphasis on federalism, it seems to me that Christian conservatives are not the only ones drifting.