Rudy Giuliani and the Dilemma of Christian Conservatives

It’s no real surpise that Rudy Giuliani is running for President.  The surprise comes in how well he does in polls of Republicans.  The apparent attempt of the party’s higher echelons to "crown" John McCain early and avoid a hard primary/caucus season is not going as well as planned.  What your opinion of this depends upon what kind of outcome in this coming election you’re looking for.

For Christian conservatives, the 2008 Presidential election looks to be an unpleasant business.  Neither of the two social conservatives in the race (Brownback and Huckabee) look to be able to get sufficient traction–and a lot of that traction means money–to move forward into the primary moment (and this time, we mean moment.)  None of the "front-runners" really catches fire: McCain has ben erratic in just about every way, Romney is LDS (and erratic in his own way,) and Giuliani, in some ways conservative, is a social liberal in many others.  What’s a Christian conservative to do?

The answer to that depends upon what how one see the best approach for Christians to take in our society.  There are, in reality, two possible options.

The first is what we call the "level playing field" option.  We touched on this in our 2001 piece entitled, appropriately enough, Levelling the Playing Field.  In this the primary duty of the state is to create a fair enviroment by which people can both practice their religion as they see God directing them and share it openly with otheres.  In many ways this is what has been attempted by our current constitution, although our system does presuppose the existence of a God who is able to endow his creatures with inalieanable rights.

The greatest threat to this has been and is the expansion of the role of the state.  The state has its own interests, values and desires from its people; Christianity, with its primary focus on God as the ultimate authority, is in many ways a threat to those interests, values and desires.  As long as the state is relatively small and Christians do their usual loyal service to the state, things are fine.  When the state expands and anti-Christian groups use that expansion to further their own agenda, we have the problems present today.

The second is the "Christian nation" option.  In this Christians seek acknowledgment that we are a Christian nation, have been from the beginning, and need to continue to be if we are to be a successful nation.  Those Christian roots need to see their way into our legal system and national life in every way possible.  Christian conservative thought has gravitated in this direction largely because liberals have used the state to their advantage.  Christians figure that, if liberals can do it for evil, why can’t Christians do it for good?

There are several ways to answer that question.  From our perspective, the biggest problem is that Christian conservatives do not have a viable game plan to establish a really explicitly Christian nation on the North American continent.  To start with they are not willing to put together the state church necessary to implement the uniformity of belief necessary in such a situation (just think about uniting all of the conservative denominations and you will see what we mean.)  Many of them are unwilling to accept the hard realities of nationhood in a world where power challengers abound and the power to respond effectively to all of them is limited (the neocons are, if anything, worse in this regard.)  And last but not least theonomic Christians are not willing (mercifully) to even admit the need of the army of Joshua to achieve their objectives.  Liberals have this idea that theocracy is around the corner, but evangelical Christianity in the U.S. is better suited to help ordinary people live their lives successfully than to implement their plan on a nationwide basis.

Enter Rudy Giuliani.  Although he was for many years a U.S. Attorney, his best known position was that of Mayor of New York.  This is not an easy job; New York is a place with a plethora of obstructionist interest groups accompanied by lawyers who love to sue.  Guiliani, with the memory of the 1970’s behind him (the city basically went broke and the crime went wild) realised that New York, financial capital though it was, would not prosper without some significant improvement in the quality of life.  So he began by concentrating on the petty crime: panhandlers, squeegee operators, etc.  His idea was that, if you could clean up the petty crime, the major things like murder and armed robbery would be a lot simpler.  His strategy worked; all of these crimes declined under and the city became a place people really wanted to come to again.

11 September 2001 was Rudy’s defining moment, the place where he showed himself to be a leader.  In that moment he became America’s Mayor.  The city that preferred to go in many directions went in one.  The subsequent course of the "war on terror" showed that the first response was the best thought out, even though it was implemented "on the fly."  There were certainly mistakes and unhappy people in its wake, but one expects this, especially in a place as hard to pull together as New York.

Giuliani’s specialty is the one thing government needs to be good at: public order and security.  We can talk all we want about "righteousness" in government, but a government that can’t properly defend the country or deal with internal threats to public order isn’t much of a government.  The present administration has at least been able to quell domestic terrorist attacks, even though they have sqandered too many resources on adventures like Iraq and overlooked other kinds of threats to public order like Katrina.  The left, mired in Dzerzhinskii’s Dilemma, are at a serious disadvantage in these matters, even though they will use the power of the state to knock down rivals like evangelical Christians.

Given all of this, Christians are a tight place.  Our game plan the last thirty years or so hasn’t moved our agenda forward.  Our elites are still as liberal and unpatriotic as ever, perhaps more so today, and still find it too easy to project their values downward on our schools and other institutions.  Our attempts to "hold it in the road" on Christian sexual and family values such as the exclusivity of sex within marriage and the permanence of marriage have had uninspiring results.  Abortion on demand is still legal after all of the marches, all of the prayers and all of the elections.  Last but not least years of prosperity teaching have lifted some out of poverty but have not moved evanglical Christians significantly upward as a group in society.  To put it another way, we not only cannot "take the city," we struggle to hold things together in our own churches.

Perhaps the time has come to re-emphasise the "level playing field" option, where we focus on preserving our freedoms to both operate the church autonomously and share our faith with others.  What good does it do to bring children into the world to have them taken away by a left-wing state (or a jihadi one) and have their eternal destiny spoiled?  How much value would a "righteous" state be if it could not intelligently defend itself or advance its interests properly (this is the central problem we have in Iraq.)  And how meaningful is Christianity when it is imposed by the force of law in a theonomic situation?  (To see how this plays out, just look at Europe.)

Is Giuliani someone who would make the playing field level again?  These are questions that we need to ask him and any other candidate for President.  To dismiss him out of hand is a serious mistake.  While considering Giuliani and the other candidates, the time has come for Christians to look at what they are doing in the political arena, set some realistic and worthwhile objectives, work more diligently to strengthen our own churches, and realise that the state has definite limits in what it can and should do.  To miss the last point–which too many Christians are doing these days–only validates our statist opponents, and that’s the last thing we need to do.

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