Like Vince Said, ‘The Best Defense is a Good Offense’
My friends’ grown children were homeschooled. They attended excellent Christian churches and excelled in programs designed to instill in them a Christian worldview. Their son went to an Evangelical college faithful to its Evangelical identity, but he managed to drop out of the faith anyway. Their daughter went to a state college, has a career, and exercises her faith and her formidable leadership gifts in a wonderful local church.
Both know full well what the Scriptures teach about men, women, sexual morality and marriage. And both are sold out supporters of the lifestyles and living arrangements of their gay and lesbian friends.
It’s a common enough story though it took their conservative Christian parents by surprise to say the least.
Perhaps it has something to do with the somewhat less than affirming nature of social conservativism. If so, I can relate. We social conservatives seem rather intent on banning things and it has indeed gotten old.
If our whole perception of what to do focuses on stopping bad things, that needs to change. Banning evils, after all, can never produce the good society.
“Abortion?” We should ban it. “Illegal immigration?” Ban it. “Same-sex marriage, the gender free-for-all, encroachment on religious liberty?” Ban, ban and ban. Before that we were best know for being anti-communist. That was good for the country and the world. But still, it seems that we’re best known for standing athwart history yelling, “Stop!”
Not, as Mr. Buckley understood, that there’s any end to the list of bad things that need to be stopped. But if our whole perception of what to do focuses on stopping bad things, that needs to change. Banning evils, after all, can never produce the good society. We need to rethink our strategy. How?
Rethinking Our Approach
First, we need to forget the myth that it was good in the past and that we can use legislation and policy to return to that better day. As Yuval Levin demonstrates in his book The Fractured Republic, those who want to bring back the 1950s or the 1980s are suffering from either historical ignorance or delusional nostalgia.
We need to abandon any plan that attempts to “reclaim,” “restore” or “re-establish” some past era of presumed social and cultural goodness — particularly if legislation is prominent in that plan. The good old days when men were men and women were women, and we all went to church, and all the children were polite, happy, and (above all) chaste is a fantasy.
Second, we need to learn to use inertia. Societal and cultural change are moving at a remarkable rate and, thus, have a great deal of inertia. Trying to stop or slow that change is a good way to get hurt and look like a fool doing it. The wise course is to use the inertia. It’s the lesson of judo: Don’t try to stop the attacker. Direct his energy and allow that to defeat him. We can’t stop cultural change or force it to take sharp turns. But we can direct its energy toward the future we have in mind.
That means, third, we need to have a future in mind. I once heard Jack Kemp say, “You don’t beat a thesis with an antithesis; you beat it with a better thesis.” This was a more refined way of putting Vince Lombardi’s famous truth about football: “The best defense is a good offense.” Developing and executing a better thesis and a solid offense is long overdue. We need a winning vision.
Envisioning Our Future
What do we, as conservatives and as Christian conservatives in particular want the future of America to look like? The answer is not obvious or easy to express.
What do we, as conservatives and as Christian conservatives in particular, want the future of America to look like? The answer is not obvious or easy to express. It requires serious thought and conversation.
But it is safe to say our fellow citizens rightly long for freedom, happy lives and community. Their pursuit of these, however, has produced instead bondage to their urges, a compulsive search for amusement, and an abiding alienation from God, self and others.
Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his 1993 encyclical The Splendor of Truth, “Dechristianization, which weights heavily upon entire peoples and communities once rich in faith and Christian life, involves not only the loss of faith or in any event its becoming irrelevant for everyday life, but also, and of necessity, a decline or obscuring of the moral sense.” This, he argued, works against human freedom and flourishing.
By contrast and as an antidote to the poison of dechristianization,
the life of holiness which is resplendent in so many members of the People of God, humble and often unseen, constitutes the simplest and most attractive way to perceive at once the beauty of truth, the liberating force of God’s love, and the value of unconditional fidelity to the Lord’s law, even in the most difficult situations.
Our current defensive strategy can’t even keep our kids on board. It’s time for a change, a change that begins with holy lives and leads to a compelling vision and witness, that changes individual lives, our society and our culture.