Thinking Only One Election at a Time is Killing the Conservative Movement

George Washington at Prayer

By Joshua Charles Published on August 13, 2016

At the Western Conservative Summit recently, my fellow millennial Ben Shapiro proclaimed the conservative movement moribund. The reasons why go way beyond Donald Trump, and way beyond this election.

It can be revived. It must be revived. But it will have to do so only after fundamentally rethinking its assumptions, its modes of action and thought, and its expectations.

There’s a story in the Gospels that informs my thinking on these matters. It comes from the book of John, where Jesus says to the disciples, “I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” The “others” were, of course, people like the Patriarchs and the Prophets, those men and women praised in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 for pursuing righteousness in their own times, despite the fact that they would never see it themselves.

And that, among other things, is what too many conservatives have forgotten: vision, generational thinking and long-term success. We talk a good game when it comes to justifying our actions in the name of future generations. But for far too many of us, the vision goes little further than the next election.

Sowing for a Harvest Another Generation Will Reap

We need a new “prophetic” generation if conservative principles will ever again succeed in America — a generation who knows from the outset that it will not see the full harvest, but sows seed as if it will.

The movements that have actually made a change in American society have been those movements which thought 50 years down the road or more — in other words, those movements who knew in advance that the goals which they sought would likely not be fully achieved within their own lifetimes.

The abolitionist movement took decades. The women’s suffrage movement took decades. The labor movement took decades. The civil rights movement took decades. The homosexual rights movement took decades. Heck, the American Revolution was merely the culmination of 15-20 years of tensions, and it took an additional 15 to get the Constitution, making its initial stages roughly 30-35 years long! And each of these movements changed hearts and minds before they ever obtained the political power with which to do something.

Even after the legislative victories of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr. declared to his followers that the Promised Land still lay ahead, and that even though he wasn’t sure he would see it, that “we, as a people, will get to the promised land!” King was a leader who thought generationally.

But many modern conservatives don’t think in terms of generations, or even decades. They claim to know and understand history but have refused to learn its lessons. They think in terms of every four years. Maybe eight. And ironically, virtually the only power many champions of limited government seem to care about is political power.

This is one reason why the conservative movement is where it is today: fractured and with a shrinking following and a message that is being heard by few.

The Left’s Long March

The Left has thought and planned long-term. And this is why the Left is winning. Hillary Clinton, as much as I hate to admit it, was right when she spoke in her DNC speech about “planting seeds in gardens we will never get to see.” That is generational thinking. That is planning for the long term.

And indeed, the left’s control over the culture-shaping institutions of our country did not happen overnight, and certainly not according to the chronology of elections.

If the conservative movement hopes to have any substantive effect on the course of this nation, it will again have to be led by men and women who are focused on achieving goals whose consummation could very well happen long after they are dead — and we must make our peace with that. We can either be a new “prophetic” generation according to the wisdom of Jesus and the genius of our Founders, or continue on with the same myopically political ways too many of the movement’s leaders have adopted.

Changing a culture is not the result of temporary campaigns and electioneering messaging. It is, as George Washington put it, “a plant of slow growth.” It is oftentimes the result of those seeds planted by those who never got to see the full garden. And if we wish to see a renaissance of conservative principles, which necessarily requires the renaissance of a virtuous culture, then we need to adopt long term, generational, and not exclusively or even primarily political thinking, now.

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  • Really

    In order to preserve the conservative movement, it’s time to come out from among the GOP who says one thing in front of the microphone, all the while making backroom deals with the democrats (Iran, Planned Parenthood, Obamacare), while vilifying the freedom caucus.

    Progressive GOP politicians are now running as conservatives in order to get votes, and if they are elected they immediately begin to betray us.

    Conservatives that have fought for us are being vilified in ads run by the GOP establishment, and since most voters don’t have time to spend researching for themselves, rely on the ads by these betrayers and a corrupt news media in order to vote. They are so angry they are voting out anyone, not even researching how they vote.

    Trump supporters don’t even seem to care about the Constitution, choosing rather to embrace the progressive populism of Europe.

    Pastors condemn the sheep who are unsure if they can vote for trump, condemn senators in the freedom caucus who will not, or who have not yet supported trump, and demand that we examine the platforms of both parties, while neglecting the fact the over and over one party platform is pretty clear they are a death cult, while the other party is the party of hypocrites….the party who says one thing, and does another. They party who loathes and silences the conservatives that gave them the house and the senate, because we are pro-life, because we are pro-Israel, and yet demand that we vote for a person that only 40% voted for in the primaries, that has proven himself over and over on a daily and sometimes hourly, and yes, even minutely, not that that is a word, to reverse his policies, and yet we are supposed to trust his word? Which word is that? And yet, some pastors promote, actively promote, falsehoods by omission or commission.

    When all is said and done, the way I see it. the blame lies at the feet of the Body of Christ, that rejected a gift in this election cycle, because they didn’t need a pastor. They didn’t need someone with integrity and courage and a proven record. They resented they Ted Cruz embarrassed them by asking voters to pray for an awakening over America. They wanted the failed con businessman who could make America great again, but they forget that it was another pastor that Made America Great Again from 1981 to 1989, who said, “If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”

    After dealing with this current president, many of us said, God please, give us a president who loves You, and loves America, and God heard our prayers, but when God did it, He called their bluff.

  • Charles Burge

    I think these thoughts dovetail well with what some other conservative voices have written, notably John Stonestreet. What I’m hearing is a pretty consistent call to engage culture directly, since culture is what drives politics. In that sense, I think the Moral Majority from the 1980’s had it wrong. They tried to impose change from the top down, and what we have found is that that doesn’t work very well. (And it had the unfortunate side-effect of generating a lot of ill-will toward Christians). We need to learn from that lesson, and turn toward the model of the early church. That is, loving people in need one at a time, and showing them why Christianity is the best answer to the world’s problems rather than just telling them. We also need to be aware that this will be a long-term project – probably 1 to 2 generations – before the seeds begin to bear fruit again.

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