Sunday, September 14, 2008

Peeking over the Fence: a Dangerous Assumption

On the subject of Sarah Palin's controversial prayer for wisdom in the context of the Iraq war, Julie Ponzi writes:

No fair-minded person could read that as an assertion that our task abroad is certainly "from God." It is, rather, a prayer that the task will be a task from God, i.e., a prayer that we would do as God approves. It is, as she said, an invocation of Abraham Lincoln’s prayer that we might have the wisdom and the fortitude to do as God would have us do and not any kind of claim to special or privileged knowledge of the will of God.

This analysis makes a great deal of sense, but it interests me that many of the "movement conservatives" who explain what Palin's prayer "really meant" have apparently not thought through the implications. Sarah Palin's prayer implies that as an official of the US government she would act, first and foremost, as a humble servant of the Creator. If so, we can expect that many of the arguments made by secular conservatives about national interest and power politics would have no effect on her. Many of the neo-conservatives who have hailed her as the hope for salvaging the McCain campaign appear to assume that if elected, she will shape her faith to conform to their ideological needs and policy prescriptions; that she will claim, as conservatives before her have done, that American power by definition has the blessing of the Creator.

Anyone who assumes they can manipulate or predict Governor Palin's religious convictions would do well to read the history of people like William Wilberforce, John Newton, and the Great Awakening. They might follow up that with a look at trends within the American evangelical community. A clear understanding of that history will reveal something that properly ought to alarm the neo-conservative movement: the arguments of people such Jim Wallis and Ron Sider may well reach her more effectively than theirs.

Neo-conservatives and their allies the "national greatness" or "Jacksonian" conservatives share this essential error with secularist liberals: the delusion that social and political change can only come through a secular argument that both changes individual minds and harnesses the power of the government. But that overlooks the role of faith in all of the great positive paradigm shifts of past centuries, from abolition to civil rights. Those secular conservatives, and especially the conservative political operators, who think they can control the church and make Christian doctrine conform to their idea of the national interest simply haven't paid attention to either history or to current trends.

Link via Jim Henley.

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