The Tea Party is not a Christian movement. It’s a populist political protest movement that has resonates with a large number of people who have been disturbed by most the outrageous government spending in the nation’s history. There are many evangelical Christians involved in the Tea Party, which I believe is legitimate and a worthy cause, but there are also many nonChristians involved. A protest stoked by liberal excesses in spending and government over-reach in large sectors of the economy is naturally centered on fiscal issues. Tea Party zeal is primarily libertarian.
Jim DeMint, the highest ranking office holder associated with the Tea Party, said there’s a difference in the Tea Party that he hasn’t seen in previous conservative movements. “They’re not pushing religion, they’re not even pushing morality. They just consider bankruptcy a moral issue.”
With this in mind, I believe conservative Christians need to apply these filters to Tea Party involvement:
Allow Outrage, but not Hatred
Because I rub elbows with many progressives in my work, I hear their common characterization of the Tea Parties as a movement of hatred. This is, of course, mostly a political spin that has caught on in liberal Democratic circles. There is a lot of passion in the tea parties, but the emotion is outrage, not hatred; there is a big difference. While hatred is not an acceptable Christian emotion, outrage can be valid and constructive if it is properly placed and expressed. Christians in the Tea Party should share the outrage, but shun the hatred. In fact, Christians should actively identify and call-out hatred that may take hold in the movement.
Don’t Lose the Pro-Life Requirement
One unquestionable priority for evangelical Christians is the protection of life. The Tea Party, with its libertarian DNA, strays away government involvement in issues such as abortion and gay rights. Christians need to recognize this and if the Tea Party will not represent them on support for pro-life candidates, they must support them through other means. The protection of life is more important than the protection of profit.
Mormon Glenn Beck has said that gay marriage and abortion aren’t his focus because “we have bigger fish to fry.” But Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said in a recent speech: “We can have great economic power, abundant goods and services, a thriving financial system, the finest and best equipped and most technologically advanced military in the world, but they cannot last without strong families and a culture that upholds the sanctity of life and the centrality of religious liberty.”
I should point out that the four tea party-supported women on the ballot for Senate are all strongly pro-life.
Ideology is not Theology
The majority of evangelical Christians are social and fiscal conservatives. I count myself among that number. While we can and should be passionate in our contention for conservative principles in government, we cannot allow our ideology to compel us to sin against our brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree on political issues.
For example, my friend Richard Cizik, who describes himself as a conservative but has in recent years tacked to the left on many issues, says he is suspicious of the Tea Party: “The Tea Party movement is irreligious and significantly so. It’s got lots of problems. I would urge other evangelicals not to join it or at least to be suspicious of it because it doesn’t bring with it the whole biblical concept of responsibility. I’m not a Tea Party fan.” That is the position I’d expect from Rich and I respect him and love him as a Christian brother.
Ideology is not theology and our tie with liberal evangelicals is stronger than our tie with secular conservatives or tea partiers. We may not share one political view, but we share a Savior, which is a far greater connection. Don’t allow personal attacks or allow our ideological friends to denigrate the faith of our liberal brethren. Man, this can be hard; but it is absolutely biblical.
Most Evangelicals are Comfortable with the Tea Party
The Tea Party is such a wildfire that political strategists and pundits are struggling to figure it out. The political parties are trying to figure out if it will function as a third party. Remaining candidates and their handlers are trying to figure out what impact it will have on their campaigns. The White House is mulling whether to try to connect the Tea Party to the Republican Party.
And as evangelicals we are attempting to balance our faith and issues (which include far more than abortion and gay marriage, and now routinely include issues of domestic poverty, the environment, immigration, and international aid), with the populist inferno.
It is difficult to nail down accurate numbers on the connection of evangelicals and the Tea Party. My conjecture and it is only that, is that there is about a 70 percent convergence between evangelicals and tea partiers. About 15 percent of tea partiers are staunch libertarians who are not particularly friendly to a Christian worldview and don’t believe government should be involved in the issues near and dear to social conservatives. And about 15 percent of evangelicals fall to the left on certain issues and aren’t embraced by tea party (and the sentiment is largely returned).
That’s my shot at it; I’d like to hear disagreements, and I’d particularly love to hear from anyone who has solid poll numbers concerning the convergence of evangelicals and tea partiers.