Monday, November 22, 2010

Introducing Republocrat

Over the next couple of weeks I'm going to blog my way through the new book from Carl Trueman -- Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative. I'll try to summarize each chapter's arguments and share some of the highlights, though choosing which highlights will be difficult. Trueman is a lively and enjoyable writer so I could choose just about any paragraph at random and not go wrong! The subtitle is a bit of a misnomer as Republocrat is less autobiography than it is a work of history and social criticism. Some readers may know that Dr. Trueman is an historian by trade (he teaches church history at Westminster Theological Seminary) and a minister in the OPC. Both of those callings are evident in this book. Trueman is also a Brit, which gives him a Tocquevillian vantage point on American politics.

Republocrat is dedicated to Trueman's boss at WTS, Peter Lillback, with the inscription: "To Peter, living proof that friendship can extend across the political divide. With God, after all, everything is possible." Dr. Lillback contributes one of the best (and wittiest) forewards I've ever read in which he pleads guilty to being a "conservative's conservative" with serious political differences with his colleague down the hall. For what its worth Lillback recently burnished his conservative credentials by an appearance on Glenn Beck's show plugging his biography of George Washington. The mutual affection evident in the dedication and foreward sets the right tone for a book which has as one of its underlying assumptions that what unites believers in Christ is far more important than what happens in the voting booth.

However, if you believe that Obama is not just wrong he's evil, or conversely, that George W. Bush wasn't merely wrong he was evil, then it will be hard to extend charity to brothers and sisters who don't share your political convictions. As a personal aside, I'm glad the church where I'm a member includes a fair degree of political diversity. We have folks who've attended Tea Party rallies and folks who still have Obama bumper stickers on their automobile. Some might see that as a weakness, but I see it as a strength. One of Trueman's primary aims in writing Republocrat was to challenge a prevailing view of politics as an epic struggle between good and evil. The author was introduced to this tendency while spending six months in the U.S. in 1996.

On one of my very first Sundays in the USA, I was engaged in a conversation with a friend over coffee after church, and mentioned in passing what great work I thought the Clintons had done in Ulster. I might as well have said that Jack the Ripper had really helped to make the streets of London safe for women and children. I was given the full forty-minute "truth about Billary" lecture, and left the building in no doubt that the Clintons were, after Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, probably the most dangerous and wicked leaders in the history of world politics. I had just learned an important lesson: American politics is Manichaean, about an elemental struggle between good and evil where, as in those 1940s B-Westerns, the goodies are as obvious as the men in white hats, and the baddies stand out because of their invariable preference for black headgear. Good deeds done by the baddies in one area are simply clever ruses to hide the real agenda of wickedness being pursued in another, and stupid foreigners like me are simply not equipped to discern the depth of the conspiracy we are up against. (Introduction, pp. xxiv-xxv)

What makes Trueman's anecdote even more telling is that the Clinton's image has undergone something of a rehabilitation in the eyes of some conservatives. Yes, Bill & Hillary were liberals, but compared to the uber-liberals Barack & Michelle they weren't as bad as all that. The current villain is always the scariest when politics is a zero-sum game of good vs. evil.

Another primary aim of Republocrat, indeed the thesis of the book, is "that conservative Christianity does not require conservative politics or conservative cultural agendas." (p. xix) Also, "the gospel cannot and must not be identified with partisan political posturing." (p. xxv) It follows then that most of Trueman's fire will be directed at the right side of the political spectrum. But before taking on the Right he begins with a chapter skewering the contemporary Left.

To be continued. . .

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