Book Review: Republocrat

Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative

By now much has been written about Carl Trueman’s recent title, Republocrat.  After reading it I can see why much has been written.  Trueman as touched the proverbial third rail of politics, and he has done so from a perspective that differs from most evangelicals.  The thesis of the book reveals this very point: “that conservative Christianity does not require conservative politics or conservative cultural agendas.” (xix)  On the face of it I don’t disagree with the principle behind this thesis.  As Christians we are part of a kingdom that goes beyond politics.  We don’t grow our kingdom by the sword of man or by amendments of man, but rather by the sword of God’s word and the precepts of God’s law.  Thus, if you and I disagree on tax codes (for instance) that does make either one of us less faithful in God’s kingdom–you (or I) may be wrong but not less faithful.

However, from my perspective there are a few weak points in the practical application of Trueman’s thesis.  I want to highlight a few of these week points, and then come back to the thesis itself.

I was very happy with Trueman’s insistence that we as Christians–above anyone else–should be well reasoned as we think through political issues.  We should not be taken by cheap political tricks, scare tactics, and unfounded polarization.  To this I say amen!  However, with this in mind, it was a bit surprising to read that Trueman’s own transition from a conservative perspective to a liberal perspective was do in large part to his disillusionment with Rupert Murdock.  Not exactly the kind of reasoning that I was expecting…

Another weakness in Trueman’s argument is that fact that he doesn’t seem t take into account the tension in American politics between the federal government and the sate government.  Being from the UK, Trueman often compares the two governments.  This is at times helpful, but when the differences are not recognized it can lead to confusion.
By far the biggest problem I found with Trueman’s argument was his “choose between the lesser of two evils” philosophy.  This surfaced most notably when he dealt with the issue of abortion.  Truemans writes: “is there any point in allowing the matter to be the make-or-break issue on which individuals make their voting decisions at election time?  Or is it simply a rhetorical game, played by cynical politicians on both sides of the debate to rally their supporters and demonize the opposition?”   I am not sure why this is an either-or question.  I know that many “pro-life” candidates are only pro-life for pragmatic reasons.  But I also know that as long as their voting base makes abortion a “make-or-break issue” they are not going to change.  That may not end abortion, but it will at least slow the tide. This differs from Trueman.  Trueman takes the approach that nothing is going to change legislatively, so why don’t we just focus on other issues.   He goes on to write, “Is the one who votes for the pro-choice Democrat candidate really any more or less culpable on the abortion issue than the one who votes pro-life Republican, know that the candidate’s rhetoric will in no way be matched by any legislative action?”  I guess Trueman would just have us give up on an insurmountable problem, and vote based on more important issues (Healthcare seems very important for Trueman).  Call me an extremist, but my conscience will not allow me to do this.  In the end if I have a “choice” between a pro-life candidate and one who supports abortion I have to choose the “pro-life” candidate (even if they are going to raise my taxes).  This is the only way things are going to change.  If politicians don’t think that this issue is important to voters, then it will not be important to them.

With the weaknesses behind us, I did appreciate Trueman’s observation that American politics has essentially become Manichean.  In other words, everything is either “all good” or “all bad.”  There are the politicians with black hats and those with white hats, with no in-between (i.e. Pres. Obama & Sarah Palin).  This is a shame, but it can blind us to good ideas that those on the “other side of the aisle” might have.  Thus, I appreciated the concerns addressed by Trueman even if I didn’t particularly agree with his solution to the problem.  I was challenged to look at things from a different perspective, and even though I am right back where I was when I started, this was helpful.

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