What Is A “Social Conservative?”

September 28, 2007

This blog and accompanying website is entitled “So-Cons for Rudy.” There has been a lot of consideration given by the media, with no little head-scratching, trying to figure out why social conservatives would, or should, support Rudy Giuliani for President. He’s supposedly “too liberal” on social issues. So, how does one explain the apparent disconnect between supposedly supporting conservative values in society, and supporting a candidate for President who doesn’t fit cleaning with those conservative social values?

The body of posts to this blog and to the website address that question, but as one who considers himself a social conservative, let me define what I think the term means.

I believe that our nation, our system of government, and our freedoms were built upon the exercise of personal responsibility. The nation protects liberty, not license, and a society reflecting a “do your own thing” set of values will be coercive to the nation. I agree with John Adams who wrote, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” But I believe, ultimately, that the character of the nation isn’t determined by those in power, but by the character of the people themselves. Of course, the character of the people should be reflected in the character of the people we elect to public office, but the character of the nation cannot, ultimately, be something that is imposed from the top down.

And this is where I probably part ways with many of my social conservative brethren. Many social conservatives believe that government should reflect traditional, even religious values. I believe that our society, made up of hundreds of millions of people, should reflect traditional, even religious values…but only if there’s a traditional-values consensus within the society. These values cannot, ultimately, be imposed from the top down by government policy or edict. Yet many social conservatives think they can, and should. Ultimately, however, it isn’t the power of government and politics that will change people’s hearts, and hence the values in our society. And, so, for the important task of forming the values inherent in the society, as a Christian, I trust in the gospel of Christ, and the working of the Holy Spirit, not in the platform of the Republican Party or the values of a few key office holders.

So, why am I, a social conservative in the tradition of the Founders, supporting Rudy Giuliani for President? My blog entries here answer that question, but to address it briefly:

  • Because Rudy is the most conservative person in the race. His record as mayor shows that he governed with conservative principles, and that he is willing and quite able to fight for those principles, successfully so, and that he did this in an extremely liberal city such as New York inclines me to believe that he’s up to the task to lead this nation.
  • I support Rudy Giuliani because, while many people have fallen asleep on this point, we’re still a nation at war, working here and abroad to assure America’s security against Islamist terrorists. Rudy Giuliani clearly understands this, and is, in my opinion, the only one who can refocus the nation’s resolve on this issue.
  • Finally, I think Rudy stands the best chance of beating Hillary Clinton. For me, the most important “traditional value” in this election is keeping the Clintons out of the White House. In this, I believe that social conservatism should, ultimately, be pragmatic. 

On a personal note: I have worked in government relations and politics for the past 34 years. Thirty-five years ago, in college, I came to Christ, expressed faith in who he is and what he did on the cross, so I’ve spent my entire professional career considering how my faith impacts, or should impact, the arena I work in.

A number of years ago, I was asked to speak to a group of students from a number of private Christian high schools who had come to Sacramento for a week-long Model Legislature. I was asked to talk about the role of Christians in politics and government. What I told them is that the role of Christians who in government is the same as the role of Christians who are lawyers, teachers, doctors, engineers, or greeters at WalMart – to reflect the fruit of the Spirit and the character of Christ; to treat people with respect and deference; to conduct oneself with civility, honesty, and integrity; to approach one’s profession with the spirit and attitude of a servant; to bless one’s enemies and not curse them. If Christians do that, they will have a far greater impact for good in this country, and for the advance of Christ’s kingdom, than they will in pushing any particular political agenda. My observation is that many of my socially conservative brethren have lost sight of this.

Greg Alterton

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