Identifying yourself as a Christian Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, etc. is an attempt to fit your religious beliefs into the mold of an existing party with a longstanding political philosophy. What if we were to reverse the order and create a political party in line with our religious principles, which are far older than any modern ideology?
The overwhelming majority of presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial political candidates claim one form of Christian faith regardless of partisan affiliation. Both major parties have principled positions on a variety of issues designed to connect them with Judeo-Christian voters. And yet, expressions of faith by elected leaders and candidates are frequently compromised by a secular political agenda.
This has not been the case in Iraq and Afghanistan, the most recent countries the United States has had an active role in democratizing, or in Egypt or Libya, where considerable financial support has been given to their revolutionary efforts. Political parties that are explicitly tied to Islamic faiths dominate Middle Eastern politics. The constitutions of the emerging democratic societies guarantee a freedom of religion, but they also outline Islam as the national faith. This question of the role of religious political parties is not limited to the Middle East; many European countries have their own versions of Christian Democratic parties, conservative organizations with the Christian faith as the core of the party’s purpose. In fact religious political parties are common, and in many instances, the norm in several democratic countries.
So why haven’t Christian political parties caught on in the United States? It is not for a lack of trying. The few parties that do exist are essentially grassroots efforts with little money, small organizational structures, no media attention and little ballot access in most of the 50 states. U.S. history contains several efforts to establish religious centered political parties with none achieving any degree of sustaining success. Modern political religious parties tend to fizzle within a few election cycles. More established minor parties like the Green Party and Libertarians have a better chance at winning seats in Congress.
Part of the difficulty in establishing a viable Christian based political party, for those who want one, is tackling the question of who’s version of Christianity is more preferred. Any number of books will tell you that religious denominations exist because differences in scriptural interpretation, policies and practices, and beliefs and a Christian political party would require significant compromises between groups. Decisions would have to be made about which version of the Bible would be preferred and what role biblical scholars and ministers would play in developing the party message.
Many Christians are hesitant to so closely align faith and politics under one banner. For whatever our debates on what the First Amendment means, Americans are comforted by the idea of religious pluralism, that our Republic is not a thinly veiled theocratic regime. We like knowing that we can leave or join a faith with no fear of persecution.
Politically, we like having Republicans and Democrats treat Christians as just one of many competing constituencies. It frees Christian organizations to take strong positions only on the issues they choose and leave the other non-religious factions of the party to sort out the rest. It is easier to be part of a larger organization than to be its foundation.
Being a part of a larger party grants us the power of influence without the burden of accountability. Without a viable, organized Christian political party we are free to judge the actions of our elected officials, with full knowledge that the positions and the responsibilities they bear will never be our own burden. But it also means politically oriented Christians will never be satisfied with the decisions made by their own party, their opponents or the government these parties control.
Ultimately, politics is a competition, and people who choose to vote or be active in their parties value one thing, winning. And history has shown, even if your party loses this election or the next one, eventually your Democratic or Republican Party will win an election. Our system is designed to support two major parties and without overthrowing one of them, a Christian party does not stand a chance. We won’t seriously support the idea of Christian parties because we don’t believe they will win. And because we’re human we’d rather win than be right.