In a recent column, Jonah Goldberg ruminates about why Asian-Americans overwhelming supported President Obama in his reelection effort. His suggestion:
“Whenever a Gujarati or Sikh businessman comes to a Republican event, it begins with an appeal to Jesus Christ,” conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza recently told The New York Times Magazine. “While the Democrats are really good at making the outsider feel at home, the Republicans make little or no effort.”
My friend and colleague Ramesh Ponnuru, an Indian American and devout Catholic, says the GOP has a problem with seeming like a “club for Christians.”
That rings true to me. I’ve attended dozens of conservative events where, as the speaker, I was, in effect, the guest of honor, and yet the opening invocation made no account of the fact that the guest of honor wasn’t a Christian. I’ve never taken offense, but I can imagine how it might seem to someone who felt like he was even less a part of the club.
Now, I’m a big fan of clubs. I think that in a pluralistic public square, people should feel free to express themselves as they wish. If that means expressing solidarity by affirming what they share, so be it. If that means proclaiming the Word and letting the Holy Spirit do its work, so be it.
I chose those two examples advisedly. A political party presumably sets out to win elections, which means that it may have to attract new adherents. Its members surely have to know what they stand for, but they also have to be open to making new friends, so to speak. Clubbiness, Christian or otherwise, may not be a particularly good strategy.
A political party is emphatically not an Evangelical outreach organization, so trusting that the Lord will move people to vote for one’s preferred candidate may be rather foolhardy. What’s more, most of the Evangelicals with whom I’m acquainted recognize that reaching out requires establishing relationships to begin with. You begin where people are, and hope (and pray) that they can be moved to where you want them.
My own inclination in these political matters is to try to find language that’s as inclusive as possible. I don’t think that all political questions are merely technical questions that need be addressed in a Sgt. Friday “just the facts, ma’am” manner. The facts gain their salience and significance by being situated in a moral horizon. But that moral horizon, even if dependent upon the will of God, can be expressed in language intelligible to all, regardless of whether they are people of the Book.
A secular liberal might call this adherence to Rawlsian “public reason,” the almost bloodless common ground that does not bespeak any particular metaphysical commitments. But I would deny it, preferring to allude to C.S. Lewis’ “Tao,” from The Abolition of Man, which is an intentionally non-Christian way to express what different denominations of Christians might refer to as natural law, common grace, or general revelation.
We can pray in church, at home, and certainly ask for God’s blessing on any public occasion we choose. We can discuss theology in any number of venues. But when we’re trying to win friends and influence people, we might be well-advised to express our worldly concerns and commitments (and the ultimate reasons for them) in ways that open up the conversation to many.