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Sunday, August 1, 2010

GOP politics and religion

Disarray in my local county GOP has led to the formation of a new GOP splinter group, the Northern X County GOP. I attended the NXC GOP's second meeting and was disturbed by what I saw. The bulk of the meeting was devoted to a presentation on the dangers of Islam. I assumed that the discussion would focus on the history of radical Islam or perhaps on recent American confrontations with distinctly un American aspects of Islam such as the American Academy of Pediatrics' flirtation with ritual Islamic female genital mutilation. I was wrong. Instead, the speaker focused on doctrinal distinctions between Islam and Christianity, such as Islam's rejection of trinitarianism and its relegation of Jesus to mere prophet status. The speaker's rhetoric assumed that every person in the room was a Protestant Christian. The discussion was saturated with an us (conservative Protestants) versus them (everyone else) mentality. Adding insult to injury, the speaker was remarkably ill informed.

As a professor, I am daily surrounded by people who aren't conservative Christians. Is it necessary for the GOP to alienate these people on religious grounds? This season of extreme voter upset with Democratic policies is probably the best opportunity in decades to expand the GOP base. Requiring Republican recruits to adhere to a particular religious dogma is foolish in the extreme. Christian conservatives need to remember two principles which will allow them to maximize their political impact.

Principle (i): If your allies agree with your policy, they need not agree with your reasons for the policy.

Principle (ii): Treat the bulk of social issues as state issues. This is both consonant with the founding principles of our country and is effectively a socially conservative position. Most of the left's attacks on traditional social arrangements begin with federalization of the issue. Adhering to the constitutional principle that social issues are state issues allows conservative Republicans to broaden their support at the national level without significant policy sacrifice.

I'll return to the NXC GOP for its third meeting. If I can't persuade them to hold meetings to which I can invite my Muslim, Jewish, and secular neighbors (this is a college town), I will at least push them to rename the group the NXC Christian GOP so that they do not inadvertently discourage potential secular and other non Christian, Republican recruits.

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