Timothy Dalrymple, in his second article of a series on the Tea party, asks this question.  (His first was; is it a social justice movement?  More are coming.)  He asks this particular question because of a similar question asked by Jim Wallis, he of Sojourners and the Christian Left. 

Dalrymple notes that, for starters, that for a guy who doesn’t like to be caricatured (and who does?), Wallis certainly uses it to make his points.  Some excerpts from Dalrymple:

The first sleight of hand comes in the phase, "Tea Party Libertarianism." Wallis poses the question: "Just how Christian is the Tea Party movement — and the Libertarian political philosophy that lies behind it?" Yet not all Tea Party supporters are Libertarians, and Wallis twists the Libertarian "political philosophy" beyond recognition.


How, then, does Reverend Wallis describe the "political philosophy" of the Tea Party? Wallis likens the Tea Partiers to the murderous Cain, who believed or pretended to believe that he was not his brother’s keeper.


Finally (I will deal with the racism charge in the third part of this series), Wallis condemns the Tea Party’s "preference for the strong over the weak" through its "supreme confidence in the market" — indeed, in a "sinless market" that has no need for oversight or regulation. The values of the Tea Party do not honor "God’s priorities" but "the priorities of the Chamber of Commerce."

These are powerful claims. They are also patently absurd. Only those who are already conditioned to expect the worst of political conservatives can believe that this represents a fair and honest account of the beliefs and values of the Tea Party movement. Would any Tea Partier — any single one, out of the millions across America who support or participate in the movement — actually accept this definition? It is an astonishing distortion of the Tea Party message to reduce it to "just leave me alone and don’t spend my money."

Rather than painting the movement with the brush of Rand Paul, Reverend Wallis might have consulted the polling data that shows what the majority of Tea Party supporters believe. He would have found a reality that defies the caricature.

Dalrymple proceeds to deal with these caricatures one by one, showing that Wallis either has no idea what the Tea Partiers really stand for, or who they really are.  Dalrymple does a good job of being moderate in his pronouncements, noting, in many places, that neither side, Wallis nor the Tea Partiers, inhabit the extreme positions they each are often accused of, and does a great job of explaining what’s really going on in conservatives’ heads.  Example:

What also needs to be refuted is the notion that resistance to higher levels of taxation is necessarily selfish. To resent a tax hike (or the prospect of one) is not to neglect the needy, and to wish to retain control over the funds one has secured in order to care for one’s family is not necessarily selfish. Conservatives generally are more generous with their giving than liberals, yet they resent it when a distant bureaucracy extracts their money in order to distribute public funds to the special interest groups on whose votes and donations they rely. Conservatives would prefer that care for the needy remain as local and personal as possible. Jobless Joe is more accountable to use the money he is given wisely, and to strive to become self-sufficient as swiftly as possible, when he receives that money from the members of the church down the street. This is not to deny that government services are needed, but it is to refute the notion that "taxed enough already" is a slogan of economic narcissism.

So, is this a Christian movement?  Dalrymple’s answer is a solid "yes and no".  I’ll let you read the whole thing to get his complete take on it, but answering this provided another point of moderation between the two sides.

In the New York Times poll, 39% of Tea Party supporters identified themselves as evangelicals or "born again," and 83% identify as Protestant or Catholic. If Wallis were correct in his description of the philosophy that undergirds their movement, then these conservative Christians would be abandoning the essential ethical principles of their faith. Yet this is hardly the case. What separates Jim Wallis from the Tea Partiers is not a difference of moral quality, or the presence and absence of compassion, but a different vision of the society that biblical love and justice require.

This is a much more sober description of the differences that in Wallis’ article.  In it, he labels some of the (supposed, caricatures) values of the Tea Party as "decidedly un-Christian", while at the same time saying he wants to "have the dialog".  In reality, he’s made up his mind already.  Dalrymple, arguing from the Right, gives both sides a benefit of the doubt that Wallis doesn’t seem to be willing to do.

Filed under: ChristianityConservativeDougGovernmentReligion

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