Can We Say ‘Christian’ When We Mean ‘Christian Conservative’?

In my last post, I took a few conservative writers to task for claiming that same-sex marriage will relegate conservatives to marginal status in American life. It was soon pointed out to me that using “conservatives” in such a sweeping, dismissive manner only serves to reinforce the simplistic and inaccurate dichotomy that poisons much of our discourse. That’s a fair point, and I regret playing a role in that game. But here’s the thing:

American Christianity and American Conservatism have been blended to a degree that makes them difficult to distinguish. In this environment, the “religious conservative” qualifier usually serves as a synecdoche for the “social” and “economic” varieties as well. For many American Christians, to be one is to be the rest.

This makes “conservative” a more cohesive term than “liberal.” A liberal myself, I dislike hearing the term drip contemptuously from the lips of a Michelle Malkin or a Charles Krauthammer, and I’m able to recognize that Bill O’Reilly doesn’t have a strong sense of what “the left” looks like in the United States. So I can fully sympathize with someone who dislikes being labelled inaccurately. 

Still, the current union of conservatism and Christianity has a long and storied tradition, built upon decades of identity formation and political expediency. In 1972, evangelical sociologist David Moberg captured the partnership as it was still developing. In The Great Reversal Moberg wrote [emphasis mine]: