Diamonds and Pearls: Are Christian Conservatives Being Bought Off?

A husband buys his wife diamonds or pearls because he is too busy at work to spend time with her. She’s glad to have the baubles, but knowing her husband’s motives, she feels cheapened by his response. She feels she’s being used. She knows he’s trying to buy her off.

A Republican Senator goes to Washington, pays little attention to his core constituents, and then realizes he needs to win their affection if he wants to win reelection. Therefore, in the months leading up to Election Day, he demands a vote on bills that are favored by his supporters but have no chance of passing. The voters are glad the Senator is finally taking action on key issues; yet, knowing the Senator’s motives, they too feel used.

Nobody likes to be used. We use things, not people. At the Center for a Just Society we recoil at the popular notion that it is okay to use people as a means to someone else’s end. It is not okay for a man to exploit an anonymous woman for sexual pleasure, even if it is consensual. It is not okay when a business owner mistreats, underpays and overworks his staff, even if it advances his own financial interests. It is not okay when a scientist kills human embryos to harvest their parts, even if it is intended to benefits others. We generally have a low view of people who are "users."

As we approach the upcoming election, the Senate has been trying to energize the evangelical base by voting on bills supported by many at the grassroots level. The constitutional amendment against flag burning had little chance of ultimate success, but was brought to the floor anyway. The Federal Marriage Amendment had even less chance, but was voted on all the same. There are some authentic diamonds and pearls in the Senate’s agenda. The bill that would prohibit the transport of minors across state lines for abortion without parental notification was brought before the Senate, and passed. Also, congress may soon debate a voucher program for students trapped in poor public schools.

We are glad these subjects are finally being debated. Nevertheless, few of these issues have been on the radar screen for the last year-and-a-half. Now, however, just before the election they become "priorities." Coincidence or calculation? A cynic might argue that most Republican senators really don’t care about these subjects and that they are just doing what needs to be done to win in November. One who is not a cynic might easily come to the same conclusion.

If you are a faithful evangelical or Catholic, the Republican Party has a box they put you in—"values voter". They know that they need a certain number of voters from this box in order to keep their jobs. And they have a game plan: pay lip service to a few subjects that animate "values voters" right before the election and maybe, just maybe, they can win. They know perfectly well that many "values voters" find it difficult to vote for Democrats, so they do the absolute minimum necessary to win us over and then largely forget us until the next campaign season. Part of this is our own fault. Many of us have allowed ourselves to be defined by one or two issues, forgetting that our Christian faith calls us to redeem all things, not just a few.

For political operatives in Washington, Christian conservatives are often no more than a mass of voters to be energized and mobilized. They come to our churches, register us to vote, and ship us off to the polls. They carefully calculate what needs to be said to placate us, and then move on to do what is necessary to cultivate the continued support of the business and special interest groups who fund their campaigns. Members of Congress should stop looking at the voters as "interests" to be accommodated. Instead, they should strive always for the common good.

Christians should be no less fed up with national organizations that try to mobilize us every-other year with overheated rhetoric and bombastic letters. Instead of calmly and rationally discussing the issues we face, we are subjected to dramatic emotional appeals that are aimed at manipulation rather than persuasion.

"Did you know that Senator Hilary Clinton wants to make prayer illegal in America? Did you know that the Democratic Party wants to force all pregnant women to have abortions? It’s true! SEND US YOUR MONEY NOW!"

It’s time for Christian conservatives to reject the cheap, tawdry tactics aimed at manipulating us before Election Day. Just as we don’t want scientists or business men to treat other people as impersonal objects, we do not appreciate being used either. We are people, not things. We are more than just a Republican vote. We want results, not just rhetoric. We require more than mere demagoguery over one or two hot-button bills that have no chance of passing to get us fired up before November.

We have a simple message for the Republican Party: stop "using" us in an effort to secure our vote. Give us substance, not symbols—or be prepared for disappointment in November.