The terms “fiscal conservative” and “social conservative” are often thrown around loosely when we discuss our opinions or those of others. Without context, these terms result in circular and fruitless argument. To have any real meaning and to avoid confusion and misunderstanding, several parameters and scenarios need to be applied to these terms. Some essentials include:
To whom or what are the terms applied?
- To our own lives and personal behavior?
- To how we select candidates to vote for?
- To the types of public policy and laws we wish our government to adopt and enforce?
The specific topic under discussion:
- How much debt, if any, is desirable or tolerable.
- Whether other people’s money should be spent on the needs of others, and if so, how much?
- How pervasive should government be in regulating the lives of individuals or businesses?
By what standard?
- What is the basis of our own standard?
- Is the standard universal (objective) applicable to all, or is it personal (subjective) only applicable to those who agree with it?
- What is the strength of conviction of belief in the standard?
Applied to yourself only:
Concerning who the terms apply to, it is pretty straight forward if you define these terms only in regard to how you personally live your own life and don’t intend to exert your influence beyond your own personal behaviors, or perhaps those of your own family. If you don’t believe in any personal debt and don’t like high risk investments you are a fiscal conservative. If you avoid watching anything worse than a PG-13 movie, or you teach your daughter that abortion is wrong, you are a social conservative.
As applied to others:
Things get a little dicier when we start to apply these terms in ways that impact others. First of all, why would anyone want to either suggest or impose their personal values on another person or group of people to begin with? Short answer: If you believe your values are universally true, benefit others, and you care.
Unfortunately, today, probably more than in recent memory, personal values are highly subjective and not held as universally true. Our new standard is “what is true for you may not be true for me (or anyone else).” This was a rare belief just 50 years ago. Fiscal prudence, faithfulness in marriage, heterosexuality, effective child discipline, and live births were almost universally respected norms in our culture. Not any more.
If we do not believe our values are universally true (any more) we will not believe they will benefit anyone else. Consequently, we will not really care (anymore).
The person who is NOT a social conservative believes that his values are neither universally true nor objective. Consequently, he believes they should not attempt to impose their personal values on anyone else, as in (to be snarky) “he might have had a very good reason to murder his neighbor.”
The social conservative believes that at least some of his personal values are universally true and objective. Consequently he believes he should make a sincere attempt to influence others (family, friends, community, nation) in the wisdom of his personal values.
The sincere fiscal and social conservative will be motivated to promote and vote for candidates who promise to promote their views in Congress. They will be motivated to promote public policy and legislation that implements their views, just as those who have opposing views will certainly do. If the fiscal and social conservative refrains from voting for candidates and promoting public policy and laws that reflect their values, what will dominate the culture and laws? Only those values with which they do not agree.
Which of the following issues are worthy of our influence on candidates, public policy and laws?
- Gay Marriage?
- Immigration policy: Who stays? Who goes? Who is kept out?
- Government involvement in health care?
- Where we send foreign aid?
- How much public debt we approve?
- How much wealth redistribution should government mandate?
My answer: All of them.
But what happens if the dog catches the car? What happens if unpopular legislation or public policy is actually implemented? If the predominant culture does not accept the values behind public policy or legislation, what will happen? There will be confusion, dismay, resentment, anger, resistance, legislators will be voted out of office, and the policies will be reversed. That is the theory. And at least the first several reactions have occurred so far concerning the “Affordable” Healthcare Act, aka “ObamaCare.” ObamaCare is the consequence of fiscal and social liberals forcing unpopular legislation through lies and deceit. The same will occur with the implementation of unpopular conservative values.
Here are the lessons to be learned:
- Conservatives must transform the culture before expecting conservative legislation. (Liberals have done a more effective job.)
- The groundwork of engaging, prepping, and convincing the culture of particular values needs to precede political/legislative action.
- Legislation (government coercion) follows cultural values; it cannot precede them.
Which comes easier?
Among conservatives, it is easier to be a fiscal conservative than a social conservative. Fiscal matters are measurable and have measurable consequences, thus are more objective. They generally have more immediate, visible consequences and hit people in their wallets which grabs our immediate attention. Social matters are less tangible, more difficult to measure, and often take longer to manifest themselves in visible consequences. So it is easier to consider social matters much more subjectively. Biblical morality attempts to provide a level of objectivity to behaviors that are all too easy to dismiss as “subjective”, as in “that person deserved to be murdered.” Unfortunately, Biblical literacy is scant among most of us, and we succumb to errors that are promoted more by vested selfish interest than in historically accurate truth.
One example is the widespread belief that that are many ways to heaven. A survey of Lutherans (the majority likely from a liberal synod) indicated that 75% claimed that trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation was the only way to heaven. When asked if there were other ways to heaven, 75% of the same sample claimed there were many ways to heaven. That is subjectivity carried to a very confused level. Such contradictory beliefs are “doublethink” for some and “cognitive dissonance” for others.
Chickens and Eggs: Which comes first, fiscal or cultural conservatism?
Some believe that fiscal conservatism enables cultural conservatism, not the other way around. The most obvious reaction to that is asking why they even attempt that connection if they dismiss cultural conservatism to begin with? The next most obvious reaction is to recognize that without the values of social conservatism (honesty, thrift, prudence, morality, law-abiding, among dozens of other [formerly] esteemed human qualities), there can be no fiscal conservatism. Fiscal conservatism does not enable these qualities. These qualities will enable fiscal conservatism. Fiscal conservatives who do not admit to being social conservatives are in fact private social conservatives who don’t believe their privately held social values are worthy of promoting to anyone else. They believe their values are subjective and not universally true.
The role of churches
The majority of mainline churches have adopted the values of the culture instead of promoting the values of the historic orthodox church. The consequence is what we have become as a nation. Preaching the gospel was not the only role of the church. Teaching Biblical values was a significant part of sermons and Sunday schools, a task shared by our public schools until a generation or two ago. The consequence is what we have become as a nation.
Here are words of pastor Charles Finney in the 1870’s that should be taken to heart by every Christian denomination, seminary, pastor and layman:
“Brethren, our preaching will bear its legitimate fruits. If immorality prevails in the land, the fault is ours in a great degree. If there is a decay of conscience, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the public press lacks moral discrimination, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the church is degenerate and worldly, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the world loses its interest in religion, the pulpit is responsible for it. If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it. If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it. Let us not ignore this fact, my dear brethren; but let us lay it to heart, and be thoroughly awake to our responsibility in respect to the morals of this nation.”