A Jesuit education for Christian conservatives

Timothy Philen Freelance writer
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The conservative cacophony over Pope Francis’ “revolutionary” pontificate has almost been drowned out by the gushing approval of the liberal media.

And no wonder.

In one interview after another, “the people’s Pope” has proclaimed what seems to be a Holy See change in Church teaching — a gospel of mega-mercy that hesitates to judge homosexuals, reassures atheists, downplays the abortion issue, and intimates that eternal salvation may be available to Christians and non-Christians alike.

Traditionalist Catholics and Protestant Evangelicals are predictably horrified, decrying his “man-centered philosophy” and “borderline heretical” statements.

So, what’s going on here?

Has the Pope simply forgotten 2000 years of Christian orthodoxy? Is this his way of confessing end-of-life remorse? Is he simply a simpleton? An artful chameleon? A Marxist mole?

The truth is, he’s simply a Jesuit — more intelligent, more educated, and infinitely more discerning than his inquisitors.

As one who sweated under the steely-eyed incision of Ignatian professors in my college years, I can assure you that behind that sweet old Ed Wynn “Perfect Fool” demeanor is a serious “fool for Christ” who is acting perfectly in accordance with the Gospels — living out Jesus’ exhortation to his followers to be “as shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” when dealing with the non-believing world.

Even citadels of classicism like Opus Dei are convinced that Francis’ modus operandi will ultimately serve to enliven and enlarge the flock without violating Roman Catholic doctrine.

In the meantime, Christian conservatives of every theological stripe can learn some valuable lessons from the Pope and apply them to the work of enlarging our Republican flock for 2016 and beyond.

Lessons not only in tactics and tone, but also in the mindset we need to promote our “social” issues in an increasingly secular — and often anti-religious — American culture.

And that includes the GOP’s fastest growing sector: young conservatives — especially libertarians — whose holy grail is personal freedom, not biblical morality. In fact, they’re often just as aggressively irreligious as progressives, and just as disdainful of strident pro-life positions and anti-gay marriage legislation.

Given these realities, how do Christian conservatives maintain their principles and still help to expand the Republican party?

The first step is to remain Republicans — something we can no longer take for granted.

The Republican National Committee found that out last spring, when a host of prominent Christian leaders threatened to leave the party over its “Growth and Opportunity Project” recommendations, which hinted at revising the Republican platform’s longstanding objection to recognizing same-sex marriage.

I’m not sure where those conscience-bound leaders would have taken their followers — other than to the fantasy island of shipwrecked third parties, who end up guaranteeing the election of their worst political enemies.

I am sure, however, of what Pope Francis would say. He’d remind us that the Republican party platform is not scripture, and that we’re not required to believe in its infallibility.

What Christian conservatives are required to do is to “fight the good fight” — to contend for the “soul of the Republican party” propelled by our deeply held convictions.

But if those convictions are not fully reflected in any particular platform — which pollsters warn us will increasingly be the case — we need to stay within the party and keep fighting alongside those with the greatest chance of achieving the greatest good.

The second step is to win more national elections, which is not as obvious as it seems. In fact it’s harder than ever, unfortunately, because a few Republican Robespierres have created a political purgatory to burn off all of our remaining ideological impurities, presumably part of a 50-year strategy to regain the presidency.

It would be laughable if the stakes weren’t so high.

To replace strong conservative incumbents with weaker candidates who are more ideologically pure — and thereby allow pro-abortion zealots to win in the general election — is a deadly sin of hubris that will never enlarge the Republican party.

Nor will it advance the cause of Christ, which, as Francis would tell us, is our first responsibility, before any political calculus is made.

That’s why the final step is believing that the bar is higher for us, as Christian conservatives, than it is for our secular co-workers.

In addition to standing for fiscal responsibility and against the carnality of our culture, we need to lead in developing a Republican voice that can help change the perception of us as a party that looks the other way when the Pentagon orders $9,600 wrenches, but shines a spotlight on every crumb that falls from a poor child’s subsidized school lunch.

We need to follow this wise old Jesuit to the ghettos and barrios and bus stops of rural America with “A Big Heart Open To God,” where we can grow the party and defy the country’s demographic trends.

Not with Democratic paradigms of dependency, but with a “revolutionary Republicanism” — a conservative “liberation theology” based on capitalism. Positive and uplifting solutions like the enterprise zones that Jack Kemp championed, combined with game-changing-size corporate tax cuts, which could bring millions of jobs, and thousands of high-achieving charter schools to even our most depressed communities.

This is what we can do, and what we must do to rescue America and to revitalize the Republican party.

Just don’t count on any gushing approval from the liberal media when we do.

That’s a miracle even Pope Francis would admit doesn’t have a prayer.

Timothy Philen is the author of You CAN Run Away From It! a satirical indictment of American pop psychology. He is currently at work on a latter-day “Walden,” a collection of essays on post-modern American culture.