There are many instances where pragmatism has its place. In its purest sense, pragmatism is simply engaging in conduct that emphasizes practicality. For example, if I decide to spend $60 for a pair of pants that will last me several years rather than spend $20 for a pair that may not make it past the first outing it could be said that my decision involved the exercise of pragmatism.
That may work for pants but it doesn't work for principles. Pragmatism may work well in the fashion world but it has no place in the world of public policy. There are many well meaning, passionate, evangelical believers who have reached the conclusion that when it comes to the 2008 race for the White House it is better to vote for a candidate who can win than to vote for a candidate who can truly lead. It is this kind of misplaced pragmatism that has the potential to permanently remove the voice of evangelicals from the political arena. Our seat at the table of ideas should be more precious to us than the results of one election cycle.
Let me be clear…. I do not want to see Hillary Clinton become the President of the United States. I believe her brand of big government socialism combined with her moral sophistry would drastically change the face of American culture. From government sponsored health care to government censored Christian speech another Clinton presidency would lead us into a financial and spiritual bankruptcy that could require decades of recovery time.
If we select a genuine conservative as the Republican standard bearer and lose we will recover to fight for our principles another day. But if we run a pseudo conservative and lose we will find ourselves with no principles left to fight for. We will have sacrificed them on the altar of expediency. And if we run a pseudo conservative and win we will find ourselves with no principles left to live by for we will have sacrificed them on the altar of pragmatism.
For years the blue blood, country club Republicans have resented the fact that they have had to come to religious conservatives with political hat in hand in or order to get elected. The instant they believe they can win without us they will put their hats back on their heads and give us the back of their hand. Rudy Giuliani's current lead in the national polls gives the blue blood their best hope to regain control of the party from what is in their minds, the "great unwashed religious right." Even if Republicans lose the White House in 2008 if Giuliani is the party's standard bearer the establishment Republicans will have won a great victory. They will have successfully relegated religious conservatives to nothing more than a vocal irritant to be tolerated but not taken seriously.
When you examine the biblical story of Jacob, Esau, and Isaac (Genesis 25-27) the parallels to the current political climate in the Republican Party are startling. First, Esau comes home from working in the field to find Jacob slaving over a hot pot of stew. Esau is desperate for a meal and begs Jacob for some of the stew but Jacob sees an opportunity in Esau's desperation to take something precious from him. Jacob says, "Sell me your birthright as of this day." Esau reasons that his birthright, which was given to him by God, will not do him any good if he dies of hunger so he pragmatically agrees trading what was given to him by God for what was provided for him by man. Rather than stopping to think there might be another way to find a meal Esau, out of pure desperation, exchanges the eternal for the temporal. Perhaps he believed that as long as he would receive the blessing reserved for the first born he could afford to part with his birthright. But later, Jacob dressed up like Esau right down to gluing goat hair on his hands and the back of his neck so that Isaac (who by this time was blind) was deceived into giving away the primary blessing of God.
In the first part of the story Christians who settle for a pro-abortion, pro-homosexual rights candidate as the standard bearer for the Republican Party are like Esau, so desperate for the provision of the momentary relief of our grievance that we are willing to sacrifice the security of holding onto our principles for the future. In the second part of the story the Christian right resembles Isaac, who was blindly tricked into giving away God's blessings by one who had the appearance of the real thing. And what was the end result for Esau? He lost both his birthright and his blessing; one because of the boldness of Jacob who took advantage of Esau's desperation and the other because of the blindness of Isaac who had lost his ability to see past mere outward appearances.
May God protect us as believers from trading the birthright of America and the blessings of God for a bowl of political porridge and a bill of pseudo-conservative goods.
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.