Developing a Post-Reaganism Christian Public Philosophy

Peter J. Leithart on American Christians’ need to die to Reaganism, and what that might look like.

Economically, we need to uncouple Christian economic values from Reaganism. Free trade and free markets are goods, but they aren’t the only goods. Capitalism does produce injustices and inequities. It does have its cultural contradictions, and Christians won’t have a fully Christian public philosophy until we have reckoned with the inner tensions between advocacy of the market and, say, support for traditional families.

We have to die to the instinct to test the justice of a system by asking how well it works for the rich. In the Bible, the crucial test is the opposite: Do the poor, weak, and forgotten, the widows and orphans, get justice? Conservative Christians need to be prepared to read, and repeat, Jesus’ “woe to the rich” and his “He anointed me to preach good news to the poor” without wincing and hedging. We need to learn to sing the Magnificat without quietly spiritualizing its disturbing economic and social message.

An evangelically grounded foreign policy will have to unlearn the instinct to confuse the fortunes of America with those of God’s kingdom. Even at this late date, I still find Richard Neuhaus’ careful formula compelling: “On balance, and considering the alternatives, America is a force for good in the world.” But, as Neuhaus continually warned, that is not at all to say that God’s kingdom is identical to or carried along by the United States of America. We have to see and expose American folly and abuse when it happens; and we have to admit that it does happen.

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