By Jesse Phillips
I am a pastor in Central Florida who has been actively involved in the tea party movement from its inception. I wholeheartedly embrace the freedom-loving citizens that have risen up and fought back against Obamacare and the plethora of recent intrusions upon our freedom by the current administration.
I think the tea party is right to focus on fiscal issues, including bailouts, health care repeal and the other urgent issues facing our nation today. Although issues like abortion represent a far greater moral crisis, the present national discussion is centered more generally around the role of government in our lives.
Even though I’m a pastor with a keen interest in perserving traditional marriage and the value of every human life from conception to death, I have thrown myself into the tea party movement because of its love of the Constitution, a moral document which preserves the rights to life and liberty.
I worked on the Amendment 9 campaign, to help provide health care freedom to all Floridians. When activist judges on our state Supreme Court struck that down, I started a campaign against them to kick them off the court. Our campaign made history, swaying 400,000 votes in a mere six-weeks with no money, resulting in Justice Labarga receiving the lowest retention vote in state history.
Believe me, I know the value of working on issues other than abortion and traditional marriage, and I’ve taken some heat from some folks still operating under the misguided notion that conservatives, particularly Christians and pastors like me, should only focus on these clear moral issues.
But I was quite disappointed to find out that on Monday, a number of national tea party groups, the presumptive “leaders” of the tea party movement, will send a letter to Republican leadership urging them to focus solely on fiscal issues, and not to act on any social issues.
This letter, written to leading Republicans, stated that the recent elections were “not a mandate to act on any social issue.” It further stated that special interest groups were trying to push social conservatism, and said “we recognize the importance of values, but we believe that those values should be taught by families and our houses of worship and not legislated from Washington, D.C.”
In other words, the presumptive tea party leaders say, “lock up values voters in their churches and off the agenda.”
My words to these tea party ‘leaders’ is quite simple: advocating against principled social conservative voters is not a fight you can win. Sorry. Thanks for playing.
I have two problems with this logic. First, the false dichotomy between fiscal and social conservatism.
There is a false dichotomy between fiscal and social conservatism. Money has a moral component to it. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in Obamacare.
By regulating the doctor-patient relationship in a way that places impetus for health care decisions on financial sustainability rather than the value of the individual’s life and freedom, Obamacare intertwines the fiscal question of insurance reform with the moral debate of the value of life. Repealing Obamacare has a moral imperative, regardless of how the Tea Party Patriots and other self-appointed tea party leaders see it. Further more, there is a definitive social decline where nationalized health care systems are in place.
One of the strongest objections against Obamacare can be made on social and moral grounds. Therefore, Obamacare opponents shoot themselves in the foot by downplaying the social imperative for their movements’ existence and alienating devoted members like me who are motivated by a social mandate as much as a fiscal one.
I guess this tactical misstep shouldn’t be surprising, coming from a group that just sent a nation-wide email containing the personal cell-phone numbers of freshmen congressmen. Alienating valuable relationship seems to be an ongoing theme of national tea party groups vying for positions of power and ownership of a movement whose success preceded and grew independent of them.
Second, the unsustainability of the tea party without social conservatives.
There would be no tea party without values voters. We constitute the majority of the movement. Granted, the tea party movement is not entirely socially conservative. There are pockets of libertarians and others who don’t share the same perspectives on abortion and homosexuality. I am happy to work with these folks on the issues we agree upon, even though I know we don’t agree on everything. That’s the beauty of our movement.
But, as any study will show, the vast majority of tea partiers support traditional marriage and oppose abortion. If you remove these voters from your base, you’re left with the libertarian party and it’s exceedingly limited electoral and legislative success historically.
Social conservatives have gladly put certain issues on the back shelf because of the more urgent constitutional questions that have a social impact. But to have our arrogant and increasingly clumsy self-appointed national ‘leadership’ presume that our recent silence on these moral issues gives them license to lock social conservatives out of the legislative process and force the Republican party to adopt a platform of moral abandonment is as arrogant and presumptive as any Republican establishment has ever been, and a slap in the face to the social conservatives that constitute the tea party movement and have determined its success.
A lesson in how to commit political suicide
Let me be very clear, I will not support a party that doesn’t officially oppose abortion or support traditional marriage even if they want to repeal Obamacare. The tea party elites’ claim that these issues are divisive is hypocritical, and will only divide the tea party movement. The tea party should be open to fiscal and social conservatives, as well as libertarians and others whose views may vary to a degree.
Believe me, we social conservatives know what political correctness smells like. We encounter it daily. This letter to Republican leadership is reeking of it. If we can’t be comfortable expressing our social and moral views in the tea party environment, then we won’t be comfortable anywhere, and ultimately won’t remain within the tea party.
Here’s my encouragement to the tea party establishment: don’t do what the Republican elites do by dismissing the very people you purport to serve and alienating the very principled conservatives who are truly turning this country around. It’s one thing to focus on the most urgent matters given the current national discourse. It’s another thing to try and strong-arm the GOP into silence on anything that doesn’t fall within your narrow understanding of what’s important.
I will continue to fight against Obamacare, Cap & Trade, bailouts and all the other misguided aims of our nation’s most liberal president. But, contrary to what the elitists say, if the opportunity arises to take any step that would save one unborn child’s life, I encourage the Republican leadership to take it. Anyone who says otherwise is misguided in his or her understanding of what’s truly important in life. What good are lower taxes if you’re killed before you’re born?
Abortion is a far greater problem than any bailout. Obamacare’s biggest problem is not that it seeks to nationalize health care, but that it will ultimately devalue life. I would encourage the tea party leadership to stick to the message we agree on rather than telling my to keep my religion to myself. Quite frankly, I’ve been told that by liberals long enough, I don’t need to hear it to justify a national group’s grasp for position and power.
In summary: the tea party should stick to it’s message of Obamacare repeal and the time-test constitutional principals of limited government. Don’t cloud your message by speaking out against social conservatism. That’s not a battle the tea party can win right now, and will only kill this great movement.
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