Alright. I’ve been reluctant to write about this for some time, because I’m a little afraid of 1) coming off as petty, and 2) giving the insinuation that a fairly good thing is a bad thing. But when I get the impression that there might be a bit of consensus confusion, I feel compelled to raise my hand. So…
Something that is a bit perplexing to Christians, and to non-Christians regarding Christians, is the line between Christianity and traditional values, conservative attitudes, and right-wing politics.
The reason it’s confusing is because both groups, Conservative Christians and Political Conservatives, often seem to be passionately pushing for the same things – morals that are rooted in the Judeo-Christian literature and heritage. This would include issues like stances on human sexuality, abortion, the separation of church and state, etc. I’ve written before on how I don’t believe that any political party captures the gospel perfectly. Nonetheless, in the eyes of the majority, again, especially from outside the Church, Christians and Political Conservatives are intricately linked.
So, let me point to the key, noticeable distinction – a humble TONE.
From the standpoint of morality, Jesus appeared to be on the same page with the conservative leaders of his day – the Pharisees. However, according to the Easton’s Bible Dictionary entry on Pharisees:
“There was much that was sound in their creed, yet their system of religion was a form and nothing more…They were noted for their self-righteousness and their pride (Matt. 9:11; Luke 7:39; 18:11, 12). They were frequently rebuked by our Lord (Matt. 12:39; 16:1–4).”
Now the Roman officials may have had some difficulty differentiating between such a group and Jesus’ followers, at least superficially. But the Pharisees are the most common enemies of Jesus in the Gospel records. The two had very different hearts. But, since all of us non-Gods can’t see the heart, the best indication we have of distinguishing between faithful Christian godliness and mere conservative morality is a humble tone.
If you’re still wondering exactly what the difference between gospel-driven faith and conservative moralism looks like, and how tone helps you distinguish, let me give you a case study.
I mentioned I was hesitant to bring this up. Nonetheless, The Matt Walsh Blog is wildly popular at this point. I’ve had quite a few people send me notes about it, asking for my thoughts. It’s a little difficult giving my opinion without coming off as jealous, since he’s younger, more attractive, and somewhere between a hundred and a thousand times more “successful” than me as a blogger 🙂 But it really isn’t just me. You can count on one hand the number of Christian pastors (or Christians in general) in our country that have a bigger internet presence and more passionate following than Matt Walsh.
Walsh’s Huffington Post bio lists him as “a 27-year-old blogger, talk radio host, husband, and father of twins.” Currently, Walsh has over 160k Facebook followers and literally has multiple anti-matt walsh websites dedicated against him. With recent posts like “This Is My Homophobic Rant Against Michael Sam,” “Hi Mom, Thanks For Never Taking Me To Disney World,” and “Christian-hating Liberal Fascists Have Once Again Demonstrated Their ‘Tolerance,'” it’s not too tough to see how Walsh ignites some controversy. Walsh concluded a recent post by saying,
“The point is, you turn on the TV or crank up the Pandora and you’re going to be watching or listening to a stream of deviants, junkies, rapists, pedophiles, adulterers, and crooks, yet we don’t bat an eye until someone quotes the Bible or endorses traditional marriage. Amidst a sea of perversity and violence, the only thing the fascists seek to punish is the reasonable expression of Christian beliefs. In a country of filth, the only thing you can’t be is pro-life and pro-marriage. Enough of this, already. It’s time to stop playing nice with these people.”
But young Christians gobble this stuff up. In the same way that Eminem became the voice of middle class white teen angst in the early 2000s, Matt Walsh has become something of a voice of young white conservative angst for Christians who now have their own kids. A voice to the voiceless – I get the appeal.
So, let me try to humbly state this. Matt Walsh is a very talented writer, generally entertaining, and the vast majority of his points I would whole-heartedly agree with. He is being earmarked by young conservatives as a guy to watch out for and is already no secret in the online writing community. My guess is that within the next decade, he’ll probably occupy a significantly greater position in the public eye than merely “blogger” and “radio show personality.” But be very clear here, what he’s promoting is conservative values, NOT Christianity.
Many young conservative Americans are recognizing the painful, ironic cultural disparity that’s beginning to be demonstrated against Christians. I think there’s some value in pointing that out. Walsh has tapped into it. But when you do so with the exact same tone as those who are peddling the very ideals you’re against, you’re not promoting godliness, you’re promoting moralism. In other words, who are you really seeking to convert to truth when you’re labeling people as “stupid jerks”? You won’t convert anyone. You’ll simply make those who are already on your side applaud with greater belligerence.
I’m not at all saying Matt Walsh isn’t a Christian. He clearly is. I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t like him. And I’m certainly not saying I myself have never crossed the line in this “tone” issue. For that matter, the Lord’s disciple, Peter, also needed to learn to put the sword away and rather suffer under the sword in order to advance God’s kingdom (John 18:11).
Riling a bunch of Christians up about how sinful the world is isn’t too difficult. Jesus did tell his disciples that people would hate them because of him (Matt. 10:22). Jesus did say that wickedness would increase in the world and faithfulness would wane (Matt. 24:12). While pointing out the hypocrisy of a secular world perhaps has some value, doing so with the same disdainful tone that a secular world uses to deride Christianity isn’t particularly helpful. And to refer to yourself as a “professional sayer of truths” and label your website as “Absolute Truth” is not only not helpful to Christianity, it’s borderline blasphemous.
It’s not hard to make the case that pride is as much or more spiritually dangerous to Christianity than any gross cultural immoralities. I’ve been a chief offender here too. I’m repenting and growing by God’s grace. If I’m still alive and posting 10 years from now, I pray that I’ll be able to look back on my older stuff and say, not so much say that I’ve grown “more accurate, more popular, or more influential” but, that as I’ve gotten to know my Savior better, my words are “more humble.”
I’m not trying to pick on Matt Walsh. He’s just one example. In all honesty, I could probably have chosen any of the more influential conservative commentators. Walsh simply happens to fall into the “next big thing” category. But this is an important lesson. Remember, the goal is not that conservative talk gets more Christian. The goal is that Christians understand the difference, and let the humble tone of their speech indicate that.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor. 13:1)
 Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.