The Common Good
September/October 2005

When Them Is Us

by Danny Duncan Collum | September/October 2005

My life among conservative Christians.

By now we all know that American politics and American Christianity are divided into warring camps.

By now we all know that American politics and American Christianity are divided into warring camps. The labels may shift. Sometimes it’s progressive vs. orthodox, or Christian vs. secular; sometimes it’s red vs. blue, but always the discussion comes down to Us vs. Them.

I’ve thought about this a lot lately, because I’m one of Us who spends many of his non-working hours embedded with the forces of Them. I am against the war and free trade. I’m all for government environmental and labor regulations, and more of them. I don’t think gender roles are mandated by God for all time, and I am not bothered by the fact that life on earth has evolved over millions of years. But for the past seven years, I’ve found myself actively involved in voluntary associations often dominated by people who don’t share any of these views. And I’ve found that I have more in common with some of Them than I do with many of Us.

My life among conservative Christians began when my wife and I decided to homeschool our children. Anyone who homeschools must have a support group, and the children must have peers. And, especially in the South, most homeschoolers are evangelical-to-fundamentalist Protestants, although we eventually joined up with a conservative Catholic group. These associations led us to a Boy Scout troop in which about half the members are current or former homeschoolers and to a Suzuki violin teacher who leads a children’s fiddle group in which at least 80 percent of the members are from homeschool families. That all adds up to lot of hours in which our poor vehicle, with its bumper stickers reading "Another Pro-Life Democrat" and "Support the Troops: Bring Them Home Now," sits in a lot surrounded by "Bush-Cheney" and that omnipresent "W."

IN THE COURSE of those hours, I’ve learned that I hold two very important principles in common with my conservative Christian friends. First, we all agree that the accumulation of wealth and material goods is not the purpose of life. Almost by definition, homeschooling means choosing to raise a family on one full-time income. Since U.S. wages essentially stopped rising 30 years ago, this has become very difficult. Today most families require two incomes to stay in the middle class. And among those families who could live comfortably on one income, many choose a bigger house and more expensive vacations over a real, material commitment to home and children.

This means homeschool families, and others who choose to live on one income, are choosing to do without some of the material perks that are commonly associated with a middle-class lifestyle - such as new vehicles and a bedroom for each child. All of this adds up to a more humane set of priorities and a much healthier way of living.

The other core idea I’ve found in common with my conservative Christian friends is that we all consider today’s commercial entertainment and advertising culture to be our most powerful and pervasive spiritual enemy. We, along with the drivers of all those "W" vans, have made a commitment to raise children who are as free as possible from those influences. And, amazingly enough, we’ve found that when you take away the input of the commercial culture, kids will still read books, use their imaginations, play outdoors, and do all those others things we’re told kids these days won’t do.

The common thread here is that we, and our conservative Christian friends, are all trying to live against the tide of corporate power and market ideology. Fighting upstream against the entire culture doesn’t necessarily make you noble. It can also make you resentful of all the forces that make your life so difficult. And Republican politicians and political preachers have done a good job fanning those flames of resentment.

But while our conservative Christian friends talk the right-wing Republican talk, they’re not really walking that walk. They are, in fact, natural communitarians whom the GOP has captured, mostly with the abortion issue. If they saw an alternative political path that really put the welfare of children (before and after birth) at the top of the political, economic, and cultural agenda, many of them would go for it. And so would I.

Danny Duncan Collum, a Sojourners contributing editor, teaches writing at Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Kentucky.

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