THE THEOLOGICAL ENGINEER
The Christian Response to the Alt-Right
By Jeff Laird
Along with questions about certain politicians, our ministry is frequently asked about a concept known as the "Alternative Right," commonly referred to as the "Alt-Right." As always, the foremost point to be made is that Got Questions Ministries does not endorse political parties or candidates. Nothing said here, or anywhere else, should be taken as such. As a Bible-based ministry, however, we can and do speak to how specific issues compare to Scripture.
Disclaimers aside, it's all but certain conservatives, liberals, and alt-righters will all have some reason to complain about this analysis. Politics is not our ministry's primary focus. As such, minute details of what the alt-right stands for and where it comes from are best found elsewhere. From the perspective of biblical Christianity, however, we can draw some relevant points about alt-right ideology, and how Christians can respond.
It's important to note that the alt-right is not primarily political, nor is it technically "conservative." While some positions and interests of the alternative right overlap with mainstream political groups — as is the case with any ideology — they are not explicitly tied to any western political party. The movement is mostly spread through uncontrolled, unofficial means such as the internet, and lacks any explicit center of thought or authority. The alt-right is better defined as some combination of a cultural movement and an identity group.
The first and foremost point believers need to make regarding the alt-right is that it is not, in any sense, a "Christian" movement. Participants may identify as Christians, and may use Christian terminology. But there is nothing fundamentally "Christian" about this brand of ideology. Most of the alt-right's use of Christian concepts is rooted in its fundamental motive, which is rebellion, not evangelism. It's neither religious nor spiritual in its approach, nor does it draw on any legitimately biblical ideals.
For instance, the alt-right is frequently criticized for being tied to nationalism, usually white racial nationalism. Any ethno-centric claim of inferiority or superiority is contrary to the biblical worldview (Galatians 3:28; Revelation 7:9). Likewise, a major theme of the alt-right is provocateurism: the deliberate intent to offend, which is also a patently non-scriptural approach (1 Peter 3:15¬-16; Proverbs 10:12; Titus 3:10). This tactic is commonly referred to as "trolling," an approach motivated more by entertainment than ideology.
In short, the alternative right arose as a ricochet: a push-back reaction to hyper-progressivism. The Bible speaks of how our treatment of others influences our own lives for the better, or for the worse (Proverbs 22:8; Luke 4:31; Matthew 18:21-35). After the turn of the century, left-leaning politics took the approach of the "heckler's veto." This is where opposition is silenced by disruption and threats, rather than engaged in dialogue. This came in the form of news and entertainment outlets openly denouncing all things conservative, Christian, or traditional as "hate," "bigotry," and so forth. Through aggressive public ridicule, copious lawsuits, and profound bias in mainstream media, this version of progressive politics made no room for reasonable, legitimate dissent.
The problem with this approach is that it's ultimately self-defeating. When polite dissent is no longer allowed, the result is not that everyone accepts power structure's worldview. Instead, silencing reasonable voices opens an avenue for unreasonable voices — those who purposefully choose to be both extreme and offensive. If the most polite, rational attempt at disagreement results in being branded a hateful bigot, the thought process goes, then why care about being polite or balanced — why not just embrace those labels out of spite?
The alt-right, then, is part of a phenomenon seen in every generation: to rebel against that era's "power structure." In the case of the alt-right, rebellion means flaunting behavior which liberals deem racist, sexist, or homophobic primarily because that makes liberals angry. That, in a nutshell, is the driving motivation behind the vast majority of alt-right rhetoric and behavior. The use of internet trolling and memes, the deliberately inflammatory rhetoric, and so forth, are infinitely more rooted in mutiny against "the powers that be" than in any particular religious, racial, or political view.
That's not to say there is nothing culturally or politically substantive in the alt-right movement. The sense of being bullied, marginalized, and pushed aside is an often-cited factor in recent political events, including the election of Donald Trump. Strictly speaking, populist politicians such as Trump share many common complaints of the alt-right, such as an unfair cultural bias against certain values, but they are almost never part of the alt-right itself. There is more than a little truth behind the claim that certain perspectives have been silenced, not by dialogue, but by browbeating by a relatively small group within the larger culture.
The response of Christians to the alt-right needs to come in several modes. This includes an honest look at the past, an assessment of the present, and a commitment to the future.
Looking at the past, western Christianity needs to take some responsibility for the rise of the alt-right. As stated before, alt-right ideology arose when more moderated, balanced conservative voices were silenced. That's rightly blamed on those who made it their mission to bully conservatives into submission. At the same time, the silence is also rightly blamed on those of us who allowed ourselves to be silenced. In an effort to not be offensive, or hated, or labelled, many western Christians retreated in the face of this cultural harassment. Rather than making things better, this only made it worse, and opened the door for a more vitriolic ideology to gain ground.
And so, Christians must make an honest, fair, and courageous assessment of our present place in the world. This still means speaking out on moral and social issues, but with love, gentleness, and respect (1 Peter 3:15), even if the world hates us for it (John 15:18, 23). That also means refusing to shrink for the sake of convenience or popularity (2 Timothy 4:2). And it most especially means being willing to condemn attitudes and behaviors which are contrary to the example of Christ, no matter what party or politician they come from (Proverbs 27:5; Titus 2:15).
In other words, our core strategy for fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) has nothing to do with the alternative right, or any other cultural movement. The best way to disprove inaccurate stereotypes and misunderstandings about Christianity, and to move the culture in a godly direction, is for Christians to live out a knowledgeable, loving, consistent faith. At best, that demonstrates the truth of the Gospel (Philippians 2:15). At worst, it makes those who insist on hating Christianity anyway look like fools (1 Peter 3:16).
The present also needs to be viewed with a healthy dose of sympathy. The vast majority of people, regardless of ideology, sincerely believe their concerns are legitimate. And, at the ground level, many of those concerns are legitimate. The problem is usually how people seek to interpret and address those feelings (Romans 1:18-32). Rather than engaging in shallow bickering, or judgmental condemnation, Christians should seek to understand the hurt of broken people living in a broken world (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), and offer real solutions — e.g. the Gospel — more than simply attempting to debate or argue over worldly tactics (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12).
This, hopefully, can lead to a positive outcome in the future. If Christians are able to present a loving, reasonable alternative to the venom-spitting stereotype of modern politics, it will greatly improve our ability to promote the Gospel. Christians are not obligated to endorse any particular person, or party, or group, or label. Nor are we obligated to condemn anyone on the basis of those same ideas. Instead, we can apply loyalty and support to ideas, when they're godly, instead of labels, when they're convenient.
Image Inspired by: Adrian Tritschler; "Tried pushing alt-right, it did nothing useful"; Creative Commons
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Controversial-Issues | Current-Issues | Political-Issues
comments powered by Disqus