As we pass Reformation Sunday, which marks the 499th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, we reflect on men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox and others who put their very lives on the line to restore the Gospel in an era when it was being watered down and corrupted. The Reformers believed that the Roman Catholic Church had strayed far from the basic Christian principles laid out in the Scriptures and they set out to unlock the Bible for the common man so that they could seize the Gospel for themselves.
The concept of reformation is especially relevant in our political climate today. Both parties need reform, but being a Republican, I'll focus on the GOP.
The Catholic Church of the 16th century was corrupt, greedy and hungry for political power in the eyes of the Reformers. The Church had gradually drifted away from the Gospel. The corruption came to a head when a Catholic friar named Johann Tetzel was crassly hawking indulgences to fund the Pope’s new Basilica in Rome. Disgusted by this practice, a monk named Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses onto the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The fire was lit.
Likewise, the Republican Party needs reform urgently. In our quest for political power we have slashed our conservative values up so badly, we aren't even recognizable as the Party of Lincoln. The anger, xenophobia, sexism, racism, etc. that was once merely tolerated in some quarters of our base and subtly pandered to is now blatant and undeniable in our standard bearer, Donald Trump. And that's just our conservative values, say nothing of our moral authority that has been all but destroyed by the many Evangelical leaders that have become Trump’s religious spin doctors for his many scandals. True conservatism is in a state of darkness, much like the Church in the Middle Ages. The writing is on the wall if we continue down this path. We will never win youth, women, black or Latino voters which means we will never win again. Conservatism is in darkness and on the edge of extinction.
But we can reform. The motto of the Protestant Reformation was “post tenebras lux,” which means “after darkness, light.” We need to get back to espousing the light that is true conservatism, not distorted in a way that only caters to a small, homogenous base, but opened up in a way that appeals to the great diversity of this country. While conservatism is enshrouded in darkness now, the likely election of Hillary Clinton and the possible loss of the Senate may serve as the catalyst for reform. Trump, like Tetzel, is selling us something false, something untethered to conservatism.
A few, like Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, have seen through Trump’s con. Sasse is seeking to reform the GOP, bringing us back to our conservative principles. When asked how he thinks conservatism ought to be in the 21st century, he said, “America is the most exceptional nation in the history of the world because the US Constitution is the best political document that’s ever been written. Because it says something different than almost any people in any government has believed in human history. Most governments in the past said might makes right and the King has all the power and the people are dependent subjects. And the American founders said no. God gives us rights by nature and government is just our shared project to secure those rights. Government is not the author or source of our rights and you don’t make America great again by giving more power to one guy in Washington, DC. You make America great again by recovering a constitutional republic.”
People like Sen. Sasse could be modern day Reformers for the GOP, leading it out of the darkness into light. But like the Protestant Reformation in Europe, the Republican Reformation has to come from the grassroots, from everyday conservatives who demand a party with a future and reject the unrecognizable monstrosity that it has devolved into.
After Election Day, it's up to us. Are we ready to jettison Trumpism and move into the light? We’ll need a principled conservative resistance to much of Clinton’s liberal agenda. That's impossible with Trump and the so-called “alt-right.” Following them is following the path to destruction. We can reform. We must reform. Semper Reformanda!