The Right Opinion

The GOP -- Not a Club for Christians

By Jonah Goldberg · Dec. 12, 2012

In the scramble to make the GOP more diverse, a lot of people are looking at Asian Americans, whom many believe are a natural constituency for the party. I would love it if Asian Americans converted en masse to the Republican Party, but the challenge for Republicans is harder than many appreciate.

President Obama did spectacularly well with Asian Americans, garnering nearly three-quarters of their vote. This runs counter to a lot of conventional wisdom on both the left and the right. On average, Asian American family income is higher and poverty is lower than it is for non-Latino whites. Entrepreneurship, family cohesion and traditional values all run strong among Asian Americans, and reliance on government runs weak.

And yet, Asian Americans – now the fastest-growing minority in America – are rapidly becoming a core constituency of the Democratic Party.

I’ve joked for years with my Indian American relatives and friends that they are the new Jews because their parents bury them in guilt and overeducate them. It turns out it doesn’t end there. Sociologist Milton Himmelfarb observed that “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” Well, Indian Americans earn like Jews and … vote like Jews.

And maybe for similar reasons. The comparison to Jews is instructive. Perhaps the most common explanation for the GOP’s problem with Asian Americans is the party’s pronounced embrace of Christianity, which turns off many Jews as well.

According to Pew studies, barely a third of Chinese Americans are Christian and less than a fifth of Indian Americans are.

“Whenever a Gujarati or Sikh businessman comes to a Republican event, it begins with an appeal to Jesus Christ,” conservative writer Dinesh D'Souza recently told the New York Times magazine. “While the Democrats are really good at making the outsider feel at home, the Republicans make little or no effort.”

My friend and colleague Ramesh Ponnuru, an Indian American and devout Catholic, says the GOP has a problem with seeming like a “club for Christians.”

That rings true to me. I’ve attended dozens of conservative events where, as the speaker, I was, in effect, the guest of honor, and yet the opening invocation made no account of the fact that the guest of honor wasn’t a Christian. I’ve never taken offense, but I can imagine how it might seem to someone who felt like he was even less part of the club.

A few years ago, Robert Putnam, a liberal sociologist, reported this finding: As racial and ethnic diversity increases, social trust and cohesion plummets. “Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer,” Putnam found. “People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’ – that is, to pull in like a turtle.”

The villain isn’t racism or bigotry or anything so simple. The phenomenon is much more complex. Indeed, it’s not clear why this happens, but it’s clear that it does. Economic inequality and cultural attitudes do not matter much. “Americans raised in the 1970s,” Putnam writes, “seem fully as unnerved by diversity as those raised in the 1920s.”

Part of the explanation stems from the fact that people with shared experiences and cultures draw strength from working together, whereas with strangers, language often becomes guarded, intentions questioned.

The GOP is not a Christian club, but there’s no disputing that Christianity is a major source of strength and inspiration for many Republican activists. This is nothing new and, generally speaking, there’s nothing wrong with this. The abolitionist, progressive and civil rights movements were all significantly powered by Christian faith.

As someone who’s long argued for theological pluralism and moral consensus on the right, it strikes me as nuts for the GOP not to do better with Asian Americans, particularly given how little religion has to do with the policy priorities of the day.

Twenty years ago, conservatives started referring to Judeo-Christian values in an effort to be more inclusive. The challenge now is to figure out how to talk in a way that doesn’t cause decent and dedicated Christians to pull in like a turtle, while also appealing to non-Judeo-Christians and the nonreligious. That’ll be hard, requiring more than name-dropping Confucius or Krishna.

© 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

7 Comments

Capt. Call in New Mexico said:

Christians are commanded by Yashua to be both salt and light to the culture. Light illumines and exposes, and salt preserves and protects. How then can we back away from the Truth? Commitment to Yashua, His Word, and His cause are to be the foundation of our lives; it is not something casually embraced for a while, and then cast away when it becomes inconvenient. It is a life-long commitment. Thus Yashua affects our every decision. The key to "restoring the culture", as some people say, is the new birth. Politics, Science, Education, and Wealth will never accomplish a thing for Yahweh, unless they are approached from the Christian worldview. If the GOP doesn't want us, then, fine! In that case, we do not want the GOP either.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 1:06 AM

Tod in Brooklyn, NY said:

Lafcadio Hearn, circa 1904, was a brilliant Japanese American Capitalist. His books were discarded from the BPL, due to their truthful nature. He warned about the spider web of SOCIALISM, being spun around the nations, and the inherent evil of same. He tried many occupations on the ladder of upward mobility. He is a role model of American success!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 6:25 AM

Tex Horn in Texas said:

The question that comes to my mind after reading this article is: what's to become of the Republican Party? Are the conservatives of the party (making up most of the Christians, I'd say) going to relent and become so moderate that there is little difference in either party? Isn't that happening already? Conservatives want an America built upon the Christian values written in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Are they willing to throw all that away and become a moderate party who gets along to go along? Perhaps it's the time - right now - to think about a new party based upon Christian values. It may be a smaller party, but could be a very powerful one.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 11:11 AM

Joel in Ohio said:

Jonah, Thanks for the insight. For me, the question is: which other religions can (and should) be part of the American political system. What other religions (other than Judeo-Christian beliefs) have the same basic values. Do they follow the Golden Rule and, as a result, are they tolerant of others. They only religion I have seen with intolerance is the muslim treatment of Christians and dhimmis via Sharia law. Other than that, why can't the tent be expanded? Why can't we embrace different values and elect those who protect everyone equally. People who aren't aligned with faith and a God-pleasing life have made their choice for eternity. As long as they don't want to impact my religious beliefs, there is room for an extended outreach to many others. Tolerance is a mutual value, as is the Rule of Law (not of men), and protecting everyone's property rights.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 11:58 AM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

I'm convinced that the only way to stop the Marxist takeover is to stop paying any taxes we can. Use every legal loophole to pay the least amount of tax. Go ahead and file in April, and then ask for an extension if you owe, then file for another extension when that one runs out. It might not work but its sure worth a try.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 12:43 PM

George Rogers Clark in Ohio said:

Jonah, I am with "Emcee", "Tex" and "Mac".... I do not want the GOP to become another supporter of religious pluralism to garner more votes. If they want to move more to the left, they have my blessing. But I sure will not go there with them. I am a registered Republican, but only because of Ronald Reagan. I am a conservative-independent and when the GOP does not merit my vote I will have to give it to someone else. Religious pluralism seems to always end up at a place called Secular. As for me and my house, we will just stick to Jesus. Thank you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 5:29 PM

Tod in Brooklyn, NY said:

I'm staying registered CONSERVATIVE, even though we rarely win any elections in Blue New York. We have Marty Golden and Bob Turner, thanks to the Hebrew vote. My little Marine Park is still Judeo-Christian! Thankyou to all the patriots that voted for free markets, and free people! Merry Christmas-the birthday of a King-shepherds and wise men- witnessed and worshipped the glorious Messiah-in Bethlehem!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 5:45 PM