Conservative social values are constantly under the magnifying glass of the national press. These issues factor into debates on issues from abortion and euthanasia to L.G.B.T. issues and minimum wage. Top media organizations and personalities rarely portray these values in a positive light. Instead, they portray pro-life positions on abortion and euthanasia as attempts by old white men in power to exert control over the bodies of women and the elderly. These men, they argue, are simply trying to maintain the status quo with respect to the allocation of power between men and women. They are subjecting the elderly to unnecessary pain just so they can score political points. On L.G.B.T. issues, minimum wage, and other issues, they portray conservatives as hypocrites. If conservatives really believed in the importance of love and marriage, the argument goes, they would support same sex marriage. If conservatives really took to heart Jesus Christ’s teachings about the poor, they would support minimum wage laws. For many consumers of mainstream media, terms like “evangelical” have come to be nearly synonymous with hypocrisy. While there will always be those who profess beliefs but do not act accordingly, too little attention has been paid to the real-life positive effects of conservative social values.
Last March, the Washington Post published a profile of Vice President Mike Pence’s wife Karen Pence. The article noted that in 2002, Mike Pence told The Hill that he follows the “Billy Graham rule”: he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and never attends events where alcohol is present without her. Many conservatives follow this or a similar policy to avoid both actual impropriety and its appearance. Pence’s decision to follow the rule was almost unanimously criticized by the media in the days that followed the article’s publication as discriminatory towards women. In many fields, but especially in politics, where late nights and road trips are common, female aides face a disadvantage if their bosses choose to meet with or be staffed by only male aides. This is not a purely theoretical situation—many women on Capitol Hill have experienced this type of discrimination. So the rule clearly can be discriminatory. However, one of Pence’s former staffers penned an article for the Post explaining how she had never faced such discrimination from Pence, mainly because Pence didn’t spend time with either female or male staffers late at night, demonstrating that it is possible to apply this conservative rule in a non-discriminatory manner.
While concerns about discrimination are valid, few media organizations highlighted the protections Pence’s policy provides for women. The eighty-five women who have publicly come forward with accusations against Harvey Weinstein surely wish he had followed some form of Pence’s rule. The #MeToo movement has rightly pushed issues of sexual harassment and assault to the forefront. But the movement has so far largely ignored values-based solutions like Pence’s rule in favor of force-based methods like public shaming, litigation, and changing laws. And while those means might very well be effective—even necessary—they are based on force. If more men followed values-based policies like Pence’s that encourage behavioral change, fewer women would likely be harassed or assaulted.
Social conservatives overlap significantly with Christians, especially evangelicals. As followers of Jesus Christ, Christians generally seek to follow Jesus’s example of charity to others, particularly the most vulnerable members of society. Many liberals accuse the religious right of abdicating that ecclesiastical obligation simply because the right disagrees with the methods of the left. However, the evidence demonstrates that conservatives are among the most charitable Americans. According to data from 2000, conservatives’ household income was 6% lower than liberals’, but conservatives gave 30% more to charity. More recent data from 2014 shows that all ten states with the highest levels of charitable giving went to Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, while eight of the ten lowest-giving states voted for President Obama. Clearly, conservatives take seriously the obligation to aid those at the bottom of the economic ladder.
It would be irresponsible, however, to omit the fact that not all Christians or socially conservative people exemplify these positive traits. The rash of supposedly conservative men abusing women and children is truly concerning and absolutely out-of-sync with true conservatism and Christianity. Furthermore, the fact that 81% of evangelicals voted for President Trump—more than Romney, McCain, or Bush in 2004—is absolutely appalling, given Trump’s past infidelity, dishonesty, vulgarity, and proclivity toward assault.
While people should not be forced to adhere to socially conservative values, it’s clear that those values significantly benefit society. With identity politics on the rise on both the right and the left, social values have come under increased scrutiny as a major ingredient of identity. My purpose is not to suggest that liberal means—government force—do not lead to liberal ends or are not necessary or helpful in some cases, but to demonstrate one of the fundamental principles of conservatism: that conservative social values can bring about those same ends while preserving individual freedom and encouraging human flourishing.