What is a social conservative?

My friend Andrew Murray (no relation) is manager of Bethany Christian Trust, a charity for the homeless and vulnerable in Aberdeen. Some years ago, when he stood as a Conservative candidate for election in Edinburgh, he gave this speech (slightly edited here) on “What is a social conservative?”

The conservatism I believe in is often termed social conservatism and it can be summed up under six headings;

Firstly, I believe in the traditional Family and the Home as one of the principal symbols of social conservatism.

Social conservatives generally believe in the traditional view of the family as the basic building block of any stable society. While acknowledging that many families don’t always work out as planned, I believe that a solid, stable family is the best environment for children to be brought up. It is their first school where they are taught basic values. We are relational beings and the family is the place where we learn our social skills, our respect for authority and hopefully some good manners.

As any social worker will tell you, the attachments made in the first few weeks and months of a child’s life will affect their experience of relationships for the rest of their lives. For social conservatives the family is the most tried-and-trusted institution. It offers the kind of multidimensional care that the feed-and-forget state cannot. To quote John Hayes MP;

…government can undertake some functions undertaken by a family or a community. The state, or market, can replace the breadwinning role of a father, but it can’t tuck a child into bed at night….

Secondly, I believe conservative Values

It is hard to imagine a Conservative leader today standing up at the Party Conference and saying that the first of the Party’s main objectives is ‘To uphold the Christian religion and resist all attacks upon it’ as Winston Churchill did in 1946. Politics needs a moral context.

Beliefs such as capitalism without a moral context simply descend into the celebration of self interest.  Policies need to follow principles not focus groups and polls. Values such as justice, equality, decency, respect, compassion are not formed in a vacuum. When political leaders believe that they are the supreme power in a nation, and have no higher power to which they are accountable, it can lead to disastrous consequences.  There must be a divine standard to which we measure all our actions. As Lord Hugh Cecil has said:

Religion is the standard by which the plans of politicians must be judged, and a religious purpose must purify their aims and methods.  Emphasising this truth, Conservatism will be the creed neither of a superfluous faction nor of a selfish class.

Thirdly I believe in Realism, Pragmatism and a Limited Role for the State.

I reject the left wing idea that through social engineering and just the right amount of funding, a utopia is attainable. Stalinist Russia is surely all the evidence we need that a utopian society is a socialist fairy tail. To quote the Conservative researcher Michael Veitch:

For the Conservative, an appreciation of the fallen nature of mankind has led to an understanding of the appropriate view of the state.  Because people are flawed, it is futile for the state to seek to bend their wants and desires to its will – a common mistake of the Left through the ages.  Furthermore, because man is a flawed being, it follows that the state – a man made institution – is equally flawed.  History bears witness to the fact that it is therefore folly to place too much power into the hands of the government.

Conservatism is not controlled by an ideology like socialism. As conservatives we seek to pragmatically solve problems based on knowledge, realism, and tried and tested conservative values.

Fourthly, I believe in Responsibility

Many Conservatives talk about economic and social freedom, but freedom with no limits leads to chaos. Social conservatives believe in personal, community and corporate responsibility. The more people take responsibility the less the state needs to get involved. Responsibility cannot be legislated, it must be taught primarily through the family as children are brought up, and local communities taking responsibility for their more wayward members. Margaret Thatcher in her now famous quote on society can say it better that I can:

We’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. They’re casting their problems on society. And you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.

Fifthly, I believe in Compassion

Unlike the top down solutions of the left, conservatives understand that real compassion can only be communicated through people at a ‘grass roots’ level.

The conservative approach to compassion is distinctive. We understand that the institutions of civil society form the soundest basis for a caring society. School choice, zero tolerance of crime and a safety-net approach to welfare are other favoured hallmarks.  To quote John Hayes MP:

The state and the market are one dimensional – providing material care. They don’t provide the personal touch. Someone down on their luck doesn’t just need money dispensed from behind a plastic screen. He also needs encouragement, friendship and hope. He needs to know that someone is in his corner. He needs help to walk tall again.

Lastly, I believe in Tradition

Social conservatives do not look around for the latest political fad and do not collapse at the first challenge of political correctness. Our principles and beliefs are grounded in something stronger and deeper than passing fads. As Edward Leigh MP has said:

Tradition is accumulated wisdom. Established customs and practices have stood the test of time, and should be preserved for the benefit of present and future generations.


In closing, let me summarise social conservatism with this excellent quote from Russel Kirk in The Conservative Mind:

  • “Conservatives generally believe that there exists a transcendent moral order, to which we ought to try to conform the ways of society.
  • Conservatives uphold the principle of social continuity. They prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t know.
  • Order and justice and freedom, they believe, are the artificial products of a long and painful social experience, the results of centuries of trial and reflection and sacrifice.
  • Conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability. Human nature suffers irremediably from certain faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order can ever be created.”

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Disarming your hearers

Although this article is about helping business speakers improve the effectiveness of their presentations, there’s much that’s helpful for preachers and Bible teachers too.

Nancy Duarte’s basic point is that a presentation’s purpose is to change people. However, as people are usually resistant to change you need to devise strategies to disarm their objections and overcome their obstacles to change. Anticipating such resistance will sharpen the presentation and improve its chances of accomplishing its goal. It also conveys to the audience that you’ve thought about them, not just yourself and your presentation, making them more open to your call to action.

She encourages presenters to think about three common types of resistance:

1. Logical resistance: As you plan your presentation, try to come up with arguments against your perspective. Familiarize yourself with alternate lines of reasoning by digging up articles, blog posts, and reports that challenge your stance.

2. Emotional resistance:
 Does your audience hold fast to a bias, dogma, or moral code — and do your ideas violate that in some way? Hitting raw nerves will set people off. So look at things from their perspective, and proceed carefully.

3. Practical resistance: Is it physically or geographically difficult for the audience to do what you’re asking? Acknowledge any sacrifices they’re making, and show that you’re shouldering some of the burden yourself.

Anticipating resistance forces you to really think about the people you’re presenting to, and that makes it easier to influence them. If you’ve made a sincere effort to look at the world through their eyes, it will show when you speak. You’ll feel more warmly toward them, so you’ll take on a conversational tone. You’ll sound — and be — authentic when you address their concerns. As a result, you’ll disarm them, and they’ll be more likely to accept your message.

You’d think Nancy was a homiletics teacher!

Disarm your audience when you present by Nancy Duarte.

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The last letter of a godly grandfather

A womb to tomb Gospel

Every age and stage of life has its own special trials and temptations. The young are called to flee youthful lusts. The middle-aged are warned about the choking cares of this life. And seniors have their own age-specific temptations.

In Psalm 71 we find an old man who is somewhat cast down by life’s events: increasing outward and inward troubles (v. 4, 10-11, 13) together with failing strength (v. 9).  And yet he turns again and again to God.

The spiritual dynamic is encapsulated in verse 20: “You have shown me great and sore troubles, but you shall quicken me again, and shall bring me up again from the depths of the earth.”

Let’s look at some of the great and sore troubles of old age, and how the Lord strengthens his elderly people.

Later years are often lonely years. Your parents have passed away. Many of your siblings have also exchanged time for eternity. Your own children have grown up and moved away. Friends don’t have enough strength to come and see you.

Long, quiet, and empty days, weeks, and months.

The Lord has shown you great and sore troubles.

How can he revive me again? How can he bring me out of the dark depths friendlessness and loneliness.

“I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up” (Ps. 27:10).

You may lose all your loved ones, all your friends, all your strength, beauty and usefulness. But you will never lose the love and interest of the Lord.

He comes to you via Bible reading, sermon-listening, worship services, prayer meetings, good books. He comes to you as you reach out via the phone to other needy souls (v. 14-18)

In the long, quiet hours of old age you will have many hours to think, to think back over your life. And a little word will begin to grow in power and frequency: “If…” “If only…If I had not…If had chosen this job…”

You will start to go over your life  – your work, your family, your service, your soul – and you will begin to feel the pain of remorse and even despair. “I only had one life, one marriage, one chance, one opportunity…and I blew it…If only…”

It’s natural to review our lives, and it’s normal to look back and wish some things had been different. The question is, “What do you do with your regret?”

Regret can go in two directions: it can lead to Judas’s suicidal remorse. Or it can lead to David’s humble repentance (2 Sam. 23:5) and the dying thief’s humble faith (Lk. 23:42).

When, upon review of your life, God begins to show you great and sore troubles, and you are beginning to plunge into the pit of despair, turn to the God who says, “I will remember your sins and iniquities no more.” Bring every wrong decision, and wrong turn to the Lord for His covering with the blood of Christ. Turn to God as your only hope (v. 5, 14).

Maybe you’ve been dealt a hard hand in life. You look around you and see that no one else has had it as hard as you. Maybe you’ve been the victim of another person’s evil. Maybe you’ve been abused and treated unjustly. Maybe you even secretly feel that God has been too hard upon you. His dealings have not been fair. “Why me?”

Bitterness towards God and others is simmering, and threatening to spew out in a torrent of anger and hatred. You spend hours seething about your Father, mother, brother, sister, neighbor, boss, business partner. You will never, ever forgive. God has shown you sore and hard trouble, and you will show them the same if you have the chance.

What can dissolve this hard and flinty heart? What can break this unforgiving spirit?

The righteousness of God (vv. 15, 16, 19, 24).

God gives us what we do not deserve – a perfect righteousness. He forgives our sins through Christ and gives us the righteousness of Christ. Who can receive such full and free forgiveness without longing to share it with others, and impart it to others.

Someone once wrote a book entitled “Pain my constant companion.” But it’s not merely a book for you, is it? It’s a constant reality (Ps. 90:10): arthritis, heart disease, cancer, etc. God has shown you great and sore troubles and your strength is failing. But God’s isn’t! And you will go on in His strength and show his strength (v. 16, 18). And eventually you have hope of a restoration of strength, indeed even a heightening of it such as you’ve never had before in the resurrection (v. 20).

Strengthen your spirit by looking back on your life and pondering how many painless days you’ve had (vv. 5, 6, 17). Consider how God has never dealt with you as you deserve. Meditate on the sufferings of Christ. But above all look ahead to the imminent deliverance. Hope…hope…hope…

The Devil can take advantage of your present weakness of body and mind. Here, the Devil seems to have stirred up enemies against the aged believer (v. 4, 10, 11, 13). He’s coming in for one final all-out attack. He never gives up. While there is breath, there’s hope, he says.

What if I deny the Lord? What if I lose my mind and start cursing and blaspheming (v. 1)? What if the last agonies of life are too great for me to bear. What if I end in darkness and despair. What about my family and friends. My church? My nation?

What great and sore troubles!

Nut what great and glorious consolation! God looked after me when I was unable to look after myself at the beginning of my life (vv. 5-6). And He will continue right to the end. From the womb to the tomb.

And as for my family and church and nation, though it look like lots of dry bones, God can also bring them up again from the depths of the earth (v. 20).

God will defeat all my enemies and even the one behind them all.

Old and Young

Older believer, you have unique trials and troubles in your life. But you have unique comfort and encouragement too. Bring all your loneliness, regret, bitterness, pain, and fear to the Lord. Bring your great and sore troubles to him. He will revive you again and bring you up from the depths of the earth (v. 20).

Older unbeliever, you have the same trials and troubles as the believer. But you have no comfort nor encouragement. You have no divine consolation. You have nothing with which to face life’s last trials nor your last enemy. It is not too late to seek him.

Young people, some of you will soon be old. Yes, that fresh, strong, vigorous body will soon begin to break down, weaken and disintegrate. That sharp mind will soon be confused and befuddled. You will be in great distress. Don’t wait until then to seek the Lord. Seek his companionship now, seek his forgiveness now, seek his love and righteousness now, seek his comfort  now, seek his peace now.

Young people, some of you will never be old. You will die in the prime of life. You will be summoned to eternity before you’ve had a chance to experience great and sore troubles on earth. But if you die without Christ you will face great and sore troubles for all eternity, with no hope of change.

Make this Psalm your own whatever age or stage of life you are at. It may be your twilight years, even although the sun has hardly risen upon you.

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