The Spectacle Blog

The Collapsing “Big Tent” Theory

By on 9.3.13 | 11:32AM

Whether we’re talking about political or cultural battles, the concept of a “Big Tent” is an attractive, important one. Having a public platform that attracts a wide swath of supporters from across the spectrum should not be one’s primary concern. But when foundational things like religious liberty and faith in free enterprise are eroding all around you, you’re going to need to make a compelling, broadly appealing case to the American public if stemming the tides of “progress” and “change” is to be a possibility.

It is my contention that the fracturing of the center-right, Republican-voting “Big Tent” coalition that swept Ronald Reagan into office (and kept him there for two terms) is, in large part, the result of one specific blind spot: we don’t know each other – not really.

The same rings true for followers of the Judeo-Christian tradition in this country. We rarely talk to one another, and we confuse the importance of being ready to give an answer for our theological beliefs with the need to respectfully work with folks who share our general values.

This may sound like the Oprah-induced whining of a significant other who feels like “we don’t talk anymore,” and given the endless “we need to have an honest dialogue about (fill in the blank)” drumbeat heard emanating from insincere blowhards in the media, I can appreciate your skepticism. When someone on the political (or theological) left starts blabbering on and on about the need to bring people together, they invariably mean that the rest of us need to wise up and embrace their position on whatever issue is in question at the moment.

What I’m talking about is the utter lack of real, genuine, and meaningful interaction among people who pursue a common goal and/or share a common enemy. What I’m talking about is a pervasive ignorance in and among like-minded groups as to what it is the others actually believe and stand for. What I’m talking about is the epidemic of in-fighting that cripples broader movements and leaves the lot of us fighting as platoons instead of divisions.

Growing up evangelical, I rarely had the opportunity to interact with Catholics and Jews, and the specific teachings of their respective faith-traditions. I went to public schools with them, and always had Catholic and Jewish friends, but I can’t remember a single instance where my home church provided a safe environment within which we could ask questions about Catholicism and Judaism, and really learn about the differences and similarities between my church’s theology and their's. Most churches do a decent job of addressing the charges militant atheists levy against Christianity, but few see the need to equip their congregations with worldview training that includes the development of inter-faith acumen.

Ideologically speaking, the center-right coalition that united under banners of anti-communism and freer economic markets has been dissolving for years. And yet when I spend time with folks on the secular-libertarian side of things, they ask me all the basic questions about “you religious conservatives.” Same thing happens when my religious conservative friends hear that I read and enjoyed The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, or that I have close personal relationships with outspoken libertarians who support something like same-sex marriage.

The prevailing assumption in all of these instances is that if we allow ourselves too much public proximity to people or groups who differ with us on specific points of policy or doctrine, the faithful among our ranks will take their allegiance and financial support elsewhere. And I’m sure that there is more than little hint of truth in such a concern.

But it is time that we wake up to the stark reality that surrounds us: Rome is burning. We don’t need fake unity, and you’re not going to have to give up everything you believe in, but to save this free society we’re going to need some fearless voices in the public square who fall under the same kingdom (despite membership in a different phylum) and are willing (and able) to show the rest of us what true coalition-building (and deferential disagreeing) looks like.

Evangelical author Eric Metaxas and Jewish intellectual and radio show host Dennis Prager are two such men. On Saturday, September 7th, Metaxas and Prager will appear together on stage at The Moody Church in Chicago, IL in order that they may openly discuss issues relating to “Faith, Morality and the Decline of our Nation” from their respective faith-traditions. Later this month, Prager will also appear alongside his Christian friends Hugh Hewitt and Dr. Wayne Grudem (Phoenix Seminary) for a similar inter-faith dialogue.

We need more of this. We need it in different political and cultural sectors. And we need it now.

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