My Politically Incorrect Barber, WFB, and the Certitudes of Christian Conservatism

A funny thing happened on the way to getting my hair cut: I ran into a former Georgian (as in Russian), now full fledged American “with an attitude!” That is dangerous in anyone’s book, but when you put scissors and a straight razor in his hands it is outright suicidal to be in his chair! But there I was. It was innocent enough. I had been looking for a good “old timey” barber for some time, one that puts hot lather on your neck and behind your ears and shaves you with a straight razor [and clips your eyes brows and ears! Ladies, leave the room! Plus, no Cosmopolitan magazines on the table], when I found “Петр,” that is “Peter.”

Peter has now cut my hair enough (three times) that he knew that I was a minister. He is a bold believer in Christ, having escaped Soviet rule under Reagan to come to America to be a free Christian. He told me that he loves America. Whatever you do if you go to Peter’s barbershop, do not say anything bad about Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher! Peter claims that it was their influence that brought down the the Statist, tyrannical, dictatorial rule of the Soviet Union. He points to those two leaders as the ones who should be credited with the demise of the most brutal system of government in world history. He could not stop talking about how brave Reagan and Thatcher were in telling it like it was. The Soviets were evil. Period (“So much for the fashionable historical revisionism of Reagan-Thatcher-bashing of ‘enlightened’ Europeans and their American-wanna-be-followers,” I thought).

Well, Peter went on to tell me his remarkable story; now, really, a new kind of American story. He learned the English language from missionaries. He studied American history. He claims the Pilgrims and Puritans as “his people.” Why? They were, as Reagan used to put it, “Freedom men.” Moreover, they were believers in Jesus Christ. Peter is a Pentecostal. He seeks to share the Gospel with as many people as God allows while cutting hair. I think he is very effective, especially when he is doing the straight razor part. As we talked he told me several things that reminded me of a book I am reading. ISI Publications has released a brilliant biography of William F. Buckley Jr. The book by Lee Edwards is called William F. Buckley Jr.: Maker of a Movement.[1] If you are a Buckley fan, and I am, then this is the one to have (OK, you must have God and Man at Yale[2]). It was just before I walked into Peter’s barbershop that I had been reading about Buckley’s “certitudes”[3] that marked out true conservatism:

“The Communist experiment [is] the worst abuse of freedom in history” and “the socialized state is to justice, order, and freedom what the Marquis de Sade is to love.”[4]

Of course, WFB said many more things in later years about what marked out true conservatism including the remarkable affirmation,

“I will use my power as I see fit…I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth.”[5]

So I am thinking through the certitudes of—not just conservatism–but a distinctively evangelical Christian conservatism, when I encounter my Tea Party barber! Here is the thing: his list of certitudes were quite convincing coming from someone who had personally endured the persecution of Communism (his family stayed on the move because his father was an underground preacher and pastor) and has known the insidious authoritarian statism of the Soviet Union.

He paused after clipping up one side (but not  the other) and began to tell me these words (approximately):

“I am very concerned about our country. It is starting to look like the country I came from (I challenged him, and he backed off to say that it was no where close, but he asked, “Could it not happen here too if we are not vigilant?”)! I like Reagan. I like Bush, especially the ‘W’ one. He protected us well. These men are for freedom and against more state. We need less state, more personal freedom; less taxes, more wise use of money to build up the military to protect us. We need less intrusion into our lives. So I am worried. I see statism all over again with this president. These guys (and he meant the present administration I assumed) forget that this nation was founded by Christian men (and so we then talked about Whitefield and Edwards and the influence of godly preachers on the founders, even those who may not have been “evangelical”). They came from England and other places, like the Netherlands, to be free to worship God as they chose. They chose Jesus mostly. That made this nation Christian in many ways. It gave us God’s blessing. Now, there seems to be a push to have more freedom to practice homosexuality than to practice Christianity (yes, he was upset!). If we continue this course, we will end up like the Soviet Union and God will not bless us. This nation is great because this nation believed in God and many, many followed Him and put His Word in our government and prayer in our classrooms and started universities to promote Biblical knowledge. Faith in God is what makes America great.”

He was getting pretty riled up. He had started cutting again, but he still had to shave the back of my neck. I moved in the chair just a bit, out of fear. I was listening but I was worried about that straight razor…

“This is wrong what we are doing. Government health care when people don’t want it, new taxes, and the National Day of Prayer outlawed by a judge! No to Billy Graham’s son at the Pentagon! All wrong! Sarah Palin is right (he didn’t mentioned on what in particular! She is just “right” he says). She speaks strongly about freedom and is not afraid, kind of like Thatcher to me. I like her. We need more people to stand up and speak for freedom from government in America.”

So, I listened to him until way past the time he cut the hairs off of my ears (usually the final act in the drama of a man’s haircut). Then I got up, asked God’s blessing on him, paid him, tipped him, and went on my way. But I think I know the certitudes of Christian conservatism a little better because of Peter:

  • Stand up for Christ in the public square while we have the right to do so.
  • Stand for others to practice their religion. Their free exercise of religion is grounded in the freedom of evangelical Christianity that is not fearful of the presence of other religions, but welcomes an open forum (as long as it is truly open, in other words, when Christians are invited to the table!).
  • Stand for human freedom against state control of the individual.
  • Stand against statism and intrusion into the affairs of the Church, including the Biblical norms for morality.
  • Don’t just talk about being a Christian, be one openly, not belligerently (which is antithetical to being a Christian), but be prepared to stand up for Jesus Christ at any cost.
  • Stand up to speak the truth about America’s founding fathers and the Christian foundations of this nation. No they weren’t all believers. Yet is there any debate over the fact that the founders were under the influence of the Pilgrims and First Great Awakening that preceded them by only a few years? The Supreme Court has declared in times past that we are a Christian nation. Now we are told that we are not. Well, now is the time to stand strong and speak of those founders who did trust in Christ, sought to shape this nation after the governance they found in the Bible.
  • Be on guard against intrusion into personal liberties by new laws being passed that tell us that they “help us”; we don’t need it–American values mean taking care of our own, not the government taking care of us.
  • Keep the American pioneer spirit alive: we can do things better than the government can, except law enforcement, military, roads, and protecting and advocating free trade for Americans around the world, which is why we have a government “of the people.”
  • Be on guard against the insidious emergence of elite ruling classes rather than distributed power through the states and the local communities and families, especially families.
  • Keep prayer and God in all facets of public life or ignore God at our peril.
  • Love the Lord and love your neighbor.
  • Read the Word of God privately, grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ,  pray for others, including those who despise you, and those with whom you disagree, and practice family devotions.
  • Pray for our leaders daily by name and for their families. It doesn’t matter who they are, what party they are, or what they are advocating (I can pray for the person and pray against his/her policies, and also pray that I be given wisdom and insight to know what is good and what is not, according to the precepts of the Word of God).
  • Be a soul winner, like my barber.

I had hair down my back, which I hate, but I am still going back to him. After I got home, and after I took my post-barber-shop-shower, I dressed again, then went back to reading the new Buckley biography and found the next sentence to be the fitting end to the conclusions drawn from my barber:

“Such a program…[speaking of the establishment of these certitudes of a true conservatism] is enough to keep conservatives busy, and Liberals at bay. And the nation free.”[6]

May it be so, WFB. May it be so, Peter. God bless you my friend. I’ll see you next time. And if you don’t mind, talk about faith and politics after you shave my neck!

And God bless America!


[1] Lee Edwards, William F. Buckley Jr. : The Maker of a Movement (Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2010).

[2] William F. Buckley, God and Man at Yale; the Superstitions of Academic Freedom (Chicago,: Regnery, 1951).

[3] Edwards.90.

[4] These remarks were delivered by WFB at the Plaza Hotel, hosted by Herbert Hoover, General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Lewis Strauss, on the occasion of National Review’s fifth anniversary. See Edwards, 90.

[5] Ibid. 71.

[6] Ibid. 71.

Bibliography

Buckley, William F. God and Man at Yale; the Superstitions of Academic Freedom. Chicago,: Regnery, 1951.

Edwards, Lee. William F. Buckley Jr. : The Maker of a Movement. Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2010.

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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