"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
May 21, 2006

On Being Neither Liberal Nor Conservative

I guess I should say upfront, I’m not from the US. ¬†As an outsider I find a fair share of the Liberal vs Conservative rhetoric pretty toxic and worldly. ¬†It saddens me when Christians buy into it. Not that Christians should avoid thinking about or discussing politics. ¬†In fact the opposite is true, our faith […]

I guess I should say upfront, I’m not from the US. ¬†As an outsider I find a fair share of the Liberal vs Conservative rhetoric pretty toxic and worldly. ¬†It saddens me when Christians buy into it.

Not that Christians should avoid thinking about or discussing politics.  In fact the opposite is true, our faith demands political awareness and concern.

But when our faith is defined by allegiance to a political ideal or party (or hatred of such), then we are guilty of idolatry.  To me, it is that simple.  The moment we feel closer to non-Christians who share our politics than to Christians who do not is the moment sin has won.  

Moreover, dividing everyone up into either liberal or conservative on political issues is crushingly narrow and jejune in my view. ¬†Opinion, is not that easy to classify (e.g., in the UK many of the most economically conservative voters are very socially permissive and not at all “conservative” on moral issues).

I used to call myself a liberal Christian, simply because the best ideas of my denomination (Baptist), were originally liberal ideas centuries ago; liberty of conscience, religious freedom, extempore prayer, etc. ¬†However, amidst all the sound-bite logic these days, it’s just too hard; the word liberal is like a red rag to a bull.

I’ve tried the word moderate and feel a lot of resonance with moderate Baptists in the US. ¬†However, you then get folks who want to run the whole “watering down the faith” line. ¬†It’s just so dull.

In the end all you can do is be honest about your faith and not make concessions to the world, which includes concessions to media-inspired ways of avoiding debate and reflection.

Jesus is my personal lord and saviour. ¬†I hold to all 66 books of the Bible as the inspired word of God. ¬†My faith is historic and attentive to the debates and creeds of the early church. ¬†I’m personally committed to mission in the world and seek to avoid sin within it. ¬†If that is not enough and people want to call me names because I don’t bow and scrape before the political idols of our day, well, there is not much I can do about that, is there?

[tags] Liberal, Conservative, Political Theology [/tags]

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Responses
Lindsay Cullen 17 years ago

You’re right that the labelling thing is a drag. But sometimes you get labelled no matter what, and in that case if I can at least have some say in which label I will. And in that case I generally prefer ‘liberal’ to ‘conservative’ (or ‘evangelical’ if we’re talking theologically) simply because I can live easier with the liberal baggage than the conservative baggage.

OTOH I do want to take issue with one of your statements: “The moment we feel closer to non-Christians who share our politics than to Christians who do not is the moment sin has won.” For me the issue is feeling closest to those who are doing the work of the Kingdom, and from where I stand, sometimes (often?) that seems to be those who do not self-identify as Christians rather than those who do.

John Lunt 17 years ago

Amen! You’ve hit the nail on the head Fernando. When we strike out at brothers and sisters in Christ, while claiming to have grace for the world, I wonder what kind of grace we actually believe in. Jesus told us we would be known for our love one to another.

I would be classified in most senses a conservative. My theology tends toward the conservative. My politics is the same. But I’m not lock step with “conservatives.” with everything. I am concerned about the poor. I get involved in ministry with the homeless because I love them.

Toni 17 years ago

Lindsay – “For me the issue is feeling closest to those who are doing the work of the Kingdom, and from where I stand, sometimes (often?) that seems to be those who do not self-identify as Christians rather than those who do.”

That’s a quite ‘liberal’ POV so your preference on label looks about right.

I think I understand what you’re saying. Tricky.

Fern – would you expand on that for us? I seem to be lacking erudition and clarity of expression right now.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Thanks for your comment John. Your point about identifying in part, but not all the way with one political group is exactly what I’m trying to open up a discussion on. The Christian will always feel agreement and tension with political ideologies, even when they seem in some areas to be close to the core of our faith.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Lindsay I think you’ve picked up on one of the weaker sentences in the piece; weak because it really only makes sense if tied with the words that preceed it. My point is maybe a smaller one that the one you are making; namely when people shun listening to a Christian because they are liberal, or tory or whatever, yet accept uncritically the views of someone whose politics they agree with, even if they are actively hostile to the faith (and maybe not even doing anything Kingdom-ish).

Of course, a kingdom-view is a good corrective to an outlook that is focussed on church-ianity. Theologically it is also powerful because it makes us step back and rethink the way God acts providently in the world. God works through all sorts of broken vessels.

All that said, I think there is an important (to me at least) distinction with regard to those who share with us a mission and a spirituality. I feel we should resonate with other Christians and when we do not, we should pause to wonder why. That’s not to say that at times we will not share a lot of ground with those working for good outside the church, but when that happens I would hope it is because of actual engagement with the problems of the world, and not just rhetoric about it.

Matt Stone 16 years ago

Fernando, you got it. When you link Christianity with party loyalty, what your left with is civil religion pure and simple, irrespective of which side of politics is involved. We should always place loyalty to Christ above loyalty to Caesar. We need to live with the tension of not selling out to either side.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

I hate to think of myself as a fundamentalist, but when it comes to civil religion or state-sponsored religion, I can’t think of any positives at all. Matt, thanks for your comment.

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