Liberal or Conservative?

Buzz Word.jpg

Buzz Words.  Everyone is using them, but what do they mean and what should they mean to followers of Christ.

The words, liberal and conservative, have become charged with far more meaning than that which is contained in the dictionary.

Liberal  1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.  2. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, especially as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.  3. favoring or permitting freedom of action, especially with respect to matters of personal belief or expression.  Synonyms: progressive, broad-minded, unprejudiced, charitable

So if you like having the freedom to choose … you are liberal

Conservative  1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.  2. traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness.  Synonyms: conventional, orthodox, traditional, unchangeable

So when you say things like … I like the way things you used to be … you are conservative.

These words carry political meaning by those that use them and they carry theological meaning as well within the ranks of Christianity and religion as a whole.  These words – liberal and conservative – they no longer describe people – they divide them.

And in the division, we are somehow forced to pick a side.

Maybe you can relate … you feel forced to choose one or the other.

Perhaps you have been labeled one way or the other.

Or perhaps like me you are trapped in an either/or world and want a third alternative.

You see, I don’t “fit” in the conservative church:

  • I believe there is merit in science.
  • I have voted for democrats.
  • I have doubts.
  • I enjoy dialog about the meaning of scripture
  • I want to become a better advocate for social justice.
  • I believe in gender equality
  • I want my gay and lesbian friends to feel welcome and accepted in church.
  • I’m convinced the Gospel is about more than “getting saved” from hell. 

But I don’t “fit” in the liberal church either.

  • I believe the Bible is more than a good book.
  • I have voted for republicans.
  • I believe that there are absolute truths.
  • I think doctrine and theology are important enough to teach and debate.
  • I think it’s vital that we talk about, and address, sin.
  • I believe in the sacrificial death and physical resurrection of Jesus.
  • I want to participate in interfaith dialog while still maintaining a strong        Christian identity.
  • I’m convinced that the Gospel is about more than being a good person. 

Admittedly, I know that these statements are all generalizations, but it is these types of  generalizations that divide us.

I want you to know that there are things I really love about the conservative evangelical movement and that there are things I really love about liberal Protestantism, but because these two groups tend to forge their identities in reaction to the generalizations about one another I feel caught in between. 

And I believe the reason many people struggle with the idea of church in today’s world is because the churches of today have made people feel like they have to choose between two over-generalized sides: liberal or conservative. 

As a result, Sunday morning becomes more about picking a side – both political and theological …. and far less about worshiping God and having faith in a risen Savior – Jesus.

As a result church-goers are left sitting in a sanctuary waiting to hear from a pastor who at some point in the service, either subtly or overtly, will feel compelled to talk about the “other side” as the enemy.

So what do we do?

What if, instead of conforming to the mold the world is giving us, we refused to accept it?  What if we stopped using “us vs. them” language and began to realize that the characteristics we typically associate with “them” exist in some of “us.”

Surely we can allow our differences to exist without questioning one another’s commitment to the faith.

Conservative, liberal, or in-between, we should continue to debate the doctrines and practices closest to our hearts because unity is not the same as uniformity and following a loving God does not mean we must always agree.  But when we disagree – and we will – we should do it assuming the best about one another and honoring our shared commitment to Christ.

We don’t have to be on the same page on every issue in order to love one another and work together for peace and justice.

The early church survived and thrived amidst disagreement and persecution. The early church included both Jews and Gentiles, zealots and tax collectors, slaves and slave owners, men and women, those in support of circumcision and those against it.

I believe Christianity today can survive and thrive when it includes democrats and republicans, biblical literalists and biblical non-literalists, liberals and conservatives.

Perhaps if we were better able to adapt Wesley’s concept of Holy Conferencing we would discover more that brings us together than that which divides.

Perhaps discovering an alternative to liberal/conservative is a good idea.

Maybe learning to be “in-betweeners” can put those who find themselves torn between the words conservative and liberal can instead find a place to become peacemakers and bridge-builders.

Maybe discovering an alternative can enable each of us to break down the walls that divide us and provide living examples that you don’t have to choose one side or the other.

We need to be more than just liberal or conservative.

We need to be more than liberal and conservative.

We need to discover what it means to have the mind of Christ – liberal and conservative and all of us caught in between.  We need to become more like Christ. 

You remember Jesus right? The Jesus …

Who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor and dwelt among us.

Who was content to be subject to His parents, the child of a poor couple’s home.

Who lived for thirty years the common life, earning His living with His own hands and declining no humble tasks.

Whom the people heard gladly, for He understood their ways.

May this mind be in us which was in Christ Jesus.

Let us remember Jesus:

Who was mighty in deed, healing the sick and the disordered,

using for others the powers He would not invoke for Himself.

Who refused to force people’s allegiance.

Who was Master and Lord to His disciples, yet was among them as their companion and as one who served.

Whose desire was to do the will of God who sent Him.

May this mind be in us which was in Christ Jesus.

Let us remember Jesus:

Who loved people, yet retired from them to pray, rose a great while before day, watched through the night, Stayed in the wilderness, went up a mountain, sought a garden.

Who, when He would help a tempted a disciple, prayed for him.

Who prayed for the forgiveness of those who rejected Him, and for the perfecting of those who received Him.

Who observed the traditions, but defied convention that did not serve the purposes of God.

Who hated the sins of pride and selfishness, of cruelty and impurity.

May this mind be in us which was in Christ Jesus.

Let us remember Jesus:

Who believed in people and never despaired of them.

Who through all disappointment never lost heart.

Who disregarded His own comfort and convenience, and thought first of other’s needs,

And though He suffered long, was always kind.

Who when He was reviled, uttered no harsh word in return,

And when He suffered, dis not threaten retaliation.

Who humbled Himself and carried obedience to the point of death, even death on the cross, Wherefore God has highly exalted Him.

May this mind be in us which was in Christ Jesus.

Let us unite in prayer that Christ may dwell in our hearts.

 O Christ, our only Savior, so come to dwell in us that we may go forth with the light of your hope in our eyes, And with Your faith and love in our hearts. Amen

– Book of Worship “For the Mind of Christ” Prayer #514


May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.                   Romans 15:5-7 NIV


I am a United Methodist Pastor and have the privilege of serving as the Senior Pastor for the church of my childhood. I preach in a place I once was an acolyte. I love to preach, but more importantly I love to teach. I firmly believe that Faith Matters and should affect how we live. This blog is a place where I come to share the randomness that is life and faith ... and the intersection of the two.

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