4 Things Liberals Can Learn From Conservatives

Facebook was a bloodbath yesterday. An early update read, “Friends… if you are an Obama supporter go ahead and delete me from your friends list. You are DEAD to me!!!” … the first sign that the post-election climate would be rough. One of my favorite blogs read “Mourning in America,” lamenting the coming ruination of America by the power-crazed, inept, baby-killing Obama… another sign. As the day progressed, scores of comments, tweets, articles, and interviews ranged from hopelessly sad and passive aggressive to downright mean and nasty. Astute Christian commenters usually covered their flank with a preemptive “I do not believe in politicians or parties,” before trashing the other side as morally bankrupt. I went to bed last night hoping it was a one day thing. Not so much.

Reality: this country has serious problems facing it. Iran’s not going anywhere. The economy is still fragile. The Affordable Care Act needs work. Washington has us poised on the fiscal cliff. The planet is warming. Injustice and poverty are everywhere. Immigration needs work. Wealth continues to concentrate in the hands of the rich while the middle class shrinks. The left & right are at each other’s throats… I could go on.

Anxious? Not in the least. Afraid? No, I am not afraid. I am not worried or fearful about tomorrow, next week, next year…

We are not as broken as everyone seems to think. That which divides us is far weaker than that which unites us. There are a lot of good people in this society of ours, and a lot of good leaders. Romney is not the devil, Obama is not the devil, nor are either of them the answer to our problems. Neither political party has a monopoly on virtue, and they both have a lot of blood on their hands after this election. Any accusation you can make against one side has its analog coming the other way, so everyone put their rocks down before our glass houses all come crashing down on our heads.

Yes, we have big problems, but I am unafraid. Jesus is unfazed by 21st Century Presidential elections so we should be equally unfazed. Sure our problems are big, but working together seems like the only reasonable course, so let’s get to it.

As my friends on the left gloat and celebrate while my friends on the right trash and bash, I’m trying to hold to the maxim that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Since I write a blog and pretty much need to say something, I’m opting for something nice. So this is for all my conservative friends out there who are still stinging from the election, for all my liberal friends out there who are still riding high, and for my post-liberal friends who think they are too smart for all of this silliness. It’s an excerpt from an article that appeared yesterday in The Huffington Post of all places.

Here are 4 things liberals can learn from conservatives, written by Kate Blanchard (read the whole article here). I’m not endorsing all of her ideas, just her spirit. Nice work Ms. Blanchard for attempting to reach across the aisle. Here’s hoping many will follow your lead.

Abortion is not “just” a medical procedure like any other.

There is a tendency in pro-choice rhetoric to trivialize a fertilized egg, or even a six-month fetus, as if it were akin to a mole or a kidney. The religious right certainly fails by refusing to recognize any moral difference between a fertilized egg and a fully grown woman, or between a “morning after” pill and a “partial birth” abortion. But we on the pro-choice side are foolish to think that we can easily dismiss the meaning of potential human life without also discounting pregnancy and human life in general. It is not necessary to view an embryo as “sacred” to realize the wisdom of being more cautious about giving it no moral value at all. Pregnancy is not like anything else, and it has no ready-made parallels.

Entitlements without responsibility are toxic.

Republicans often remind me of the obedient brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, who complains loudly when his father graciously welcomes his unworthy brother home. “Democrats just want stuff for free,” I hear them saying, “they don’t deserve it!” Such whining is annoying because it unfairly caricatures every single American who gets social security or food stamps as a lazy bum, as if Republicans have forgotten that there is a horrific job shortage out there. But there is indeed something ennobling about work, and something degrading about feeling like a victim or choosing to let other people take care of you if you can do it yourself (as every parent knows). This is not a matter of “teaching someone to fish,” but rather about nuancing our sense of the interplay between systemic problems and individual agency. It’s never one or the other, but always both.

Not all sex is good sex.

While I find supposedly “biblical,” one-man-one-woman arguments beyond ridiculous, I nevertheless appreciate the reminder from conservatives that sex is not a purely private matter. Our individual sexual behaviors have consequences not just for us and our families, but also for our communities and even our world. We are shaping culture all the time, even as culture shapes us; our sexual choices, no less than our consumer choices, have a ripple effect. It is therefore not a waste of time to have public conversations about what constitutes good sex, and to put some restrictions on what we as a society consider bad sex. Most of us probably take for granted that, for example, rape and pedophilia are evils, but since such laws aren’t written in the sky for all to see, it will always be up to us as a society to define them as crimes. To do so, we must be able to account for why. Which brings me, finally, to…

Religion is not a purely private matter.

Folks on the left love to complain about folks on the right who “politicize” religion. But what is religion if it not political? It intersects, both philosophically and practically, with every aspect of human life — money, food, family, bodies, war, the earth. It is one thing to claim that religion is not partisan (i.e., there are Christians, Muslims, etc. on every side of any divisive political issue), but another to insist that politicians and voters should leave their religion at home. That’s like saying politicians and voters should leave their worldviews at home — something which would defeat the purpose of having elections for policymakers to represent us in the first place. The non-establishment of religion is not the same as insisting that everyone be a blank slate when it comes to public life.

About Tim Suttle

Find out more about Tim at TimSuttle.com

Tim Suttle is the senior pastor of RedemptionChurchkc.com. He is the author of several books including his most recent - Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), & An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals.

Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. The band's most recent album is "Straight Back to Kansas." He helped to plant three thriving churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • http://dennisbarr.blogspot.com Dennis

    Very good. Four points worth considering, and reconsidering, when trying to find ways to work with people of philosophies different from your own. One thing I would add – we shouldn’t be too arrogant in advancing our own opinions and beliefs. Grace is a Christian virtue, actually, the core of the Christian faith, and it applies to others as well as to ourselves. Respect for the other, and a gentleness in holding our own positions, can go a long way to disarm clashes that don’t need to happen.

  • Monala

    I think the article is a false picture of Democrats. A commenter on her expressed my feelings well: “It’s funny, because I feel that the Democratic party is currently where you DO find conversations about common good and community. From Joe Biden in the VP debate, to Elizabeth Warren’s speech on liberal values, to Obama’s many speeches on shared sacrifice and holding everybody to the same rules so that we can build a better community…

    “I believe that the Democratic party was so successful because they are focused on both individual agency AND systemic change, on both individual choice and individual responsibility, community and shared sacrifice.

    “All in all, I believe that we just have to make sure that we allow conservatives to join us in this synchronizing of extremes, getting rid of pseudo-paradoxes by embracing two halves of the same whole. Demonizing them is not the answer. But, this election season has taught us NOT to learn from conservatives, because while individual conservatives may be great teachers of individual accountability, etc., the Republican party at the hands of the Tea Party is extremely self-interested, lacking all of the good qualities of conservation that you discuss here. “

    • John R Huff Jr

      Well stated, Monala.

  • http://twoemptyhands.blogspot.com Scottsavage

    I see you took my advice :)

    • Tim Suttle

      … and that of my wife. You both have to put up with me, so i figure its a smart move!

  • Claude

    Either the liberals you know are caricatures, or you’re caricaturing liberals. Liberals aren’t ambivalent about abortion? Liberals don’t appreciate the dignity of work? Liberals think whatever sex their kids are having, it’s all good? You’ve got to be kidding.

    And it is one thing to discuss religion in the public square and quite another to try to make Deuteronomy the law of the land.

  • Claude

    My apologies. I should have not addressed “you,” but Kate Blanchard.

  • Bruce McGlory

    Well, the ridiculous caricatures of liberals in this piece teaches me 4 things I can learn from conservatives:

    1. Don’t think like conservatives
    2. Don’t act like conservatives
    3. Don’t lie like conservatives
    4. Dont be terrified of reality like conservatives.

    So, thanks! Learning new things is always good.

  • yeldan

    I will say this:

    Don’t worry! You have an immortal youth; a shining, endless life awaits you. You will be joyfully reunited with the children and relatives you have lost.
    AII your good deeds have been preserved and you will receive your reward.
    From Staff of Moses, Risalei Nur collection by Said Nursi.

    http://www.nur.gen.tr/en.html#leftmenu=Risale&maincontent=Risale&islem=read&KitapId=398&BolumId=8216&KitapAd=The+Staff+of+Moses&Page=2

  • Jennifer A

    “But we on the pro-choice side are foolish to think that we can easily dismiss the meaning of potential human life without also discounting pregnancy and human life in general. It is not necessary to view an embryo as “sacred” to realize the wisdom of being more cautious about giving it no moral value at all. Pregnancy is not like anything else, and it has no ready-made parallels.”

    Good grief! What is this ‘meaning’ of potential life? What does ‘discounting pregnancy’ mean? What is the ‘moral’ value of an embryo?

    And many things are not like any other thing, and have no parallels — including ‘ready made’ parallels. So?

    Thanks for a wonderously well-written word salad.

  • Jennifer A

    “It is therefore not a waste of time to have public conversations about what constitutes good sex, and to put some restrictions on what we as a society consider bad sex. Most of us probably take for granted that, for example, rape and pedophilia are evils, but since such laws aren’t written in the sky for all to see, it will always be up to us as a society to define them as crimes. To do so, we must be able to account for why.”

    Do we really need a public conversation as to why non-consensual sex is against the law? (Hint: Such sex is not voluntary.)

  • Jennifer A

    “Religion is not a purely private matter.”

    Of course it isn’t. You’re welcome to talk endlessly about your religion. What you shouldn’t do is state your religious beliefs as the sole ‘reason’ for your public policy choices. You have an obligation to make a secular, evidence-based case for your position.

    Saying, “I think my god says {whatever}” isn’t an acceptable reason to force others to conform.

  • Eric D Red

    When I read the headline, I had some hope. There are some reasonable conservative views, and liberals, at least the more extreme ones, could learn something from them. And both sides tend to demonize the other, often with strawman arguments. But then much of what I read was just strawman arguments from the other side.

    Only the most extreme consider all abortion “just another medical procedure”, at least beyond the first few weeks. And that is why late term elective abortions of healthy babies/fetuses are actually extremely rare.

    And liberals and conservatives both see a need for a balance between entitlement and responsibility. We just differ on what the responsibilities are. The welfare queen is another strawman (strawperson?), with of course a few exceptions. Liberals don’t just want free money without work, they want a safety net for when things go wrong.

    Most of all, the idea that all liberals think that any sex is good sex just misses the point. The examples given, of rape and incest, are particularly ironic condisering what has come from conservative polititicians! When conservatives talk about “legitimate rape” and “special secretions that prevent pregnancy” it’s clearly not the liberals who think rape is ok. And when one of the most conservative institutions has hidden pedophiles, it’s clearly not liberals who are condoning it. It’s conservatives who have been most guilty of these items. Liberal views on sexuality start with consent. If the message had been that liberals could learn from conservatives was that sex isn’t trivial, or that it needs to be considered properly, she might have come close to something. That sex is something that carries a lot of implications is something that’s sometimes lost in the liberal rhetoric, although hopefully not in everyday life. But using the examples of rape and pedophilia is offensive, and frankly reaks of projection.

  • Drew

    Here’s the problem with Kate Blanchard’s list: it assumes that it’s OK for conservatives to characterize (demonize) liberal and that the best approach is for liberals to characterize what we already believe as “learned from” conservatives. Perhaps we should declare this common ground, already shared by most reasonable people, and move from there.

  • Pingback: Top Paperback Theology Posts of 2012

  • http://www.readingscripture.org Ron Henzel

    To summarize Kate Blanchard’s main points:

    1. Unborn children have some moral value, but not enough to keep us from killing them.
    2. Conservatives are mean when they talk about people earning what they get, but we should at least say nice “ennobling” things about work, especially that it lets you do your own thing.
    3. People who believe in traditional marriage are morons, but we should at least be willing to talk about why we might occasionally want to rein in such sexual practices as rape and pedophilia, even though there’s no objective moral basis for opposing them (so let’s remind ourselves to discuss it further at a later date), and the criminal status of those actions should always be determined by majority vote.
    4. Since religious views inevitably intersect with political issues, and indeed individual worldviews, it is unreasonable to tell anyone to keep them out of public discourse. (Not to mention the fact that this approach should ultimately make politics safe for atheists.)

    So, there you have it.


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