Religion & Politics: How Being a Christian Makes for a Better Conservative, Better Liberal

blog pics.001For the Christian there is an inherent danger to involving ourselves in any kind of political discussion. We are supposed to love both our political neighbor and our political enemy. Politics and love… how can those things go together? I have a few ideas.

First, Christians must check our citizenship. We are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of God, then of our particular country, and those two can never become the same thing.

Second, Christians must ask whether our primary identification is with the people of God or a political party? If we hold our identity as a Democrat or Republican more precious, or more ultimate than our membership in our church, then we have derailed and should disaffiliate with party until we get it straight.

Third, the primary Christian confession is Jesus is Lord. If Jesus is Lord, the president, the country, the flag, the party… is not. We do not trust in presidents or nations or political parties for our future. We trust the Lord.

Christians must always begin any political discussion with those three confessions: My primary citizenship is with the kingdom of heaven, not a particular nation-state. My primary identification is with the church, not a party. Jesus is Lord, not the president or political leaders. Only then can we enter into political discourse.

Let’s say we’ve got those three things in place, how do we proceed? We proceed in the mode of Jesus: with love and charity, grace and compassion. That begins by valuing one another rightly, not by rejecting our own party affiliation or point of view. Here’s what I mean.

As followers of Christ we are taught to see the good in other perspectives. Jesus refused to allow division among his followers, especially over party affiliation (see Zealots, Pharisees, Sadducees, & Essenes). The body of Christ is meant to be capacious, with room for all kinds of political ideas and conversations. The truth is we need liberals and conservatives to worship together as part of the same church. We need lefties, righties, and moderates all sharing a common life together, bringing the best of their perspectives to a conversation about how we organize our common life in this society.

We need Conservatives. The root word is conserve, or conservation. Conservation is at the heart of the Christian story. The conserver cares about our history. They care about our traditions and want to see our institutions thrive, that we shouldn’t go tearing down walls until we’ve understood why they were built in the first place. Conservers believe that our past matters, and that we can’t just let go of the way things have been simply because we value progress. Conservers want to emphasize personal responsibility and require everyone to show up and do their part instead of living off the government or becoming too dependent upon others. They value individual liberty and believe that the government can sometimes become a threat to liberty if it gets to large or too powerful. They believe everyone must do their part if we are to have a bright future. They believe that we must be vigilant, and will need to limit the role of government in terms of its ability to impose its will upon people. We need to applaud these concerns as wholly compatible with the kingdom of God.

We need Liberals: The root word is liberty, or liberation. Liberation is at the heart of the Christian story. Jesus was all about liberating people from bondage to anything but love. Liberals want freedom and equality for everyone regardless of race, religion, or creed. They want to rid society of modes of governance that allow the rich and powerful to flourish, while those who are poor and powerless can only suffer. They have high sensitivity to injustice, and want everyone to have the same opportunities. Liberals emphasize the group more than the individual. They want us to recognize that we are all interconnected. Liberals remind us that we are always dependent upon others, so everything we do impacts those around us, and the only way to make things better is to work together and sacrifice. They believe everyone must work together if we are to have a bright future. Liberals recognize that a good government is absolutely essential not only for the restraint of evil, but for the flourishing of a society, especially in regards to those who are suffering.  We need to applaud these concerns as wholly compatible with the kingdom of God.

There are downsides to each group as well.

Conservatives can tend toward individualism and a lack of responsibility toward our fellow human beings. Conservatives tend to privilege the rich and powerful over the poor and marginalized. In the name of conserving our past, they can end up holding onto things that need to die off, like slavery or segregation.

Liberals can tend toward permissiveness that borders on the rejection of any kind of limits. No limits on the size of government, or on what a person can do in terms of moral behaviors. They tend to privilege the poor, which is good, but often are misguided in their efforts and create dependency or a lack of personal responsibility.

The kingdom of God hopes to take the best from both camps and mitigate the worst. This is not to say that God is a moderate. God transcends the divisions between left and right. For instance, God has created all of us with the ability to do our part and take responsibility for our lives. Nobody can deny this. However, we must acknowledge that God shares a special concern for the poor and marginalized. If you don’t share that concern then you are at odds with Jesus.

So liberals and conservatives… we need you all. We need your voices in the same congregation. The church breathes best when it breathes with both lungs. So, don’t be silent. Speak your mind from your point of view. But at the end of the day we must remain committed to the fact that we are brothers and sisters. We have to stick together and love one another, even though we disagree about political issues. We must learn to compromise, and never allow ourselves to become hateful or cruel. We need to call forth the best from each other, and admit when we are wrong or spiteful.

The rest of our society seems to have lost the ability to say that both liberals and conservatives speak the truth sometimes. They are both positions of dignity and purpose. It is a sure sign of immaturity to refuse to recognize the truth in your political adversaries position. Our national leaders have all but lost this ability. We must never lose it. Our elected officials don’t want to recognize that both sides can be true at the same time, because they are blinded by their hatred for one another. This is horrible immaturity. We must never stoop to that level.

The ability to learn to worship with someone you disagree with is vital to what it means to follow Jesus. The ability to listen and seek to understand and make space for friendship with those who hold differing views is a sign of maturity. We cannot put our brothers and sisters who are members of the opposite party in the place of the enemy. We need each other far too much for that.

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  • Terry Washington

    I fully agree with this article. To quote the late Cardinal(formerly Bishop) Cathal Daly during the NI”Troubles”, there is a tendecny to “absolutize the relative” and “relativize the absolute”- ie to put party politics on an equal footing with our faith or see them as being being mnore important. The are good aspects to conservatism just as there are to liberalism( as I have come to recognize in my long standing friendship with my friend Julia Millard).

  • jekylldoc

    Still more, we should be encouraging those who disagree with us to affirm their values. Sometimes the result will be a standoff, but a principled standoff is not usually a bad thing. Sometimes the result will be finding the common ground for doing something about problems and helping things get better. For the most part, people will be less likely to sell out the common good for private gain if they have enunciated ideals and talked through their concerns.

    You didn’t have space to get into that, focusing as you were on simply recognizing and respecting the good in the other points of view within the body of Christ. But I think it is also important that helping the other person be their truest self can help any society run in a more caring and honest way.

  • candide

    Since Christianity is a delusion there is no benefit either to liberals of conservatives in adhering to it.

    • Obscurely

      I have to ask then why are you wasting your time reading and commenting on Christian blogs?

  • Ray Dubuque

    For anyone who wants real INSIGHTS regarding the contrast between liberals vs conservatives, rather than just PLATITUDES, see http://LiberalvsConservative.org.
    Then and ONLY THEN, you will be able to understand why Jesus was much more liberal than conservative, as I show – using Jesus’ OWN WORDS – at http://LiberalslikeChrist.Org .

  • Regarding Liberals favoring a larger size of government, that’s more capital “L” Liberal, and keep in mind that the military is big government that tends to be favored by Conservatives, even with its significant slice of the federal budget.

    • scott stone

      I was thinking the same thing. Also, democrats want to “conserve” n the form of education, social security, etc. They prefer the status quo which is a more conservative position than a liberal one.