Why I am Conservative AND Progressive

A recent conversation on Twitter got me thinking about how I find myself straddling the line between what folks might call “conservative” and “progressive.”

Now, my definition of “conservative” here is more literal than political. I’m not saying that I am conservative in the sense of identifying as a political – whether social or fiscal – conservative. The entire American conservative political movement is fairly repulsive to me. Listening to the local evangelical (read: baptized American political conservative) radio station on my morning drive confirms this regularly.

But I am conservative in that I believe in an actual baseline for human values. In other words, I believe that there is a “good” that really exists and is binding on all people throughout all time. There is certainly some relativity in how that good is perceived and applied, but the baseline is always there. In one sense, the calling of each generation is to keep society tethered to this baseline – to conserve, as it were, the values that make us decent human beings and not baseless biological blips on the radar of time.

Jesus, of course, defined this baseline as “love” – for God and for neighbor. Love is that which anchors us to human meaning by demanding honesty, generosity, mercy, equality, and safety in all relationships with all people. Love is manifest and applied at individual, interpersonal, communal, and societal levels. Love is that which makes the human divine and fulfills all divine law. Love makes life sane and humane.

But this kind of conservatism actually leads to my progressive bent. Whereas there is a baseline for human values that make life sane and good, there is also constant progression in how to best apply those values to life in each generation. Thus, there is actual scientific progress. There is actual medical progress. There is actual therapeutic progress. There is even actual theological progress! Certainly, not all that claims to be progress is, in fact, progress, and what is actual progress must be discerned and proven in each generation. But the philosophical position that would make all progress provisional and unreal is a hideous one indeed. Abolition is progress. The granting of civil rights is progress. Every successful vaccine or treatment is progress. Protection from oppression and abuse is progress. A Jesus-centered interpretation of Scripture is progress. 

That is also not to say that progress is perfect. By its very nature it must be improved upon by further progress. And some progress is, in fact, a correction of “progress” gone wrong by returning to the way the baseline was better applied in generations past (perhaps much theological progress fits into this category). But to deny that progress has been made, or to obscure the reality of healing, safety, and empowerment for those formerly sick, endangered, or oppressed is nothing more than philosophical hogwash. Embodied reality is the place in which both the baseline of human values – summarized as love – and the progress of application are clearly seen.

The child finally protected from the sexual predator and the woman finally treated as an equal have no misgivings about these clear embodied realities.

And they have no time for fanciful philosophical muddiness. 

Ok, philosophers and realists alike…Opine!

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About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter was released in 2012. Twitter & Facebook.

  • jaydpotter

    Yes Yes Yes. Thank you. I was trying (quite unsuccessfully) to frame this same stance the other day between various ranges of “conservatism” and was labeled “just a liberal” and “too progressive.” It’s sad when Xians argue between them selves over a moral right for things like providing food and healthcare to the poor as “too progressive” and therefore something to be stopped at all costs.

    As fairly post-structuralist as I tend to get in discussions I still feel the pull towards a sort of anchor (as opposed to structure) as a way to explain this same sort of “good” that you speak of. We may hack away at the roots of culture, systems, governments, and institutions but if we have nothing anchoring us to the life and resurrection (read Love) of Christ then we are just nihilists of the nicest sort.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

      Dude. Exactly. That anchor is essential if we are going to remain decent human beings and connected to the divine nature. Everything else is “nice nihilism” – nailed it.


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