I was recently asked, point-blank, if I was a liberal or a conservative. No one has ever asked me that question before – at least not directly. There have been times, however, when people have told me what I am: “Well, of course, you’d take that view! You’re a conservative.”
The funny thing is, I’ve heard the opposite as well: “I’m surprised to hear you say that, with your liberal views on immigration.” The same kind of thing has happened regarding my (or our church’s) theological position. Folks in mainline churches have warned people about our “fundamentalist ideology,” while real fundamentalists have suspected us of secretly harboring liberal views. What are you going to do?
When asked whether I was a political liberal or a political conservative, I found it hard to give a plain answer. It’s not that I wanted to equivocate: I know where I stand on many of the issues of the day, and I’m not at all afraid to talk about it. The difficulty was with the categories from which to choose.
On some issues, I would probably be grouped with political liberals. Immigration is one that comes to mind. I think our trifling response to the Syrian refugee crisis disgraceful. And though I believe we must secure our borders (I have no objection to the construction of a wall), I favor a liberal immigration policy. Further, even though I believe illegal aliens who are caught engaging in socially destructive and/or criminal behaviors should be promptly deported, I also favor a Reagan-style amnesty and path to citizenship for others.
On other issues – the size and role of government, for instance, abortion, gay marriage, constitutional law, and many more – I would probably be classified as a conservative. But the real problem I had in answering my friend’s straightforward question is that I don’t identify with either conservatives or liberals.
Asking me whether I am a conservative or a liberal is like asking a basketball player whether he plays offense or defense. Yes, I know there is a game called football in which almost all the players are on one side of the line or the other, offense of defense, but not both. I’m even interested in football. I have opinions about which teams are best. But I play basketball, not football, so the question of whether I’m on offense or defense can only be answered, “Yes.”
So with politics. I have opinions, and I am not ambivalent about them. I sometimes write my congressman and my state legislators to express them, or send a letter to the editor. But politics (at least in the modern sense of the word) is not my game. I have another, older and more fundamental commitment: an allegiance to the kingdom of God.
My political “hermeneutic” – the key by which I interpret current events and form opinions about the best actions to take – has nothing to do with what is liberal or what is conservative. Indeed, I consider such a hermeneutic to be dangerously misleading for a Christian. Nor does budget, race or gender serve as my political hermeneutic, as they often do for people these days. I take the positions I do because, to my mind, they most adequately represent God’s values and serve his purpose for the world.
I wrote, “to my mind,” just now because I realize that other people who operate from the same hermeneutic may come to different conclusions. Rather than condemning those conclusions out of hand as too liberal or too conservative, I want to examine them in the light of my biblical worldview. Perhaps they will challenge my conclusions (or, as is more likely, my assumptions) in ways that will hone and refine my commitment to God’s kingdom.
Should Christians renounce political involvement because neither party adequately represents them? Certainly not. Would that both parties were filled with Christians! The more of us involved in local and national politics the better, with this one caveat: our political involvement must not compete with our kingdom of God commitment, but grow out of it. A thoughtless, bandwagon brand of politics will neither help the nation nor serve God’s kingdom.
Nicely stated, Shayne. This is exactly the reason why I was initially attracted to your blog, and then to your sermons: the fact that you are so obviously striving for a biblical point of view that transcends overly-simple categories like liberal and conservative. I appreciate the fresh approach you bring to these issues.
I’m grateful for the comment, Ron. I do indeed strive for that biblical point of view. I suspect, though, that some personal construct blocks that view more often than I’d like to think. (I guess that’s why we need each other – not to mention God’s Spirit!)
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