Sunday, January 22, 2017

Why I am a Liberal Christian: An Apology for Liberalism and Jesus.

Why I am a Liberal Christian: An  Apology for Liberalism and Jesus.

Though many mainstream Christians are indeed liberals, in recent years Christians have most often been represented in the media as being aligned with the far right of the Conservative movement.  The recent election has presented us with the Christian Right, for historical reasons and associations perhaps, backing a candidate who cannot be said in any meaningful way to have manifest traditional conservative and Christian values in his life, but who represented a change in the status quo—against a lifelong Methodist with well established liberal credentials, but who represented a continuation of the status quo.  There is a disconnect here.  Conservativism by definition is the party of the status quo, and one of the fundamental tenants of liberalism is to move beyond the status quo in a progressive direction, just the opposite of how this election was marketed.  It left me soul searching.  And so I write this apology.  And I’m using the word apology in the sense of a philosophical defense of my position, not an expression of regret for holding my position. 
  1. The Kingdom of God is a liberal ideal.  Jesus came to us proclaiming one thing more than any other and that was that the Kingdom of God was at hand.  This Kingdom represented a fundamental change in the status quo, e.g. the first shall be last, the last first, a lifting up of the poor and downtrodden, the outcast, the foreigner in our midst.  Any full blown study of the Biblical witness to the Kingdom of God as Jesus and the prophets presented it will align any talk about the Kingdom as being liberal to the core.  To reach any other conclusion is to redefine the very essence of the meaning of liberal and conservative.  Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom was a call to abandon the status quo in favor of progressing toward the future  God envisioned for us.
  2. Democracy itself, is a liberal form of governance.  Regarding the “Kingdom of God” it is good to remember that it is a monarchy, not a democracy.  There is one Lord, and no elections.  That said, my Lutheran bias is that under the reign of Christ democratic principles are the best assurance we have of submitting to the reign of Christ.  Hierarchical governance, I believe, is much more prone to corruption.  I am more comfortable believing in the Spirit being discerned by the Body of Christ as a whole, than I am by one individual or group of individuals making that determination.  Of course, all earthly forms of governance, including within the Church, are subject to human sinfulness and corruption.  But having said that, I would reaffirm my belief that the Body of Christ as a whole is less subject to sinful inclinations, with all the checks and balances, than an individual is.
  3. With respect to national governance, I believe in democracy.  Anybody that believes in democracy as a preferred type of governance is embracing a liberal ideal, not a conservative ideal.  I love to chide my “conservative” friends about this.  If they believe in democracy, they are actually liberals, which is hard for them to stomach.  On the other extreme is the conservative principle of oligarchy, or the rule by a governing class, or monarchy, the rule by a single ruler.  The Electoral College is a conservative intrusion into our democratic process.  So also is a system that affords a control of the government by the wealthy, which is to cede the government to a ruling class.  And to an extent, election laws, lack of term limits, and gerrymandering all contribute toward the establishment of a ruling class that undermines pure democracy.  The more defensible conservative principle is that of a Republic, not a Democracy.   That is, the people have some power, but it is mediated by a ruling class.
  4. Governance is part of the solution to the problem, not the problem.  Ronald Reagan was wrong.  Because of human sinfulness God established the law as a custodian.  Not only do individual freedoms need to be curbed by just laws, but also corporate endeavors need to be regulated to prevent a systematic exploitation of the world and its people, something that corporations have proven to be a major tendency throughout history.  There is a balancing act here, though, for the public good is often, though not always, served best by those most affected by a decision having the most say in a decision.  The struggle is that there are often conflicts of interest between parties regarding specific decisions.  Should corporations be allowed the freedom to exploit labor and the environment?  Or should labor laws and environmental regulations be utilized to curb corporate greed, and insure the greater good for the greater amount of people?  The latter is a liberal ideal.
  5. Equality and social justice are fundamental biblical principles.  They held all things in common and provided each according to their need.  The year of Jubilee.  The concern for the poor and outcast.  The predisposition against the rich and the powerful.  These are all Biblical concerns raised by the prophets and Jesus.  The commitment to justice for all is a fundamental tenant of liberalism.
  6. Life itself is sacred.  And because life is sacred there is a moral mandate that all people have access to that which is necessary for life.  Universal health care, however it is achieved, is a moral mandate for anyone who believes in the sanctity of life.  A fair and just distribution of food is a moral mandate for anyone who believes in the sanctity of life.  Clothing and housing are also necessities of life for which there is a moral mandate.  In our economic system, in order to provide for those essentials, a livable wage is a necessity of life.  When was the last time conservatives advocated for an increase in the minimum wage that would give people the means, within our system, to provide for the essentials of life?  These causes have been fought for by liberals, not conservatives.
  7. There are moral dilemma's in Life.  But what about abortion, some conservatives will respond.  I personally would only support my wife’s having an abortion in the most difficult of circumstances.  Some situations, like an ectopic pregnancy would be a no brainer.  Other situations, such as when there are severe birth defects which would preclude a viable life after birth, are more difficult.  I personally oppose abortion as a routine birth control method.  There are better and more morally defensible methods of birth control.  Access to these birth control measures has been shown to greatly reduce unwanted pregnancies, and hence abortions.  I believe that a social commitment to women’s health issues and universal access to health care are the best means of curbing abortions.  I acknowledge at one and the same time that the moral questions surrounding abortion are a) a primary responsibility for the woman considering abortion, and b) a social issue that should be regulated by just laws.  And at times, the sanctity of life will involve balancing the sanctity of the mother’s life over and against the sanctity of the life of the child.
  8. I believe that all people are created equal, are created in the image of God, and that discrimination is a fundamental aspect of human sinfulness.  Given the freedom to do so, humans will discriminate on the basis of all sorts of criteria.  Discrimination is the dominant sin of the majority against minorities, of the powerful against the weak, of the rich against the poor.  Systematic discrimination pervades our society and goes hand and hand with exploitation. Equal rights, compensation, and opportunity are liberal ideals.  I do not see Conservatives advocating for any anti-discrimination laws.  If they do, they are more liberal than they let on.
  9. I believe that the prophet’s mandate to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God”, is a defining statement of liberalism.
  10. And finally, though individual liberty is a liberal ideal, liberty can never be achieved for one at the expense of another.  The liberty of all is more important than the unrestrained liberty of a few.  The “Right to Bear Arms” for example, serves the cause of liberty only when it does not impinge on the liberty of others.  Reasonable restrictions on the liberty of others are a necessity of a free society for all.  Liberty and responsibility go hand in hand. 

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