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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I believe that the prophet’s mandate to “do justice, love mercy, and walk
humbly with your God”, is a defining statement of liberalism.
- 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.