By Tom Ehrich
Arguments between “liberal” and “conservative” Christians tend to be wordy, venomous, and grounded in stereotypes. They shed little light beyond the glare of strongly held positions.
Liberal Christians, for example, tend to see “conservative” Christians as homophobic, patriarchal, racist and largely an ally of the Republican Party and its faux-patriotic agenda favoring the wealthy, white and repressive.
Conservative Christians, for their part, tend to see “liberal” Christians as soft, secular, self-referential and an ally of the Democratic Party and its agenda favoring government’s strong role.
Stereotypes, of course, count for little. In fact, Jesus himself was far more conservative than most conservative Christians can imagine being, and far more liberal than liberal Christians can imagine. Jesus was, in fact, a radical in both directions. In effect, we are arguing about our own shadows on the wall and not the Jesus who was.
For example, I recently served as judge for an evangelical press association magazine competition. I encountered some stereotypical views about gays and “family values.” Mostly, though, I read about “boots on the ground” Christianity of the sort that Jesus would applaud and ask for more.
Tutoring in Africa, striving for just conditions in Asia, caring for first-responders after 9/11, promoting women’s health in anti-female cultures. This wasn’t the “Republican Party at prayer.” This was people doing what Jesus did. They acted from the imperative of Scripture, not from a desire to stop change and go back a few decades.
Progressive Christianity, at its best, is about freedom from oppressive forces, including those of religion, and accepting God’s gifts of science, intellectual discovery and diversity, and seeking justice for all. It, too, is grounded in Scripture, such as the Sermon on the Mount. It, too, is what Jesus did.
Then, of course, Jesus did more – so much more that one begins to understand the typical liberal vs. conservative bickering as a way to promote religious franchises and to avoid Jesus himself.
Jesus spoke truth to power, generosity to the wealthy, tolerance to the legalistic, listening to the talkative, peace to the warriors, tithing to the cheap, change to all. He bade his followers be courageous – not in pursuit of power and wealth, but in serving God.
It is easier, of course, to argue via stereotypes. One’s own side always comes out ahead. The harder work – the road rarely taken – is to see the radical nature of Jesus and to respect the best in each other, even if that respect starts in a mutual, grudging admission that “Jesus scares us all.”