Why I embrace Liberalism in Christianity
I’ve been under a lot of pressure lately because of beliefs I have in regards to being liberal rather than conservative. To me this is an interesting thing, in general because I dont think i really fit into any party wholly (so the title of this post is misleading) and in part because i think, while conservatives are very good at talking about things and theorizing solutions to problems, liberals are more likely to get into the think of things and actively work to better our communities and bring healing to our society.
I really do not like to categorize myself or others because such categories are unrealistic and I consider people (myself included) to be a bit deeper than a category or classification. That being said, I DO count myself as being fairly liberal compared to both the school I attend and the church congregation that I pastor.
I think I embrace Christian Liberalism (using that term very hesitantly) because I don’t see how to accomplish the radical expectations of the kingdom unless we adopt such strategies as giving away without hesitation or agenda (which things like social services and welfare are attempting to do, programs the liberals have supported more so than conservatives) and staying on the side of the oppressed rather than the oppressors (i.e. suporting the homeless, not condemning them for being that way… this could be said of many groups) and a community and that supports one another, even to the immediate degradation of themselves, be that on a national scale or a neighborhood.
I have a friend who work with YWAM San Francisco with the homeless, prostitues, drug addicts and orphans of the city. He will go out for days at a time to simply live with these people on the street, eat with them, talk with them, laugh with them, care for them when they are in the cold, get them medical help when they contract STD’s or get caught up in the violence inherent in life on the street. He does this without the need to preach to them, or give them tracts to read. Most of them are not christians, most of them have no desire to become a christian, most of them feel stigmatized and outcast by everyone they meet. This, to me, is the face of Jesus. Does my friend have everything figured out to where he can explain the entire theological and social perspective for what he is doing? nope. But, when asked why he does this kind of thing, He responds by saying “Jesus cares just as much for these people as he does me or you or rick warren or billy graham. If He cares for them, how can I not?”
I really do think that it is impossible to truly love and care for someone (what we are called to do by Jesus) without extending to them the same courtesies you would extend to your family or yourself, including respect for them as person, multi-dimensional, and full of worth regardless of whether I agree or understand what they are doing. Example: Gay Rights. I agree with most gay-rights activists simply because i see persons and lives that need healing, hope and joy, not simply a black and white issue on anatomy. Do i think homosexuality is promoted within the biblical worldview? no. But that doesnt mean i can’t respect and care for homosexuals in Jesus name without requiring them to listen to a bible-study first, or go through counseling to help “fix” them, or say “Ill help you so long as you dont talk about anything gay around me”. People need help. why isn’t helping them important enough on its own?
There’s a guy who moved to Fresno, CA a while back- the first thing he did was buy an RV, and he would drive along the streets of fresno around 1 or 2 in the morning. The RV became a mobile safe place for prostitues in the city- a place for them to come out of the cold, have a cup of coffee and warm up before they had to go back out and finish working. He cared for those who were sick, helped get money for them to see doctors when they needed to, and offered a listening ear and love to them without demands (something most in that profession never experience). The second thing he did? He helped start a hospice home for people who have A.I.D.S.- a place for them to come and die (this was at a time when the modern meds that help prolong life for AIDS patients weren’t available). It was a place where homosexuals could come with their partners and spend the last few days or weeks together in a time when most hospitals didn’t extend those rights to their partners as they would to a husband and wife. Because of that, when this guy got to church on a sunday, the first 3 rows were full of prostitutes, and the next 2 were full of gay men and women and their families. Where they all disciples of Jesus? sure. Where they all Christians? nope. but they enjoyed being in a place where they were cared for and accepted without hesitation or stigmatization. People need help, regardless of their social status and your personal feelings about parts of their life- this guy was that to them.
I have found that within some conservative circles, there is the sense of “we’ll help to a point, but once we reach that point its over and its on you”- and often it is dependant upon how close the person comes to your specific worldview that dictates whether you help them or not. Often its not stated quite like that, but rather “I dont want my money that I worked for going to people who wont get off their ass and do anything”. Thats a generalization that is more detrimental than beneficial, and is generally the product of people having a very high view of themselves or their social status that they protect it by making excuses to continue their hold on their wealth or position while keeping others at arms length.
It is either a “we dont want to help that person because they havent done anything” or its “let me help you! I’ll make you a better person than you are now! Look- ill give you $10 and some soup, spend 2 hours with you telling you to get a job, stop using drugs, and afterwards your life will be better, just like mine!” This kind of service assigns a value-judgment toward people, setting the giver up at the “Saving hero” (Most people who volunteer at charities do so, not because they care in the long-run about the people they are helping, but because volunteering makes them feel good) that is helping those poor less-fortunate souls out there become more like them.
This is equally detrimental to our society as it increasingly put pressure on a false social dichotomy, or an US vs THEM society, that shouldn’t be. We all have needs, issues, and all need hope, peace, joy and acceptance regardless of status or position and whenever we approach benevolence while looking down our nose, or attach to charity a connotation of ‘the better helping the worse’ , we aren’t just seeing those who are in need in an incorrect light, but we have a false understanding of ourselves as well. We are all in this together, no one greater than the other, just servants- one of another.
At the moment, liberals tend to think more about “others-first” and conservatives tend to be concerned more with “self-preservation”. This might sound narrow-minded, and you might be thinking “but Josh, conservatives are talking all the time about how much they care about others”. I would agree, however, recently it hasn’t been conservatives in government who have been actively caring for people through governmental measures.(for example, the Health Care for emergency workers from 9/11- it was shot down mainly by conservatives… health care initiatives, equal-rights leislation, etc- same story).
It easy to say “I love _________” (fillin the blank- homosexuals, homeless, prostitutes, democrats, republicans, Obama…) and not do anything to show that love. If you say “I love them, i just dont agree with them” I would ask what you are doing to show them that love, because simply praying for them or not bringing up their lifestyle in conversations isn’t exactly showing love, its belittling others and creating an “us vs them” picture that i just don’t see. Im not belittling prayer, but (to quote a friend) I think Jesus is far more interested in our dirty hands (service) than our raised hands (prayer), because people need to see that they are loved without demands placed on them. If we are letting pride (My ideas are SO much better than his), selfishness (I worked for this for me, not so they can take it) or ethnocentrism (if they could just live, think, or see reality like me, there wouldnt be a problem) get in the way of our love, service and help to others in Jesus name, I think we have a problem.
That all being said (and i apologize for the length of this article), I do not believe that liberals have it all figured out, nor do I think conservatives are all idiots and hypocrites. I simply think that, regardless of the party affiliation, it is important to care for those who need care without the expectation of anything done in return, and to correctly view ourselves in contrast with those whom we see as “less-than” and realize that we are all people in need of a hand out of some kind.
Is the gospel powerful enough to us that we can say “I may not agree with anything you are doing AT ALL, but Ill still help you, pick you up when you fall down for the 3rd, 4th, 100th time, still value you as a person of worth, and welcome you to dinner tonight”? I hope so. because it’s not “us vs Them” it’s us (collectively), and Jesus.