May 16, 2011

I am a conservative liberal and a liberal conservative in my approach to life and religion. I am a liberal, mainline Protestant who is able to entertain new scholarship and thinking about Jesus Christ and religion and the church, but I am conservative in my liberalism(no longer the knee-jerk liberal a friend once labeled me) because I stick to what Jesus taught. I prefer to be grounded in his teachings; I see in them many truths about human behavior and what it takes to have a real relationship with God.

I am a conservative in thinking that the relationship with God is primary, the most important thing above all else. I can sit in many different churches and take the lessons straight, no longer feeling that I have to translate any Christian message into “my” language. But I am a liberal conservative who feels that all the churches are part of the church of Jesus Christ, not just the ones which agree with my beliefs. I think that each denomination has something to offer to the whole church and that their contributions should be valued by all.

Are you confused yet? Liberal and conservative are just labels, limiting people to judgment from others about what they believe. There are not just two positions on the continuum between liberal and conservative. There are perhaps a thousand shadings or more on that continuum. We need to listen to each other to see what shading a person puts on their beliefs and affirm their freedom to believe what strikes each person as true. Even within a liberal or conservative congregation there is a whole range of beliefs, which you will find once you start investigating how people really think.

There are two points to this discussion: 1) we ought to love other people enough to entertain what they believe, at least until we can see the value in it, along with the choice to remain unchanged in what we hold to be true and 2) any labeling is just plain wrong. Definitions aside, people change, they will be growing and changing in their beliefs as they experience a close relationship with Christ and then mature in that relationship. As we gain our own experience of Christ, we can see which of our beliefs matches our experience; letting the unsupported beliefs go, we are in the realm of wisdom.  As the author of Proverbs 4:6-7 says, “Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom.” [NIV]

Labels, as well as rigid beliefs that are unsupported by our experience, are useless in loving others as we are commanded to do.[1] They offend, they categorize, often unfairly, they put up walls between us and others. There is no humility in someone who judges and labels and holds up their own standards for everyone else. There is also no love. It takes more effort to listen to another’s beliefs and experience, but in the end we are enriched by the experience. The hypocrite can see the speck in another’s eye, but misses the beam in his own.[2] He can preach to others about their failings or their false beliefs and not see her own.

Love is the only standard according to Jesus’ Great Commandment. Love God with all of who you are and love your neighbor as you love yourself.[3]

[1] Matthew 22:36 “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’…’Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” Or Luke’s version in 10:27: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

[2] Matthew 7:3-5 Towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches this: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye, ‘ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of oyour own eye, and then your will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’”

[3] See footnote #1

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