The one thing that has consistently and constantly amazed me is that some people can say that they are conservatives and Christians. It is not that it is an impossible statement to make but that is seems rather implausible.
What exactly does it mean when you say that you are politically liberal or politically conservative?
I am old enough to remember, though not old enough to have voted, when Barry Goldwater ran for President in 1964 against Lyndon Johnson. I recall reading how President John Kennedy was relishing the opportunity to run against Senator Goldwater and how they had thought and planned to appear together in a series of debates, much like the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1856, in which they would define their positions in a public forum. How I and many others would have liked to have seen and heard such a debate. It may have very well changed the landscape and nature of our political campaigns today. Unfortunately, this was not the case so we will never know.
I have come to understand that conservatives believe in the rights of the individual first and foremost. But I also think that liberals believe that the rights of the individual also come first and foremost. It is probably in the fulfillment of those rights that things get a little muddy.
I didn’t want Barry Goldwater as President because he believed that civil rights were to be decided by the individual states and not by the federal government.
The rights of the states (i.e., “states’ rights”) versus the rights of the federal government has been a historical part of the political debate. But what happens when what the state does limits the rights of people. For those not familiar with my background, I grew up in the South and the laws of segregation and discrimination affected my family as much as they did any black family. Granted, the limitations placed on my family were not the same as the limitations that were placed on black families. My parents could vote while most blacks were barred from voting. And it took federal legislation to bring equality to the voting booth.
But the federal legislation that brought about many of the changes in the 1960′s did not come about until people were morally outraged by the treatment of one group of society by another. And over time, the basis for mistreatment would change from race to economic status, though it would seem that race and gender are the central issues today.
Somewhere along the line though, being called a conservative was to say that you were a defender of the status quo rather than the defender of individual rights. It became more important to keep what you had rather than insure that everyone was treated equally. It maybe that people are oppressed but they have the same opportunities as everyone else and, if they cannot take advantage of the opportunities available, that is their problem.
Against that backdrop, let us consider Christianity and the charge given to us some two thousand years ago. In most translations of Matthew 28: 19 – 20 Christ commands us
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (the New International Version)
But other versions of this passage, included Clarence Jordan’s translation, say
Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. (The Message)
As you travel, then, make students of all races and initiate them into the family of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to live by all that I outlined for you. (Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel)
And what did Jesus teach His disciples and what were His disciples to teach us? Consider what He said when He began His ministry,
He came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,
God’s Spirit is on me;
he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.” (Luke4: 16 – 21, The Message)
Throughout His ministry, Jesus healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, fed the hungry, and sought to free the people from oppression. He gave voice to the individual at a time when individuals had no voice.
It was the conservatives of Jesus’ time, those who would hold onto the status quo,who sought His arrest and crucifixion. It was those who held onto the power and used the law as a means of suppression that sought to limit the power of the new Christian movement.
And it was and is the conservatives of this country who have often tried to repress and restrain minorities in this country.
There will be those who tell me that governments have no business feeding people or providing medical care or building homes. Perhaps that is correct but if individuals do not do it or if the problem is greater than the collective sum of the individuals, who will do it?
And should not the church be calling to task those who say that the poor have only themselves to blame? What do we do when there are CEO’s in this country who earn more in one year than many of their workers will ever earn in a lifetime?
Perhaps Christianity has no business being in politics but then where will the call for justice and righteousness come from? If being a conservative is compatible with being a Christian and being a conservative means holding onto the status quo, who will look out after those for whom the status quo means less.
Cross posted to RedBlueChristian.com