Thursday, September 20, 2007


Actually, I feel a little guilty for not writing these past few days. Church is an action-packed life, and I ran out of time.

But -- I've been reading with interest the ongoing discussion between two readers (comments on the "Muslim Priest" post) over the past couple of days. Rather than have that conversation continue on that line, I thought I'd open up a new place for that conversation to carry on. And, of course, I invite anyone else to join in.

Now, I call this post "Conservatives," in part because it seems the comments around "Muslim Priest" have not been so much about one person's struggle with her faith but about whether or not the liberals are loonies. These come mostly from people I assume would call themselves conservatives, since that's the usual dichotomy. Certainly, some believe that my leaving the judging to Jesus is somewhat akin to Marx and Engels, though I think it's closer to Mark and the angels. There was also a reference to Che Guevara, but I confess to not being totally up on my revolutionaries.

So, I thought a look at these words "liberal" and "conservative" might be interesting. In fact, they are pretty fluid terms. I used to call myself conservative, though I haven't changed my fundamental outlook on life. I simply used an alternate definition that the dictionary gives: one who does not make changes quickly, but after much deliberation. I remember going to Germany as a High School student and describing myself that way. The Germans looked at me in surprise and said, "Hmm. We understand consider conservative to mean hawk, and liberal to mean dove.

Obviously, neither of those comes close to the complexity of these two terms. Take, for example, the Roman Catholic Church which is generally considered to be a pretty conservative organization. During the run-up to the war in Iraq, the Catholic Church (joining nearly every other Christian denomination), warned our administration against invading Iraq because it would constitute an unjust war. Just this week, the pope refused a request from Condoleezza Rice to meet with him. Though the official explanation was that the pope was on vacation, Vatican insiders reported that it was at least in part in retribution for the administration ignoring the pope in 2003.

Mostly today, the conservative/liberal split seems to have three prongs: 1) war, 2) money, 3) sex. And it seems to apply to churches as well as politics. Again, this is gross oversimplification, but in general the lines of each pole seem to read thus:

Liberals oppose war in every instance possible but do not constitute pacifists since they will certainly retaliate when attacked. Conservatives are much readier to reach for the military option and generally see the willingness to use military action as a positive force for attaining one's "national interests." Churches in general adopted what is known as "Just War" theory and are pretty stringent about adhering to those guidelines when speaking out on war.

Liberals believe that all citizens have a responsibility to each other and for each other, and that appropriate and graduated taxation can be a useful tool in maintaining a healthy society. In general, liberals would believe in low to no taxes for the bottom half of the economic scale and increasingly higher taxes for those with more, placing the heaviest burden on the top 1%. Conservatives – again generally – believe that a person's money is a person's money and the government should keeps its hands off. Of course, most conservatives also acknowledge that some taxation is necessary or there would be no government, and chaos would reign. Curiously, churches are pretty quiet about taxes. Some quote Jesus, saying "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's", and others preach what is known as the gospel of prosperity (if you're a believer, God will reward you financially), but in general, they keep a low profile.

Sex: Now, here's where the churches go wild. Seeing as we can't influence governments hell-bent on war, and we are afraid to talk about taxes, churches are some of the driving forces in the sex argument. It's also where fiscal and military conservatives and liberals split with each other as much as anything. You can be a fiscal conservative but a social liberal. Still, there are trends. In general, the breakdown seems to run like this: Liberals believe gender and sexual orientation should not be issues in employment or "pursuit of happiness." That is, the liberal line says women should receive equal pay for equal work, should have equal access and opportunity for all employment and other pursuits. They generally believe the same holds true for gays, though also a belief in the right for gays to either marry or have some sort of formally and legally recognized partner-relationship that bestows approximately the same rights. Beyond that, the liberal view is, sex is a private matter, and as long as you're not harming another person, it's none of anyone else's business. Conservatives in the sex issue believe women and men are fundamentally different so should be treated differently by society. They would generally agree that some jobs are inappropriate for women even if they are able to fulfill its duties. They would not argue with less pay for women for the same job and might even (some anyway) argue that women should not be working outside the home at all. Most conservatives would also argue that all homosexuality is wicked and should remain illegal. The end.

Again, this is a gross oversimplification, and I'm curious to see where others see the fault lines. But Jay and anonymous, if nothing else, let's move the conversation over to this post – and maybe move it forward.