There are many problems with the dualist expressions “conservative” and “progressive”, and this political discourse should be left out of the church altogether.
As you may know I’m part of a vlog series hosted by MennoNerds, and about two weeks ago I responded to a question in our MennoNerds Facebook group on why some Bible-believing Christians support Donald Trump. My answer was that such Christians are similar to pharisees; paying attention to some Bible passages but not those which emphasize love and giving money away.
In the vlog discussion that followed we criticized “conservative Christianity” from various perspectives: its openness to racism and sexism, its stubbornness and judgmental attitude – all which are valid to a large extent. However, Darnell Barkman pointed out the risk of “othering” conservative Christians. And this got me thinking about why we use this political discourse – conservative, progressive, liberal etc. – when it comes to us Christians. So in my new vlog I argue that Christians should neither be conservative nor progressive:
The terms “conservative” or “progressive” are very contextual, it means different things in different cultures. What’s progressive in the United States can be conservative in Sweden, for example. The problem with the terms and how’s it adapted into the church is that I think we are all conservative on some issues and progressive on others: we want to keep what’s good and change what’s bad. And this is very biblical. Paul says:
“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.” – 2 Tim 1:13
…which is pretty conservative, keep the good doctrines. In another letter, however, he states:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” – Rom 12:2
That is, change and renew your opinion where it does not align with the Kingdom of God. Now, when it comes to debate between conservative and progressive values, there is often a tendency of dualism of a multitude of opinion – you basically have a list of opinions on either sides and rather than forming you opinions from, say, the Word of God, you pick them based on what the political group that you identify yourself with think on such issues. This is why many are baffled by the pope: he’s both a social justice advocate who promotes peace and environmental care, while also being against same-sex marriage, abortion and ordination of women.
We MennoNerds are Anabaptists, and I think it’s important to realize that while early Anabaptism was protesting against conservative state-churches, it wasn’t exactly progressive in the sense that it strived for a futuristic alternative that we haven’t seen before. Rather, it was restorationist, seeking to resurrect the Biblical church. When Anabaptists believed they have done so they often became very conservative. Like the amish.
For my part, I really recognize what Shane Claiborne is talking about when he writes in his Irresistible Revolution that his Christian friends call him liberal and his activist friends call him conservative. I don’t want to be left, I don’t want to be right, I want to be upwards, where Jesus is.
Micael, Thank you for your genuine response to political culture. My own denomination is highly polarized (United Methodist). As one of Anabaptist conviction I am viewed as conservative by my progressive colleagues and liberal by conservative ones. I’m met by acrimony and suspicion on both sides. Your reflections remind me of our Lord’s words, “Every good scribe who has been trained as a disciple for the kingdom is like the head of a household who brings old and new things out of their treasure chest.” (Matthew 13:52). The most important thing is being grounded in Jesus, his life and teaching.