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Confessions of a Christian liberal

Posted by Ron George on November 8, 2014

GOP victory: A sea-change in America's political fortunes By Randy Bish, Pittsburg Tribune-Review

GOP victory: A sea-change in America’s political fortunes
By Randy Bish, Pittsburg Tribune-Review

Some of my close friends are reveling in the Republican resurgence. Who can blame them? It wasn’t a wave but a sea change that swept the midterm elections. The tide is unlikely to ebb until the world economy is shaken again as it was in 2008.  Once again the oligarchs and financiers who rule our nation will have their way with our lives and livelihoods, and the overwhelming majority will suffer while the Two Percent take shelter in their many mansions. Income and wealth disparity will continue to grow. The healthy wealthy will thrive. Those clinging for life to a shredded safety net may or may not find ways to survive.

The recent election has left me gasping for breath, not just because Republicans have taken over Congress, but because the Democratic party seems to have lost the confidence of such an overwhelming majority of those who vote. Many Democrats disenchanted with the party of Barak Obama simply voted with their feet by staying home; but multitudes of those who did vote simply turned away from the Donkey to embrace the Pachyderm.

Even though I count myself among disenchanted Democrats, I voted for my party. Always have and always will – and shame on those who stayed home! – but while there’s certainly no place for me on the other side of the aisle, there’s little enough room for me anymore to stand among Democrats, who have so centered themselves in order to win elections that they have all but walked away from us lefties. (Anyone who thinks Mr. Obama is a leftist has fallen over the edge of a flat earth.)

There’s irony here, because I do in a way appreciate how Republican reactionaries (e.g., Tea Party wing-nuts) for so long felt as though their party would never come around. Then they were galvanized by visceral hatred of our black president and his Republican healthcare plan (Richard Nixon’s, actually, circa 1971), and their well-funded rage turned into political capital so potent that the GOP has been forced to stand further to the right than ever in all my 67 years.

Gay marriage: A matter of justice and equality By Steve Benson, Arizona Republic

Gay marriage: A matter of justice and equality
By Steve Benson, Arizona Republic

Maybe there’s a lesson here for us lonely liberals among blue-dog Democrats. I hope not, though, because the politics of resentment and rage erode our national character, but it’s likely that before the political left ever finds itself resurgent it must be galvanized by adverse events – but most of all, it must be well funded. Now that a right-wing Supreme Court has declared money political speech, only those with money have effective political speech while the rest of us sit on the sidelines battered by the half truths and lies of both parties.

Another kind of left, I believe, is the Christian left, and in America – and especially in Texas – we are very few and very far between. Just look at the polls. Neither party embraces the values of Christian liberals; indeed, most Christians – and, yes, most are evangelicals – believe the phrase Christian liberal is oxymoronic and, probably, that people like me are just plain moronic. Yet there are probably millions of us in America, but we are so far outnumbered by the rest that our voice counts for little in electoral politics. Even in a democratic republic such as the United States, might makes right; and nowadays, the right has might, and it apparently intends to use all its might to take a wrecking ball to the current administration.

Reactionary rage leading to revenge: I don’t see Christian values operating in that scenario, even though so many reactionaries embrace what they believe is a Christian worldview. Politics, though, is not really about religious values. It’s about power, the power to persuade or force others to do what you want them to do. From a Christian perspective, it’s not only an imperfect way to govern but a perverse way to live in society. We don’t, however, live in a Christian society or a Christian world, so it’s unlikely that self-interest, which drives secular socioeconomics and politics, ever will give way to self-sacrifice, which is the fundamental standpoint of Christian ethics, being-in-the-world and community.

A Texas ruse By Nick Anderson, The Houston Chronicle

A Texas ruse
By Nick Anderson, The Houston Chronicle

Christian liberalism begins with the premise that all of us must give up something – perhaps a lot – to ensure that everyone is secure: fed, clothed, housed, employed and affirmed in their humanity. Some are more fortunate than others, but to be blessed by wealth is also to be blessed with the sacred duty of providing for others less fortunate. (The Bible calls it charity, and there’s nothing humiliating or ignoble about receiving or giving it.) Christian liberalism embraces the biblical principle of providing for all who have need (Acts 2.43-47).

Before the Bible-thumping gets out of hand, though, let’s make something perfectly clear: The Bible is neither a rule book nor a collection of documents dictated by God. It is a collection of ancient writings set aside for the special purpose of informing our spiritual and theological discourse, but it is no excuse for bigotry and exclusion, even though Christians and Jews have abused their sacred traditions in this way for millennia. (My God, people, isn’t it time we put a stop to that?) For Christian liberalism, the Bible is a traditional touchstone for reflection upon how the Holy Spirit may be leading us into all truth today. Some of it is irrelevant. Much of it is cruel and barbaric. Somehow, though, God’s word still manages to work its way through to faithful hearts and minds to become true in our time. Talk about miracles.

It’s no wonder that political liberalism looks askance at Christians who claim to have liberal leanings. They see that throughout our history we have been hypocrites as to the idea of a Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven founded upon self-sacrificing love as its guiding principle; that we have, instead, striven for power and waged war upon our enemies rather than seek paths of justice and peace that would make friends of our enemies. Worse still, we have persecuted, prosecuted and murdered others – even those of our own faith – over doctrine. We’ve always been more willing to fight over what ought to be believed than what ought to be done to fulfill the promise of Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God, to which the first Christians responded by sharing all things in common so that none had need.

Guns: A pernicious American fascination By David Horsey, The Los Angeles Times

Guns: A pernicious American fascination
By David Horsey, The Los Angeles Times

Given that history, there’s no persuading the political left of Christianity’s relevance to their politics, which isolates Christian liberals even more, except for our willingness to work on behalf of social justice and peace in the world without wearing Christian faith on our sleeves.

Christian liberals have a live-and-let-live standpoint regarding social issues that set evangelicals’ teeth on edge. Gay marriage? Not a problem; let it be, for God’s sake. Inclusion rather than exclusion makes society whole. Why wouldn’t we be willing to accept the desire of two people to commit themselves to a lifelong union wherein the love of God for humanity is expressed in tangible ways? As for making it legal, equity demands it, because the state’s interest is property not godliness. Why not allow homosexuals to secure protection for their estates and well-being as assured by marriage as a matter of law? There’s no harm it in, and great harm occurs when gay couples are not allowed to marry legally. The state has no business regarding the “sanctity” of marriage or the doctrinal beliefs of any religious group that it ought to be restricted to heterosexuals. That’s a sectarian issue, period. Keep the state out of it.

Abortion is a thornier issue; but again, the principle of live-and-let-live operates in the standpoint of Christian liberalism. Women must be free – at liberty, if you will, from constraints of government intrusion – to make conscientious decisions about whether to terminate pregnancy. Christian liberals are divided as to whether abortion is a Christian option, but we’re agreed that it’s unjust to impose restrictive laws upon the conscience of a woman weighing with her physician the consequences of unwanted pregnancy, especially if that woman is not herself bound by a Christian standpoint. We live in a secular, pluralistic society that as a matter of law must not be bound by religious authority. Traditional Christianity acknowledges the absolute value of an informed conscience. Society  may be part of the conversation – let debate continue! – but the ultimate decision must be made by the woman, herself. No one else, and certainly not a Republican state legislature.

Guns? Christian liberalism rightly views with deep alarm the proposition that the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the unregulated right to own firearms, especially firearms designed to be lethal to many human beings per clip. There is something fundamentally evil about an organization that opposes every rational means of governing the use of these weapons, and it is simply perverse to suggest for a moment that unrestricted gun ownership has anything whatever to do with patriotism and/or Christianity of any stripe – and yet, a significant majority of conservative Christians align themselves with the preposterous standpoint of the National Rifle Association. (For example:

Wealth disparity: A disabling sin virtually unremarked by Christian preachers By Polyp

Wealth disparity: A disabling sin virtually unremarked by Christian preachers
By Polyp

The issue that most roils the conscience of Christian liberalism is our nation’s disparity of income and wealth, something about which one hears little Christian pulpits but which is, in my view, the most widespread and penetrating mark of sin upon American society. In short, we have allowed the secular principles of free-market capitalism to overwhelm our values.

Even though we have learned through centuries of experience that markets are blind and brutal – even lethal – conservatives and reactionaries continue to maintain that unregulated markets are better than those with governing rules that restrain greed and protect the rest of us from exploitation. Caveat emptor, say the capitalists who rule our roost, let the buyer beware. Well, OK, but that works only if you’re required to tell the buyer everything: Rule No. 1 is fairness. Capitalists, however, are not interested in fairness but only in advantage and profit. In their world, what the buyer doesn’t know won’t hurt the seller. How else can I make a profit without the advantages that accrue to my having insider knowledge? Well, how about settling for a fair price based full disclosure, cost and a reasonable return? Nah, not good enough. Enter speculation also known as greed, wherein the market – an economic abstraction – becomes an exchange, a clearing house not for investors but for those intent on making a killing.

On its face, there’s nothing wrong with profit-taking, but exchange dynamics have time after time driven major economies into the ditch, often with disastrous consequences – except, of course, for those at the top of the heap with sufficient political power to exempt themselves from the consequences of their own actions.

I haven’t heard much lately – or ever, really – from Christian pulpits advocating social and ecclesiastical reform that would address the structural issues that drive the poor deeper into poverty and make rich more wealthy than ever. The right-to-life movement doesn’t seem to give a damn about it, and neither do gay-haters or gun lovers. Christian liberals, muted by their low numbers and general fecklessness – myself included – seem not to have the stomach for battling this pervasive evil in American society, and I wonder what it will take for us to succeed, as our reactionary sisters and brothers have done, in putting their issues before the world and making the political establishment march to a different drummer.

Not just another recession, probably. As though Americans haven’t suffered enough already from rapacious Wall-Street greed, it probably will take another total collapse like the Great Depression for liberal, progressive reform to become viable as a political – and, I would say, a spiritual and theological – movement.

With Republicans once again ascendant, it’s only a matter of time.


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4 Responses to “Confessions of a Christian liberal”


    Liberal interpretation of Scripture is normally preceded by studying creed books and Bible commentaries written by men.

    Proverbs 16:25 There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. (NKJV)

    Reaching an inaccurate interpretation of Scripture is difficult if you prayerfully interpret Scripture using Scripture.

    Scripture: Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. (NKJV)

    Liberal Interpretation: You been saved by grace “alone” because God imputes faith to those He has predetermined for salvation. Salvation is not God’s gift. Grace is the free gift.

    Scripture: “For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you. (NKJV)

    Liberal Interpretation: If “faith only” believers were to use their criterion of interpretation, it would be interpreted; the blood on the lintel and doorposts was a work and had nothing to do with the pass over. The blood was simply a testimony of their faith.

    Scripture: Mark 16:16 “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (NKJV)

    Liberal Interpretation: He who believes “only” shall be saved; but he who is not baptized will not be condemned because water baptism is not essential in order to be saved.

    Scripture: Hebrews 7:30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. (NKJV)

    Liberal Interpretation: Faith only logic dictates that the walls fell down because of faith alone. Faith only reasoning would conclude that the walls fell down before Jericho was encircled for seven days.

    Scripture: Acts 22:16 ‘And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord. (NKJV)

    Liberal Interpretation: Saul had his sins washed away three days ago on the road to Damascus. Saul was saved by faith “alone.”

    Scripture: 1 Peter 3:21 There is also an antitype which now saves us, namely baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (NKJV)

    Liberal Interpretation: Water baptism is not essential for salvation. You can be saved by a good conscience only. Billy Graham says water baptism is not in order to have sins forgiven; if you cannot trust Billy? Who can you trust?

    Why not use Scripture to interpret Scripture? Men write opinions. God inspired the Bible.

  2. Patsy Durham said

    Nice to find you in my “in-box” again. Keep it up! It makes us think!

  3. edseeger said

    Yikes, Ron! You worked damn hard on this. Successfully, I say.

    My conservative parents – RIP, Dad – are ashamed of their yellow-dog, New York Times-reading, idealist, straight-ticket, Democrat son.

    “Mom, Dad,” I said to them before Dad died. “You took me and Geoff [my brother] to church every Sunday with out fail. Are you now surprised that I believed what I heard there?”

  4. Jim Abbott said

    Once again insightful and painfully true.

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