February 4, 2010

Am I a liberal or a conservative?

In my little "about me" blurb, I describe myself as a "progressive evangelical Christian." This can be confusing since the word progressive is often taken to mean liberal, whereas evangelical is often used synonymously with conservative. Defining these terms gets tricky even before we grant that someone can be theologically liberal but politically conservative or theologically conservative but politically more liberal. So instead of opening a semantic can of worms, perhaps the following indicators will help to place me somewhere on the theological-political landscape. I report, you decide.

1. The thought of living in the Bible Belt freaks me out.
2. I am not always proud to be an American.
3. I tend to vote for Democrats in state and national elections.
4. I enjoy listening to NPR on a regular basis.
5. I believe government agencies and publicly funded non-profit organizations have a significant role to play in preventing and alleviating poverty.
6. I believe human-induced climate change is not only real, but will have significant impacts if not mitigated by reducing emissions, hitting the poor the hardest.
7. I believe our nation urgently needs comprehensive reform in both health care and immigration policy.
8. I am morally opposed to preemptive war.
9. I am against the use of state-sponsored torture (including waterboarding).
10. I am opposed to capital punishment.
11. I believe there is great value in inter-religious dialogue and ecumenical collaboration for the common good.
12. When it comes to Christian political punditry, I'm more sympathetic to the Jim & Tony of the evangelical left (Wallis & Campolo) than the Jim & Tony of the evangelical right (Dobson & Perkins).
13. I believe the earth is (a lot) more than 10,000 years old.
14. I'm more likely to purchase books published by InterVarsity Press than Crossway.
15. I believe Scripture teaches that God calls and gifts women to serve at every level of church ministry leadership.
16. On the international front, I believe issues such as human trafficking, clean water/sanitation, food security, fair trade and debt cancellation deserve our attention.
17. I support the UN's Millennium Development Goals, which include halving extreme poverty and global disease by the year 2015.
18. I believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military.
19. I believe gays and lesbians should be legally protected against hate crimes committed on the basis of their sexual orientation.
20. On gun control, organized labor, energy independence and tax policy, my views tend to be left of center.

1. The thought of sending my kids to public school freaks me out.
2. I consider it a blessing and a privilege to be an American citizen.
3. I believe it's a good idea to abstain from sex outside of marriage (teenagers and grown-ups alike).
4. I am very concerned about the effects of Hollywood, MTV and video games on children.
5. I am opposed to physician-assisted suicide.
6. I am opposed to the legalization of marijuana use.
7. I am opposed to embryonic stem-cell research.
8. Like all forms of domestic violence, I believe abortion is a tragic and immoral.
9. I believe there really is such a thing as absolute Truth with a capital 'T.'
10. I do not believe all religions are different paths to the same destination.
11. I believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, God in the flesh and is the only Name by which we can be saved. Through His crucifixion, death and bodily resurrection, He has saved us by grace to reconcile us to God (which is very good news for sinners like me).
12. I believe the Bible, God's inspired Word, is authoritative and without error in all that it teaches (when interpreted correctly).
13. I believe Scripture teaches that marriage is a lifelong, monogamous covenant between a man and a woman.
14. I believe Heaven and Hell really exist.
15. I believe Satan (the Devil) really exists.
16. I believe prayer really does makes a difference.
17. I wholeheartedly believe in miraculous gifts such as divine healing, prophecy, words of knowledge, speaking in tongues and deliverance from evil spirits.
18. I affirm the often-trivialized concepts of "spiritual warfare," "attacks of the enemy," "prayer warriors" and "hedges of protection."
19. I have been known to lift my hands and act "shallow and emotional" while singing modern praise and worship choruses.
20. I'd rather spend money on a David Crowder concert than attend a free lecture by Phyllis Tickle (true story). Christian rock trumps mainline Protestant intellectualism once again.


Ann said...

The only thing that surprises me is #12 on the conservative list. But you do qualify it a bit. I've never understood why someone would say the bible is inerrant (I'm more comfortable with infallible myself). I'd be interested to hear your take on this one.

The Common Loon said...


Thanks for stopping by. It all depends on how you define the word 'inerrant' which may or may not be the same thing as 'without error in all that it teaches.'

I agree with Michael Patton who draws a distinction between what he calls "technically precise inerrancy" vs. "reasoned inerrancy."


So if I could only choose one word to describe the Bible beginning with the letter "i", I would probably lean toward infallible over inerrant also since "inerrant" can mean different things to different people.

Adam Bailey said...

CL, I think these are really interesting lists; not just for their particular items, but in the way they're constituted.

Your "liberal" list is composed mostly of political, secular ideas, but the "conservative" list is populated mostly by religious ideas.

There are a lot of things on the "conservative" list that liberals would proudly espouse, especially pride in being American, numbers 11 & 12, and 14-20. Those things seem to be wholly without the political arena. Do you find this general breakdown to be interesting as well? Do you think it reflects the idea that being religious = being conservative?

I think the two are often conflated, which troubles me. (I think you've listed them as ways you think people would use to categorize you, not actually what you believe, but correct me if I'm wrong). Liberals have done a bad job by conceding faith to Conservatives. Liberal people of faith are legion, where are they in our discourse? Do you think they are less willing than conservatives to mobilize their faith as a way to justify their politics?

I get the sense from you that you think one's faith and one's politics can't really be separated, which makes a great deal of sense if one is serious in her devotion. What does that say about the political/faith divide?

Anyway, this has been a bit rambling. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. I'd also like to hear what you think about Richard Cizik and his new liberal evangelical group. Here's an article from newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/id/232669.

I hope you're doing well, and reveling in the joy of your kiddos, even when they run you ragged. I read your blog regularly, even when I don't comment.


PS: I think NPR is probably the least biased news out there.

James said...

Nope, hadn't read this before I posted mine, but clearly, you are a liberal, because you think we are on the same wavelength, and I think it's the Holy Spirit. : )

The Common Loon said...

Good observations, Adam. Compared with the average/median American (if there is such a thing), I'd probably be classified as theologically conservative but politically liberal.

Within evangelicalism, my tent is pitched somewhere near Cizik & Gushee, who were both mentioned in the article you cited. Others in that camp would be people like Richard Mouw, Ron Sider & Jim Skillen, but I would put folks like Wallis & Campolo to their (and my) left. Still, none of these guys are (politically) typical of (theological) evangelicals.

The Pew Forum and other sources of religious data I've read seem to consistently find a correlation between conservative theological beliefs, frequency of church attendance and conservative political views. My own observations confirm this as well.

Of course, this doesn't mean all of my theologically conservative brothers and sisters are loyal political conservatives, but I'm guessing at least 3/4 of them are. I go to church for the theology, not the politics.

The irony is while theological fuzziness gradually weakens faith, I believe the church is strengthened by a diversity of political viewpoints in the pew, even as the public square is healthier when there is diverse theological representation.