Conservatism is not Christianity. Pursuing the kingdom of God and His righteousness includes both conserving what is good and progressing in what is lacking.
When it comes to politics, we religious conservatives are quick to point out that much of what the world calls “progress” is neither good nor pleasing to God and in terms of pursuing God’s kingdom, is not progress at all. We have fought hard, and rightly so, for the right to life at every stage, for the preservation of traditional marriage, and for religious liberty of all people. At the same time, not all about our history should be preserved and we should be willing to repent of and forsake those long historical patterns that are sinful and even abandon some cherished values and traditions that keep us from achieving God’s grander kingdom purpose.
If progressivism’s flaw is that it too often values change that moves us away from God’s righteousness, conservatism’s fatal flaw is that it sometimes seeks to conserve values and a way of life indiscriminately and without recognizing that a pursuit of God’s kingdom and His righteousness means that some things MUST change. Even as we seek to preserve those values that are right and true, we must also seek to change those things that need changing.
- While wanting to conserve the rule of law and right governance, we must also recognize and acknowledge that some laws are unjust, that our justice system often applies the law unevenly, and that some of our systems and practices of law enforcement must change.
- While wanting to conserve our way of life, we must also acknowledge that some segments of society and minority groups have been kept from enjoying the privileges we take for granted and work to change so that the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is available to all peoples.
- While wanting to conserve family values and a biblical view of marriage and sexuality, we must also acknowledge and change the way conservatives and evangelicals have sometimes treated gay people as less than human and created in the image of God and change so that we are offering the love of Christ and the hope of the gospel to those in the LGBT community.
- While wanting to conserve our family and cultural heritage, we must also acknowledge that there are many parts of American history that were sinful and be willing to change and abandon some of the cultural symbols, nostalgia, and iconography of a time when some or our ancestors defended the right to treat fellow humans as chattel property and engage in all kinds of evil towards entire races of people.
- While wanting to conserve our national sovereignty and control our borders, we must also acknowledge that our nation has maintained a broken system that has welcomed illegal aliens and that we must fix our immigration policy in a way that preserves families and human dignity, and is humane toward “dreamers” and those who have known no other life than here.
- While wanting to conserve our own ideas, opinions, and ways of thinking we must acknowledge that we sometimes allow issues to “trigger” us to respond in unkind and ungodly ways, to respond without considering another point of view, to respond without thinking critically about an issue, to respond without even reading and considering another’s argument. We must change so that we are willing to listen and respond and seek to work together rather than just react and resist other’s ideas, insights, and perspectives. We must change so that we hear the hearts of our minority brothers and sisters and seek to understand their experience and their concerns and not deflect with “what about…?” statements and thus ignore the problems which we have the most culpability and power to change.
We must hold a higher value than making America great again (and this is not a slam on Trump or those who voted for Him). The problem with “Make America Great Again” is that it seeks to conserve or return to values held dear without acknowledging that there are some things in our past that weren’t so great – there are some things about America’s past that required changing and some things about our present that still need to be changed. I’m all for making America great, if that means that we conserve the things of value and progress in those things that do not yet meet God’s standard.
But that’s where much of our support of a party or a politician so problematic. We end up mixing kingdom values with party values as if they are the same thing. In the process, we embrace parts of our party platform or favored politician’s agenda that are not at all godly.
On the one hand, we fail to think critically and consider the perspectives of those whose experience and hierarchy of Christian/political values are not the same as ours. We rightly fight for the right to life and the preservation of traditional marriage and sexuality, while not thinking much at all about poverty, criminal justice, or a fair and humane immigration policy. We get behind the idea of making America great again while ignoring the honest question of our minority brothers whose primary experience has been injustice, oppression, marginalization, and racism: when was America ever great?
On the other hand, we so want the positive agenda of our party platform to succeed that we too often remain silent about things that are wrong in our own camp, lack of leadership by our favored politicians, or practices and policies that are ungodly and unjust. To achieve our desired end on some issues (or perhaps sometimes to gain our own political favor and prestige) we speak when we should remain silent and remain silent where we should speak up. When we become wed to party, politician, or political ideology, we in turn lose our prophetic voice.
The truth is, conservatism is not Christianity. Those who call ourselves conservatives should not want to go back to the way things used to be in every area. We should acknowledge and value the progress that has been made toward God’s purpose in creation – progress that has been made in valuing the Imago Dei in all people – and “conserve” that progress while continuing to make more progress in those very areas.
A right perspective acknowledges that there are some things worth conserving and there are some things where we as a nation must continue to make progress. But to sort that all out takes critical thinking, active listening, a dose of humility, hard work, and a willingness to see things from a perspective other than our own. Most of all, it takes a desire to pursue God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven and work until He comes with all those who call upon His name, even those who don’t claim the label “conservative”.
Note: This post has been revised slightly and some of the comments are in reference to a previous version of the post.