Christianity and Liberalism
September 24, 2008 2:55 PM   Subscribe

Can a person be an evangelical Christian and still be a political liberal? This may sound like a simple question but I am open to any and all answers...I find my political views excepting a very few far right beliefs all fall far I have my ducks in a row or do these two worlds necessarily conflict....and yes, I am voting for Obama.
posted by snap_dragon to Law & Government (55 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My view (which should be taken with a grain of salt, as I am Jewish and definitively NOT an evangelic Christian) is this:

The teachings of Jesus Christ focus on loving your fellow man, charity, and whatnot. If it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven and one is supposed to turn the other cheek, how can an evangelic Christian vote for the conservatives in good faith? I know: two issues are abortion and gay marriage, but it's interesting how the opponents of those things go to Old Testament rather than the teaching of Jesus. I can't help but think that other issues are more important....
posted by JMOZ at 3:01 PM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Why should they? You can believe whatever you like personally, and still have a live and let live attitude towards other people, and a sense of social responsibility. Go for it.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 3:01 PM on September 24, 2008

Can you separate your religion from your politics? If so, then you can do what you said...and there's no way you can work for the republicans right now.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:05 PM on September 24, 2008

Christ was the ultimate tolerant liberal. And, some would say, an evangelist to boot.

So yes, it's totally possible, provided that you believe those whole "love one another" and "don't condemn one another" parts of Jesus's teachings, and choose to ignore the blowhard evangelists of the modern day whose priorities, despite what they tell you, really have nothing to do with replicating Christ's message.

When people criticize "liberals," what do they point to? Tolerance and acceptance of alternative lifestyles. (Destroying marriage!) Helping people -- sometimes with public money -- who have fallen on hard times. (Handouts to the lazy!) Believing that those who have wronged can be rehabilitated. (Soft on crime!)

Jesus would be all for those things. Jesus WAS all for those things.

I would even argue that people who go out and evangelize for Jesus, but who exhibit all those noxious judgments that turn many of us off of religion, are DOING IT ALL WRONG.

Note: I am not religious, but I think Jesus was pretty cool.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:08 PM on September 24, 2008 [12 favorites]

I'm with JMOZ. It seems to me that, if Jesus would personally advocate anything, it would be an essentially liberal position. Feed the poor, comfort the afflicted, leave the judgment to Him and his Dad.
posted by philip-random at 3:09 PM on September 24, 2008

posted by goethean at 3:10 PM on September 24, 2008

Jimmy Carter seems to think it's possible. (cf. 1 2 3)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:19 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I came in here all ready to post and found that BitterOldPunk stole all the links outta my head. Also see recent FPP on Slacktivist for exposure to such a creature in the wild.
posted by desuetude at 3:20 PM on September 24, 2008

Evangelical Climate Initiative.
posted by lilac girl at 3:26 PM on September 24, 2008

I think C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity that if everyone were a true, by-the-(general ideas not nit-picky craziness)-book Christian, the world would be socialist.
posted by phunniemee at 3:27 PM on September 24, 2008

Yes. I am related to deeply religious evangelicals who are also lifelong Democrats. There's absolutely no reason why people cannot be both.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:34 PM on September 24, 2008

Oh, good grief yes. My religious background (Mennonite) is extremely conservative and yet fundamentally incompatible with today's right wing. Separation of church and state, pacificism, tolerance, stewardship, ...
posted by madmethods at 3:41 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's possible to be both a theological conservative and political liberal. Many of the links above do go to self-described "Evangelicals" who are clearly on the political left.

But a word of warning: pretty much every one of those groups are generally considered theologically liberal, not just politically liberal. Jim Wallis and Bart Campolo in particular are infamous for theological liberalism and don't seem to have much room in their stories for a thoroughgoing doctrine of sin. In my observations, the Left seems to operate from an assumption that people are basically okay, they just need a little help sometimes and that the government should provide that help. Regardless of your political sentiments, that assumption is essentially impossible to harmonize with most orthodox traditions of Christianity, not because of its conclusions about government (Christianity is actually all over the map on that one), but because orthodox Christianity has always considered man to be fundamentally broken on a spiritual level.

What this means is that though it is possible to support many policies traditionally associated with the political Left and maintain a solid commitment to Christian orthodoxy, you probably can't use most of the theoretical justifications offered in support of those policies by the rest of the Left, and the justifications you can offer may well be greeted with some degree of hostility.

There really aren't all that many theologically conservative/politically liberal people out there, and I don't know of many American public intellectuals who would be considered such. Obama certainly isn't an example: he's just as liberal theologically as politically (which is to say very).
posted by valkyryn at 3:42 PM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

...forgot non-materialism...
posted by madmethods at 3:43 PM on September 24, 2008

Is there a Bible for liberals?
posted by HotPatatta at 3:46 PM on September 24, 2008

Consider the Jesuits, snap_dragon, whose members over the last century or two have embraced quite literally every form of politics, from Christian socialism to liberal humanism to support for Communist insurgencies and Fascist dictatorships. If the SJs can agree on the basics of Christianity despite disagreeing with each other so thoroughly on everything else, so can you.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:55 PM on September 24, 2008

I actually don't understand how one can be a Christian and be a Republican. Other than abortion and gay rights (and the latter is iffy), nothing in the Republican party line matches up to Jesus' teachings.
posted by timoni at 4:34 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Valkyryn has it.

Generally "Christian Evangelical" has come to mean, in the popular sense, someone who takes a literalistic view of scripture. It's hard to square politically liberal views with a theological understanding that says homosexuality is an abomination, women should be submissive, etc. (Just using those as examples...)

Of course, there isn't a devout, deeply conservative Evangelical out there today who could pass the mustard with some of their fellows from a few centuries back. They are all theologically liberal in some ways today because western civilization has had a neutralizing effect on religious ideology.
posted by wfrgms at 4:42 PM on September 24, 2008

...though it is possible to support many policies traditionally associated with the political Left and maintain a solid commitment to Christian orthodoxy...

In a roundabout way, this sort of reiterates the point I was trying to make. I don't think Jesus would have put orthodoxy before all else. It's only 2000 years of self-serving humanhood that's turned orthodoxy into the be-all, end-all of piety.

If you want to be a good Christian, be a good Christian for your god (and, of course, for the people around you) -- not for your church.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:48 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't mean to be self defeating here, but, within Christianity, we have the end foretold in revelation. There is a dizzying amount of information to consider, we are largely blind to the spiritual underpinnings of aspects of life that seem benign, or even good. I would advise being honest and forthright in your relationship with Christ, your impact is only so big, and with the end being foretold already, this nullifies our actual impact except for how the matter is dealt with in our souls.

Embarrissingly enough, I voted for George Bush in his initial run for president. That was one of the first times I ever voted. I remember it being very hard to consider the alternative with the leverage of the pro-life set and other conservative fixations. I have grown a lot in the last eight years. The world has proven to be more complex than I ever expected.

One thing that really changed me was an awakening to non-violence. I was reading Vonnegut novels at the time, he woke me up to some of the aspects of war as an experience, and took me out of the paradigm of looking positively at violence. Further, I read a book by Mark Kurlansky on non-violence. I was struck by how much own conservative evangelical roots were simultaneously supportive of war and violence, but vehemently opposed to abortion. The contradiction there is gross. I have become aware that Jesus, with the exception of his return in revelations, doesn't at any point say anything that legitimizes his followers using violence in any manner. Christianity has no borders, the nations that wage war do. Political and national entities are of the world and not the kingdom of God, while it is ok to be a good influence in participation, as Christians we are to recognize the sovereignty of Christ above political allegience.

Augustine and others may have legitimized violence in their philosophies, but do not posess the authority of the Bible. The most basic Christian teaching, like the sermon on the mount, spoken from Jesus' own mouth denounces violence from His followers.

I think it is important to observe how certain issues, like abortion, can be used to manipulate a consensus through the disproportionate amount of attention placed upon them. With out those volatile and emotional issues on the table, it would be interesting to see how people would vote.
posted by Vague_Blur at 4:49 PM on September 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

The book of Romans, in The Message has a wonderful chapter, 14, that I think addresses your question very well. It's easy reading, (in Eugene Peterson's simply-worded 'translation') and I think speaks to the freedom we have as Christians to draw conclusions on issues not strictly defined as "right" or "wrong" issues, but of personal understanding and conscience. Ultimately our accountability is to God and truth...which are one and the same. But clearly, according to this chapter, the lines can be individually drawn within the framework of an individual's understanding of Truth presented in the Bible.

I hope this makes some does to me, but may not be at all enlightening to you. (Which I guess goes along with the above, strictly speaking!) ; )
posted by mumstheword at 5:04 PM on September 24, 2008

Generally "Christian Evangelical" has come to mean, in the popular sense, someone who takes a literalistic view of scripture.

But this is the definition of fundamentalist, not evangelical. The purpose of evangelism is to spread the news of the New Testament & save souls. That fundamentalists are evangelical does not mean that evangelicals are all fundamentalist.
posted by desuetude at 5:22 PM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Heavens yes. My church, one of those bastions of upper-middle class Seattle evangelical Christianity, is probably 50% Obama supporters, including the pastor. (A private Obama supporter, BTW, not from the pulpit, as that's just really bad.)
posted by dw at 5:27 PM on September 24, 2008

On a practical level, no political party is going to align 100% with the Gospel. You need to make the choice that is most logical for you. If you think that the left has the right plan, vote liberal.

On a spiritual level: who did Jesus advocate for? You want Matthew 25:41-46. Your political choices, if you feel they should align with Jesus' teaching, ought to prioritize the poor, the sick, the imprisoned. To my mind, that means addressing poverty, access to healthcare, and social justice around the prison system in a way that advocates most strongly for the oppressed. Of course, the abortion issue can seem daunting, but if you think about the statistics around who has abortions and why, I think there's a compelling argument to be made that a non-medieval approach to birth control and sex education as well as providing social programs to the low-income women most likely to have abortions for economic reasons is more effective and more Christ-like than simply trying to outlaw abortion.

I'm no longer a practicing evangelical, but I still know what it feels like to be one. I know that it can truly feel like low taxes and deregulation are part of God's plan for the reign of His Kingdom, but if you read what Jesus said, that's simply not the case.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:50 PM on September 24, 2008

Other than abortion and gay rights (and the latter is iffy), nothing in the Republican party line matches up to Jesus' teachings.

Even with abortion, nothing matches-- since what a person believes has nothing to do with what a women wants to do with her own body.
posted by Zambrano at 6:07 PM on September 24, 2008

Previously: Born again liberal Christians

Christ was the ultimate tolerant liberal

this is monstrously incorrect: tolerant, not really. liberal? as a category it didn't even really exist in the first century of the Common era, and certainly not in Palestine.

the Jesus-as-liberal-college-professor image of Yeshua of Nazareth advertised by liberal clergy is as historically incorrect as the Jesus-as-pro-rich-pro-war-Republican-nutzoid preached by the American Right.

just read the Gospels, don't believe me.
posted by matteo at 6:08 PM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

it's interesting how the opponents of those things go to Old Testament rather than the teaching of Jesus

And it's not only abortion and gay marriage for which they go to the Old Testament, but almost all tenets of what can be loosely called the "Christian Right" eschatology. I really think that such people have corrupted the word "Christian"
posted by Neiltupper at 6:12 PM on September 24, 2008

Other than abortion and gay rights (and the latter is iffy), nothing in the Republican party line matches up to Jesus' teachings

wrong, the Gospels are silent on both issues. in the letters, Paul -- even if much of the material on the topic has not been written by him, it's deutero-pauline stuff -- does indeed rant against same-sexers, Jesus never does. it's important to remember that Paul never met Jesus of Nazareth (visions aside).

gay sex, in the Hebrew Bible instead, is an abomination punishable by death. Jesus never mentions it, though. who knows what he thought.

the only material where one can draw opposition to abortion comes from a few lines in the Hebrew Bible* -- not even the Torah but the Psalms, actually, and the interpretation is very open, so much that Augustine did not consider abortion murder, neither did Aquinas. "life begins as conception" is a much recent idea, let's say about 200 years old.

so if you're a believer you can side either with Augustine and Aquinas, or with Sarah Palin. your, ahem, choice.

* since Jewish law only punished people who provoked abortions with a fine, not with death because they were not considered murderers
posted by matteo at 6:24 PM on September 24, 2008

Jesus never mentions it, though. who knows what he thought.

He thought we should love one another and not stand in judgment.
posted by philip-random at 6:52 PM on September 24, 2008

When I worked on Democrats' campaigns, lots of the staffers were very Christian. Don't believe anyone who tries to tell you that you can't be liberal and a Christian. Personally, I feel like a lot of conservative policy positions in the United States go against Bible teachings and sow hatred.
posted by Nattie at 7:26 PM on September 24, 2008

In your search, perhaps you're looking in the wrong direction. You're scanning the congregation of your home church and trying to find people who think like you do.

Try getting a little more politically and socially involved in causes that you care about, and find people who think like you do. Find your fellow Christians among the people you meet there. Those are the people who will be able to answer your question, hopefully in the affirmative.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 7:35 PM on September 24, 2008

Can a person be an evangelical Christian and still be a political liberal?

If their Christianity is actually rooted in the teachings of Christ and their own conscience, as opposed to something they just go along with to retain a sense of connection with the community they grew up in: sure.
posted by flabdablet at 7:51 PM on September 24, 2008

I am a Christian and my church, the United Methodist Church, has a rather liberal social positions on most issues. However, we are also considered an evangelical church, because we believe in new birth, the importance of a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the resurrection, the incarnation, the importance of sharing one's faith, and the authority of scripture, although in a way that differs greatly from Fundamentalism, as it invites modern biblical criticism and differences of opinion. In fact, both Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush have felt at home as members in our churches, although I'm not sure how often Bush has showed up.

So I consider myself both evangelical and a liberal. The Christian faith teaches me, among other things, that all humans are made in the image of God, that Christ was amazingly inclusive in his ministry, that he is uniquely incarnate in the the poor and oppressed, and the he calls his disciples, even today, to work of mercy, grace, forgiveness, justice, meeting people's most basic needs, and confronting the social structures that harm and oppress.

So I write letters to elected officials, drive all over the place speaking on social issues, mainly related to Sudan, work in inner-city neighborhoods repairing houses, care for the sick and bereaved, try to care for the environment, think about what I buy. Stuff like that. I try, as best I can, to live by the words attributed to St. Francis: "Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words."

Methodism's founder was John Wesley, who lived in taught in such a way that these words have been attributed to him:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

For me, the way I can do the most good in this election is to vote for Barak Obama. So I am.
posted by 4ster at 9:43 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Jesus was right out there against heterosexual divorce and remarriage. Never mentioned the gay. Never mentioned the abortion. But there He was on the divorce issue. (In Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:3-9.)

And yet you don't see many Evangelicals suggesting that heterosexual divorce and remarriage should be outlawed, do you? Kind of makes you think that some people who claim to be four-square Gospel are cherry-picking a bit...
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:48 PM on September 24, 2008

My grandfather was a minister and theologian. He was a great Christian and also a hardcore Democrat/Liberal who believed in giving to those in need and looking out for others, as well as respecting people from all walks of life. It never seemed contradictory in the least.
posted by kosmonaut at 10:23 PM on September 24, 2008

Kind of makes you think that some people who claim to be four-square Gospel are cherry-picking a bit...

I think you find this in political opportunists of all stripes.
posted by philip-random at 10:45 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think you can be consistently Christian regardless of political leaning.

Here's how one sliver of a thought: Yes, Jesus said to give and help the poor, for example. The Left often points to this in support of welfare and other social programs. The Right will also agree with it and note that the giving is done by people, not mandated by government and turned into "redistribution of wealth."

Both sides have a legitimate point. We all have to decide what kind of country we want to live in, and act and vote accordingly.

But add to the mix the fact that both parties are guilty of claiming that a certain law will help certain people, when often that is not the case, and many laws are passed for pure political gain.

Which is where something else Jesus said comes in handy: "I send you out as sheep among wolves. Be wise as serpents but gentle as doves."
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 12:31 AM on September 25, 2008

Well I guess I'll be the one contrarian on this thread. I don't think one can be consistently Christian and vote for a candidate who supports abortion. Here's my reasoning: Yes, there are many other important issues besides abortion, just as there is much more to a house than its foundation. But as the foundation goes, so goes the rest. It is an absurd society which advocates tolerance, acceptance, and love of neighbor...yet denies these very same neighbors the right to even be born. How can human life be deemed sacred enough to warrant certain "human rights" if it is not deemed sacred enough to warrant it the right to life itself? The basic right to life is fundamental; it is ontologically prior to all other rights...and the very condition of all other rights. Hence, denying the basic right to life undermines and erodes all other rights. It is a danger to everyone whenever a society allows itself to declare an entire class of human beings—be it blacks, Jews, or the unborn—outside the protection of the law. I agree that there are many things that need to be changed in our society, but among them, the deliberate killing of our own children needs to be highest on the list; for if the basic right to life is denied, then the dignity of the human person is significantly undermined, placing all other human rights on shaking ground.
posted by keith0718 at 3:10 AM on September 25, 2008

Focus on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. That gets you all the way to liberal. Anything involving Paul or the Old Testament will swing you back the other way. Single issue voters are generally unable to handle complexity in religious or moral issues, so they tend to focus on one aspect of one problem.

Here are examples of questions to consider that might help you if you are focused on Jesus rather than the bible as a whole:

1. How does Jesus ask us to follow him? By making laws or by living every day in the service of others? Did Jesus encourage political action or personal action? To Jesus, does obeying God involve compelling others to obey God? Does Jesus convert through political force or military power? Or does Jesus convert by example, by service, by sacrifice?

2. How we solve problems is more important than the problems themselves because we can't guarantee that the solutions will work. Obama wants to reduce abortions by changing the socio-economic environment... is this a strategy that Jesus would endorse? Will it work? (did for Sweden) The Right wants to reduce abortions by making them illegal. Will this work? Does Jesus change hearts through political action?

3. What are Jesus' public policy priorities? Poverty? Health care? Freedom of worship? Economic Justice? Or would you say it was Lower Taxes? Capital Punishment? Gun Rights? Deregulation?

When you force the conversation to focus on Jesus specifically, rather than the bible as a whole, you tend to find that there is very little Jesus in the Republican Platform. The Christian Right is really the Old Testament-St. Paul Right. That's where they look for their inspiration.
posted by ewkpates at 4:40 AM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

One thing that I think separates liberal from conservative Christians is how they view the role of our government. I find that conservative Christians believe that the country was founded on Christian principles and needs to preserve a particular way of life, whereas liberal Christians believe that the country was founded on the idea of personal liberty and the idea that government should protect their freedom.

In action, this allows conservatives to advocate things like defending traditional marriage and advocating prayer in schools, while liberals advocate things like gay rights and separation of church and state.

Conservative Christians tend to think that people need to be told what to do--that they need a shepherd--while liberal Christians tend to think that people are smart enough to decide what's best for themselves--but that even those who can't should have resources available if they decide to.

I myself have made the journey from Christian conservative to liberal and it is entirely possible to be a liberal and maintain a strong faith in God. (full disclosure: I am now a nonbeliever) However, conservative Christians can also have a strong mob/herd mentality so don't let yourself be bullied into going with the crowd. If anything, this should help you examine your beliefs much more closely and establish whether you're holding them because everyone else does, or because you're being personally convicted.

"In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" 1 Peter 3:15
posted by sambosambo at 5:12 AM on September 25, 2008

Part of the problem is the words you use. Evangelical has different meanings depending on the context. It can refer to those who are members of the Evangelical movement, a conservative, literalist, fundamentalist movement. This is a co-opted meaning and is actually inaccurate. It can also, and more accurately mean those who believe in evangelism, or spreading the gospel.

Members of the evangelical movement, generally believe that there is a strict interpritation of the scriptures. These "strict" interpritations, as they are presently stated by the majority of the movement's membership do tend to conflict with what the American political left tends to proscribe to. The problem is that neither the strict literalist interpritation nor the platform of the American left are fixed in stone. Sure, many will try and say that they are, but this is not true. There are as many interpritations of the bible's fundamentals as there are churches in a small American town. Schism and disagreement is common and some don't believe in fundamentals that conflict whatsoever. Also the platform planks of the left are nebulous at best. Any attempt to say otherwise is an attempt by the right to curry favor and create wedge issues.

Now, as far as te other, more accurately called evangelical Christians, there is absolutely nothing in the spreading of the gospel that conflicts with the platforms of any political party. Doing good works and living an exemplary life, for example, are not restricted to Republicans or Democrats.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:52 AM on September 25, 2008

Yes, it's quite clear that it's possible to belong within the broad spectrum of the Christian faith and be a political liberal. Yes, the mainline denominations and those with Anabaptist roots are politically liberal.

But that's not what the poster was asking. The question is whether it's possible to be an Evangelical and a political liberal, which is a far narrower question, and one which most of the respondents have not really addressed. The Evangelical movement is characterized, not by fundamentalism--self-described Fundamentalists are way to the right of Evangelicals on almost everything--but by a self-conscious attempt to be faithful to the interpretations of Scripture handed down for the past 2000 years. Theological liberals self-consciously don't care about this and are frequently self-conscious about trying to depart from that tradition, which they view as backwards and narrow. You can be a Christian and politically liberal, sure, but the question here is whether it's possible to be an Evangelical, i.e. theologically conservative, and politically liberal. Rather than answer this, most of the respondents have said things along the lines of "Why would you want to be an Evangelical?", which isn't particularly helpful.

In discussions like these it's useful to remember Jesus' interactions with the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees were largely middle-class, theologically and politically conservative, and very serious about adhering to their traditions. The Sadducees were cultural elites, collaborators with the Roman occupiers, and viewed the spiritual world in general--and the concept of resurrection in particular--as antiquated niceties that educated people no longer took seriously. The Pharisees would have appeared to us to be generally conservative, and the Sadducees generally liberal.

Jesus condemned both of them, but in different ways. He condemned the Pharisees for not really understanding the religion they professed to uphold. They weren't exactly wrong about what they thought the law required, but they were wrong about what the law was for. Yet he expected them to do and know better and was frequently angry at their shocking ignorance in the presence of such serious study of Scripture.

On the other hand, Jesus never even really bothered engaging with the liberal Sadducees. The one time he clearly confronts them on a question of Scripture, he says "You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God." Check Matthew 22. He never seems to have expected them to know better. If anything, he writes them off completely. Why? Because they don't take God seriously. They were more concerned about their respectability and status than about God's Word.

Also note that the Sadducees were the first ones to agitate for Jesus execution. Why? Because he represented a threat to their cultural position. It was not until the Pharisees joined with them that they were able to carry out the crucifixion--but also note that both parties did support it.

Again, if you want to be taken seriously as an Evangelical, being a theological liberal really isn't an option. The mainline denominations--United Methodists, mainline Presbyterians, Episcopalians--are not Evangelical, and what's more, they're dying, and rapidly. The most vibrant parts of them are actually pretty conservative, and defecting in large numbers. Plenty of these are politically liberal as well, but there has yet to appear a coherent group of people who are theologically conservative and politically liberal.

The closest you're likely to get to a public figure espousing such a position is Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. His theological bona fides are beyond question, but to the extent that he talks about politics he falls on the Left most of the time.
posted by valkyryn at 7:28 AM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

What I've been taught, and what I see in scripture, is that there are essentially three channels, if you will, of God's authority in the Earth ("...there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God."). There is family ("Honor thy Father and Mother..."), church ("Christ is also the head of the church...", and government ("Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities..."). He established these for our benefit and when they start go outside of their designated roles you get things like the Crusades (church trying to assume government's authority) or Communism (government trying to assume church's authority).

I don't think you'll find many people that would argue that Christ taught kindness, helping the poor and downtrodden, generosity, etc., right? Of course, but he is giving these directives to the church. I also don't think many people would argue that the church isn't doing a very good job at fulfilling it's mandate in this respect.

That brings us to the million dollar question. To the extent that the church is failing in this regard, should the government step in to handle all these social issues? Those that think so could could certainly be considered conservative theologically and liberal politically. I happen to think that God would prefer to leave a vacuum and, in doing so, cause the the church to wake up and begin fulfilling her mandate. My view is that when government steps into the church's role you have at best an extremely inefficient, expensive, and mostly ineffective bureaucracy. At worst, you have a steady progression towards socialism and possibly even communism.
posted by jluce50 at 8:07 AM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Christ didn't give direction to the church as much as he gave direction to individuals. He gave no direction at all to government.

So anyone who thinks government or church should be focused on following Jesus is missing it. These institutions should not be centralized authorities for implementing god's will as both religious conservatives and social conservatives would like. These should be service organizations with regard to morality, more akin to moral thrift stores than either moral walmarts or moral police departments.

One great way to see the range of choices here is to look to more liberal/socialist countries and more conservative/oligarchies. Wealth and power can be distributed in both directions. When trying to match religion to politics, its nice to see what the logical consequence is in terms of taxes, culture, and religion.
posted by ewkpates at 8:17 AM on September 25, 2008

Another way to put what I posted above would have been, "Separation of church and state is a two way street."

I agree. I certainly don't think government, as an entity, should be focused on following Jesus in the sense of implementing His will (which is just another way of saying what I said above). I think the followers of Jesus in government should follow the example of Jesus while respecting the limitations of their role. It's not in anyone's job description to impose any sort of spirituality on anyone else, via legislation or anything else. Which, as it happens, is exactly what the first amendment is for. The broad meaning many attribute to it today simply isn't found in the words of the Bill of Rights, but that's a discussion for another day ;-).
posted by jluce50 at 8:42 AM on September 25, 2008

This is weird. When I first saw this question posted, I was pretty certain we were headed for some kind of derailment on the tracks ahead. Instead, I'm actually feeling kind of inspired. For instance, I would never have gone looking for something like this.
posted by philip-random at 9:44 AM on September 25, 2008

I think it's important to see one's faith as being bigger than any one political scene. The Religious Right in America does not have a monopoly on what it means to live as a Christian. There are Christians all over the world, many in countries where the political landscape is completely different than the one we see here in America. It's your faith that makes you Christian, not your political affiliations. All the rest is just lifestyle choices.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:06 AM on September 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Can a person be an evangelical Christian and still be a political liberal?

The answer is yes but I think the better question is not that this is possible (if you notice the answers in this thread, you'll notice plenty of examples of people who are politically liberal and very religious) but, rather, why do you view Christianity throught the political designs of the right? How has "being evangelical Christian" mean only the religious right and their fundamentalistic, literalistic, flawed (imo) interperation of scripture and orthodoxy can be evangelical? And why do you believe that?

While others in this thread might try to paint Jesus in liberalistic terms or others might argue the idea of orthodoxy and theology, I think it is more important for you to realize why you believe being a christian means you have to be politically conservative. Do conservatives have a chokehold on Scripture? Are they the only individuals allowed to interpert the Bible? Are they the gatekeepers of not only theology but of also the implementation of that theology? Why do you agree with that and why are you letting their views dictate yours? Why does their cultural lens dictate all of your theology?

I will disagree that evangelical means theologically conservative (and thus orthdox but those two terms are not the same and it is wrong to equate the two). The theology of the moment in the US that took the term evangelical is not theologically conservative - it is culturally conservative. The cultural lens of that moment forces them to read and view the scriptures in a very narrow way. A conserative cultural lens will turn anyone, regardless of religion, into a conservative and will force that individual or group to taint everything around them with that same conservative cultural lens. So the "trick" (and it's not really a trick) is to understand the cultural lens that you are applying to scripture and realizing that your cultural lens might be wrong and might miss what Scripture, the Holy Ghost, and God is trying to tell you.

I can be classified as evangelical, orthodox, mainline but I still am politically liberal. And why? Because I see Christ as a liberator who's birth among the squalor of Galiee, his public ministry, his passion and his resurrection teach us to struggle against evil and teach us that Christ is on the side of the poor, the disadvantaged, the miserable, those who suffer and those who are marginalized by society. When we are told to help the poor, we are not told to merely give them food while reinforcing the cultural and societal conditions to keep them poor and to keep us better than them. We are to rise them up and to do our part to push them above us. The story of our salvation is not merely to remain static and in the status quo and to keep others apart from us. We are taught and told to reconcile and to bring together those who are not only different from ourselves but also those who are like ourselves. To love our neighbors as ourselves is not restricted to those who live in our gated community.
posted by Stynxno at 11:41 AM on September 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

Stynxno, you're still failing to take into account the difference between cultural conservatism/liberalism and theological conservatism/liberalism. The story of the Gospel you present in your last paragraph isn't exactly what the church has historically taught. That is of course your prerogative, but it does put you out of step with traditional orthodoxy. Your story sounds a lot like liberation theology, a distinctly liberal theological movement.

One might even make the argument that you're politically liberal because of your own sentiments and then choose to let that "cultural lens" affect your interpretation of Scripture. Not trying to make an accusation here, but I would take issue with your claim that it's only "cultural conservatives" that are imposing their own perspectives on Scripture.
posted by valkyryn at 12:11 PM on September 25, 2008

I'm seeing a lot of people saying that Jesus would be liberal because liberalism is for the weak and downtrodden. I agree. But Jesus would not be "pro-choice", because, unlike modern liberalism, He would consider the unborn person part of the weak and downtrodden and would not subject the well-being of an entire class of persons to the choice of another.

Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. (Mt 25:40)
posted by keith0718 at 3:20 AM on October 1, 2008

I'm pretty sure that Jesus would want to see the science behind the claim that cells=people, and there really isn't any.

I'm also pretty sure that he would be concerned with the claim that brain dead people are alive.

He was, after all, a very well educated person.
posted by ewkpates at 10:22 AM on October 1, 2008

[a few comments removed -- this is not a referendum on abortion. Please address the OP's quetion or take it to metatalk or email. thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:49 AM on October 6, 2008

Christ was the ultimate tolerant liberal.

No he wasn't. He was the ultimate forgiving liberal. He didn't tolerate. Not in the least. If you don't understand that then you need to read the gospels again.

That said, I think if you call yourself a Christian and you're not acutely liberal on a great many of these issues (social justice, care for the poor, etc.), then you're not a very good Christian.

Sadly, I don't think many of us Christians are very good Christians. I know I can do better.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:14 PM on October 30, 2008

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