Daily Archives: June 17, 2014

The Path Less Travelled: Being a “Liberal Moderate” in a Polarized Society

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Somewhere along the path from conservatism to moderation I got labeled.

I got labeled with the “L” Word. No, not the “Lesbian” “L” Word which is actually kind of cool, but the other less socially acceptable one, the “Liberal” label.

I remember back in 1981 when I saw my first Lesbian couple walking together at California State University Northridge. I was sitting on the lawn outside of the office that I worked and they walked by. As a typical male I was enthralled by what I saw, but that enthrallment was short lived as when I walked back into the office I heard that my hero, President Ronald Reagan had been shot and that retired Army General, former Nixon aide and now Secretary of State Al Haig was now in charge of the country.

To tell the truth I don’t know how the transformation from Conservative to Moderate (read Liberal) happened. When I was in college I cheered the demise of Jimmy Carter. After college the same was true about Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis. Al Gore and even John Kerry. I listened to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Neil Boortz as much as I could. Not even 7 years ago I was defending “W” against what I thought were unfair assaults from the left. I enjoyed liberal bashing. It was fun and as the people that knew me back then could tell you I was quite good at it and to this day I regret it.

You see a funny thing happened between 2004 and now. I think it was a place called Iraq, where I began to question the unquestionable questions of conservative orthodoxy in a number of forums including both politics and religion. I became a moderate and a passionate one at that. Since “moderate” is a very misunderstood term let me explain. If you are a conservative it means that I am a liberal. Some liberals assume that I am a conservative but on the whole the word moderate is now associated as being liberal and I am okay with that because I believe in freedom, equity and fraternity for everyone, not just people that are like me or believe like me, especially religious types.

I actually think being a moderate is really a tricky thing. Back when I was in seminary during the pre-Fundamentalist takeover of Southwestern Baptist Seminary I remember hearing a big name Fundamentalist preacher say that “middle of the road moderates were only good to be run over.” One of my professors who would be a casualty of the takeover of the seminary said that for many in the Southern Baptist Convention of the time that “Liberal means anyone to the left of me.”

Now I do have to confess, unlike a lot of people when they get older and become more conservative I have become more “liberal” in that I am more accepting of people different than me. I was talking with a dear friend a while back who is proud of his Tea Party affiliation and he mentioned that when he was young that he was a liberal but now older that he was a conservative. I have no problem with that, it is a free county. My friend, who is still a friend despite political differences, maintains his beliefs, but gives me room to differ, something that I return to him. Both of us feel that friendship is more important, and I can count numerous other friends that I have the same kind of relationship with.

BuFor me it is a bit of a conundrum. I have friends who are way to the Left or to the Right of me who I respect and who I care for, we agree to disagree. The fact is that in reality I am a very pragmatic person and I would rather see people work towards compromise and cooperation so that the vast majority of people can prosper in freedom. So I choose to be friends with people far different from one another and who disagree with me. But we are still friends, my issue is not with people of good will, but with people who seek to stand as judge, jury and executioner of those that disagree with them, even former friends.

As far as what I believe…I am a Christian who believes in tolerance, acceptance and equity. I reject the militant triumphalist political version of the Christian faith that is the creed of the religious right, which by the way has nothing to do with any of the historic Creeds of the Christian Church. To put it in a Christian theological perspective I believe in the grace, love and mercy of the the Crucified God and reject the politically charged triumphalism of those who use my faith to oppress others who do not believe the way that they do. That being said I also reject the idea that religion and faith should be excluded from public discourse, only that there is an open exchange of ideas and not the imposition of any faith or lack thereof, on others using the police power of the state. If I want that I will move to Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan or any other country that uses its laws to enforce the majority religion, and suppress the rights of religious minorities or unbelievers or Communist China if I want to live under the tank treads of official state controlled atheism.

After I returned from Iraq I was for all intents and purposes an agnostic, a pretty difficult position to be a priest, but my sense of call and vocation kept me going even when I didn’t know if God still existed or even cared. When faith returned it was different, I believe but at the same time I doubt. This transformation in faith has made me more willing to question as well as accept things that I would not have before Iraq including the role of the church in politics, the treatment and rights of the LGBT community to equity, the rights of Moslems and other religious minorities and probably the cardinal sin of believing that women should be ordained to the priesthood and episcopate. Voicing those things back in 2010 got me thrown out of a church, so I know just how tolerant some of my Christian brothers and sisters can be. In fact there is a recent Pew survey which spelled out just how personal and vindictive the religious, political and cultural divide has become, having been turned on by people I thought to be friends, I know that well. I don’t like it but it is part of life now days in the new cultural-religious “ante-bellum” United States. I could go into other social issues that have a religious component but won’t right now, but I will say that I believe in a theology of liberation for all people. Again if that makes this “moderate” a “liberal” in the eyes of some so be it.

It was funny a couple of months ago I had a retired Navy Chaplain blast me here on this site for calling myself a “moderate.” He labeled me as a liberal. Obviously he had the same definition of moderation as the fundamentalists that said that a moderate was only good to be run over. But I won’t be run over and if that means that some people label me a liberal, so be it. I think there is honor in that, and I would rather be honorable to what I believe than sell out and become a modern Christian Pharisee intent on controlling the lives of others that do not believe like me.

However there are times that I feel that I am pissing into the wind when I watch those that we all have elected to office in Washington DC and our various State Houses behave, especially those of the more radical “conservative” bent, though I know some liberals who are have an equally invective edge. I am probably not alone in this feeling and do hope that the hard liners on both sides of the political spectrum can get their collective crap together before the plunge us into the abyss like the politicians of Weimar Germany did in the late 1920s and early 1930s. We all know how well that turned out.

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All that being said I am still a moderate, but in today’s social and political climate I am a distinctly liberal one, and for that I will not apologize. If that makes some angry or uncomfortable than I have done my job, as Finley Peter Dunne first remarked, it is my duty “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

So until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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