When my kids were young they would bait me to chase them by calling me “Hot Lava.” If that didn’t get me out of my chair, they’d resort to “Mrs. Hot Lava.” As a final blow, one of them would chance the ultimate provocation: “You can’t catch me, ‘Old Guy!'” Similarly in public life, labels provoke. Worse, they can be just a lazy way to dismiss what we don’t fully understand. Labels often reinforce a binary, us-vs-them world. I’ve tinkered with a few of them below. Would you wear one of these?
What if someone called you…
Is a liberal someone driven by guilt or indignation to contrive a utopia rather than trusting in healthy principles proven to work for the common good?” Count me out.
However, if liberal represents someone who engages generously across cultural lines, curious to explore a world full of customs and ideas, who strives for progress in every creative endeavor while stewarding God’s creation, then tag me.
Is a conservative someone who stands aloof when a public system favors some and not others, who ignores the inequities baked into our culture and who thinks life is a game of “every man for himself?” Count me out.
However, if conservative represents someone who sees the benefit of personal responsibility, who also recognizes how some values transcend time and place and wants to save the baby when a new movement is throwing out the bathwater, then tag me.
Is that someone who thinks truth is only in the eye of the beholder, who discounts beliefs as merely subjective, who wants unity at any cost, even the cost of the sublime? Count me out.
However if it represents an effort to find common ground, listening well to discern the value under an opinion while staying teachable in the process, then tag me.
Are Evangelicals judgmental, narrow, moralists, using politics to maintain the status quo and defined by what they are against rather than for? Count me out.
However, if they are humbly responsive to God as a higher authority, reaching out to people on the margins of life with both compassion and conviction, then tag me.
Martin Marty said, “It is a fact of public life that when it comes to religion and politics, the committed lack civility and the civil often lack conviction.” I’d like to see people dial back their reactions and understand what they are for rather than against. That subtle but crucial shift is the key to “convicted civility.”
“The beginning of wisdom is this: get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:7)