When my children were young and wanted me in their game of tag, they called me “Hot Lava.” If that bait failed, they’d try “Mrs. Hot Lava.” If I still did not respond, one of them would pull out the ultimate provocation: “You can’t catch me, ‘Old Guy!’” In public life, labels do more than provoke. They dismiss. They discredit a point of view without having to deal with it. Let’s unveil the dark and bright sides of four common labels.
What if someone called you…
Is a liberal someone who ignores human nature in pursuit of the perfect? Who presses for a quick fix in the name of compassion rather than a disciplined, long-term solution? Someone whose own feelings of guilt are enmeshed and sometimes in conflict with the best interest of the victims they seek to help? Count me out.
However, if a liberal is one who can wrestle with complexity and embrace nuance, who stays curious and strives for progress in every creative endeavor while stewarding God’s creation, then tag me.
“Socialism would kill enterprise; Liberalism would rescue enterprise from the trammels of privilege and preference. Socialism exalts the rule; Liberalism exalts the man. Socialism attacks capitalism; Liberalism attacks monopoly.”Winston Churchill
Is a conservative someone who stands aloof when a public system favors some and not others, ignoring inequities baked into our culture and considers life a game of “every man for himself?” Who, agrees with Ayn Rand that Atlas should shrug off the weight of the world entirely? Count me out.
However, if a conservative is one who sees dignity in work and personal responsibility, who recognizes principles that transcend time and place, who looks for the baby in the bathwater when a new movement brings change, then tag me.
“To be conservative, then, is to prefer…the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.”Michael Oakeshott
Is this someone who separates private values from public facts? Who sees beliefs as mere preference, privileging individual wants over community needs? Count me out.
However if it is someone who can stay both connected and teachable, who can stand in the gray of differences long enough to discern a common cause or a common value under a difference of opinion, then tag me.
“Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”G.K. Chesterton
Are Evangelicals judgmental, narrow, moralists, using politics and power to assert their will? Are they more interested in outward behavior than motivations of the heart? Count me out.
However, if they are humble but hopeful in the midst of the human condition, especially their own– if they turn outward with a face of compassion but maintain a heart of conviction, then tag me.
“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.”Martin Marty
Faith in Public Life
One scene in The Lord of the Rings speaks a word of caution to our age of illiberal politics and over-correction. The main character Frodo has virtue and therefore strength to bear the great burden of power embodied in one golden ring. At one point, he offers this ring to Gandalf the wizard. Recognizing the foibles of his own nature, Gandalf refuses and says, “Understand, Frodo – I would use this Ring from a desire to do good, but through me… it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine!”
Despite how faith in public life has lost ground in recent decades, the Christian must move towards the public square to leverage influence rather than power. To shed the cynical expediency of mere control in favor of finding common cause. In this time of deep and wide division, the best platform for a faithful witness is a bridge.
When power swings in our favor, we tend to ignore how wielding it might damage the trust of those who disagree. We tend to discount how moving away from trust in public life moves towards tyranny. When it comes to the public witness of personal values, the how of leading matters as much as the what. The approach is as vital as the direction.
“Be wise as serpents but innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16)