Conservative or liberal?

Labels can be walls, built to separate and exclude. Or, sometimes, they can be ways to include more people, by making a bigger tent of meeting. In the ever-fractionating Christian world, two terms that seem to both exclude and include are “conservative” and “liberal.”

Most everyone would agree that the Episcopal Church tends to be “liberal,” while Southern Baptists tend to be “conservative.” Orthodox churches, by which I mean Eastern Orthodox, tend to be conservative, insofar as they generally avoid politicking from the pulpit — they are Christocentric, and, in contrast to many so-called mainline Protestant denominations, focused on the cross.

And so one could list the dozens of denominations, and opine on their being “conservative” or “liberal.” Thinking on this brought me to what might be old news to a lot of you, but which struck me as one valid measure of a Christian’s beliefs, whether he or she ought be considered one or the other. The measure is how the Christian approaches sin.

A liberal would tend to see sin in others, especially those whose sins are public and political. Racists, slaveholders, adulterers, polluters, Israel, Republicans. Well, the last two seem to be regular features of sinners to be condemned by the righteous. Or at least the self-righteous. In short, a liberal might tend to see that proverbial mote in their brother’s eye, while ignoring the log in theirs.

Liberal churches don’t tend to preach sin and damnation it seems. Unless it is a public sin that may be properly criticized from a “social justice” point of view. In three words, someone else’s sins.

This is in stark contrast to what I would consider a properly conservative church. And, no, it isn’t a church where one hears condemnations of Democratic candidates for office or of liberal politics.  In fact, a conservative church should have little to nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with the Kingdom of Heaven.

A conservative church would tend to focus on the sin that resides in each and every one of us. And in how we may best settle accounts with God by ridding ourselves of our sins. Repeat for emphasis: Our sins. Not someone else’s sins.

Oversimplification, perhaps. And certainly not a blanket prescription for telling if a church is conservative or liberal. In its bumper sticker form, it could be: Liberals –sin belongs to thee. Conservatives — sin belongs to me.

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