I believe in the power of two words, spiritually strong in their own right but which have become corrupted in our political discourse. I believe it’s time now to reclaim their richer spiritual heritage for the good of our nation and our world. Those two words? “Liberal” and “conservative.”
Sadly, these two words are used as badges of pride or despicable labels. But originally these words did not describe entrenched political camps but rather, attributes of God.
My Christian heritage tells me that in the beginning, the first covenant was shaped by a divine liberality. To be like God was to liberate the enslaved, write off debts, care for widows and orphans, and heal the world through practical deeds of mercy. Equally, we find a conserving God revealed in the commands defining the right and just ordering of relationships.
In the Gospels, Jesus speaks in parables of God as liberal with mercy like the forgiving father, lavish in compassion like the Good Samaritan, providing a feast for people who had no way to reciprocate. The Beatitudes extol the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful.
Jesus’ parables also reveal a conserving God, who is prudent like those with oil in their lamps, exercising good stewardship like the servants with talents to invest, and expressing accountability like the shepherd who went in search of that one lost sheep.
Why would these liberal and conservative qualities of God matter to people like you and me? Quite simply because they reveal how the human community must create meaningful, just, and life-affirming relationships if we are going to survive together. These divine qualities teach people like you and me how to conduct our lives selflessly for the good of others, whether our family, our nation, or our world. A God who is both liberal and conservative teaches us how to be our best self, truly human, living not merely for ourselves but for an unnamable good which burns like a small, steady flame in the human soul.
Working for that greater good is precisely where these two words, liberal and conservative, properly enter the political realm, with their power to shape a culture of compassion rather than a culture of greed.
A truly liberal agenda must stretch people like you and me to a hands-on compassion and living concern for the welfare of the disadvantaged, the fragile, the ones who have no voice. A truly conservative agenda likewise must challenge you and me to live with prudence, with wise and discerning judgment, with humble stewardship of human spirit and natural resources.
I believe in the power of these two words–liberal and conservative, words of great spiritual magnitude, capable of reshaping our political discourse and our culture, reanimating hearts like yours and mine and rekindling our shared imagination to create a new American reality–awake to the possibility of just relationships and prosperity for our lives, our land, and our world.
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