Liberal or Conservative?
One of the young leaders of our church stopped by my office this week, told me what worship had meant to him on Sunday, and then he laughed. “Some people say you are so conservative and then I hear people say you’re too liberal. People have a difficult time figuring out whether you’re liberal or conservative. I think it’s great.”
Left or right?
Agreeing with him, I laughed. “I think you’re right,” I said. “People have these expectations about what liberal is and what conservative sounds like, and they have had a tough time figuring out where I land on the political/theological spectrum.”
Several years ago I had someone comment to me, “All that passionate talk about Jesus reminds me of the Church of God preachers I heard as a child.” I smiled and said, “Well, actually, if you know about United Methodists you know we’ve always been pretty passionate about Jesus.”
It’s the Jesus talk, I think
As the young leader and I talked on Monday, I shared a hunch about the association some people make between Jesus talk and a rigid, right-wing religious agenda. “I think it is the Jesus talk,” I said. “Jesus talk has, in the minds of many people, come to be associated with a conservative political and religious agenda. So when people hear how passionate we are about Jesus then they assume we must share the same political and religious perspectives of those who want to make life tough on immigrants and pass anti-LGBT legislation.
“That’s not who we are because that isn’t who Jesus is. Jesus was a radical in many ways, shocking the establishment, and he was always reaching out to all kinds of people. He wasn’t choosing a political position; he always started with what God wanted to have happen.”
Sounds like a progressive agenda
In a local coffee shop this week, a friend said, “You sounded like a man on a mission on Sunday. You were talking about the misplaced efforts of some religious people to pass laws allowing businesses not to serve some people, and we loved what you had to say.”
I explained that I’m not on a mission to push a progressive agenda, but a Jesus agenda. All of this talk about welcoming immigrants, forgiving others, sharing what we have, and reaching out beyond traditional religious, gender and tribal boundaries to love and serve all people is a Jesus agenda. It begins with the Galilean and not by picking out a particular position on the conservative-progressive spectrum.
“Sometimes I wonder,” I’ve told several people in recent weeks, “how many Christians have read the New Testament Gospels. I wonder how many people—people in the church—really know the story of Jesus.” The Galilean is in the tradition of the prophets of Israel who always shook things up.
Calzone or burrito?
We live in a society where many people like to predict whether a news service, preacher, or church is left or right. It’s comforting to be able to predict what you are going to hear from MSNBC or Fox News. We like to know what’s coming. We have our “comfort spots,” just the way we have our comfort foods. Go to “that” church and you’ll hear about being “twice born” or go to “the other” church and you’ll hear about a social gospel that addresses issues of war and peace, injustice, racism, hunger and poverty.
One friend has a way of ending up in Mexican restaurants. Another friend enjoys a particular place because she loves their calzones. We like predictability, and we like knowing that what we’re going to get is a favorite. We like what we like.
The problem with Jesus is you never know what he’s going to say next. In the Sermon on the Mount, he takes a very strong, conservative position on things like divorce and adultery. In that same section of scripture he sounds radically progressive when he talks about loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us, about giving away our shirt when we are asked for our coat.
It’s not about being left or right, conservative or progressive, but if we start with Jesus then there will be an unpredictability about the message we offer the world. The truth is that sometimes the word that unsettles us and challenges us is the saving word we need to hear! (Scripture warns us that sometimes the word of God is a two-edged sword…)
Are we out of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry?
Asking the question of a faith community or preacher “Are we left or right, conservative or liberal, tradition-driven or progressive-minded?” is to miss the point it seems to me. It’s not about whether we are conservative or liberal, right-wing or left, but the real question is whether we will be a Jesus community.
When we start with the Galilean then the message we offer the world will be radical, unsettling, justice-producing and life-giving. We’ll be a people who believe love has more power than the sword, where the stranger is a neighbor, where the penniless visitor to worship may be an angel, where first is last, and where the greatest is the servant of all. We’ll be a community that talks not only about individuals being “twice born” but about communities and nations being born again/made whole.
I remember stopping by an ice cream shop in Kokomo that advertised 33 flavors but they didn’t have vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. They didn’t have the basics. The clerk looked embarrassed. “The shipment didn’t come in,” she explained.
If we are a Jesus community then that is where we start and what we offer the world: the radical, unsettling, unpredictable, life-giving, good news of the Carpenter. It’s not a left or right thing but a Jesus thing: he’s our starting point.
See you Sunday as we gather for worship. At 10 a.m. we will be receiving an amazing class of new, young disciples into the church. It’s going to be a big day!
This week is the 10th anniversary of the airplane crash that took the lives of five Indiana University School of Music students. One of those students was Zachary Novak. Zach was a gifted musician who served God with us, and we continue to mourn his loss along with the untimely deaths of the four other students. We give thanks that the promise of the empty tomb can be trusted!
Grace and peace,