Am I A Conservative?

          As time goes on I find few ways in which I would want to be called or call myself a conservative. It’s a word that like many has served its purpose but has been stretched in so many directions (cultural, political, theological) that it requires endless qualification. Granted, in a small tight group of friends who share my Christian world of word meanings I would not hesitate to describe myself as a theological conservative with a high view of Scripture as the final authority for faith and practice.

          Words have meaning and meanings change or are changed. Although "Tuesday's child is full of grace" we don't hear too much about the "bonny and blithe" Sabbath child who is also gay. As I see the word conservative bandied around today, where many want to claim the true conservative mantle, the word seems more and more identified with politics or a particular party's ideology, intransigence, an all change is bad or compromise viewpoint, and/or defending the status quo on church-related issues.

          We often know or can guess what words mean in context, at least our context, so I’m not expecting the word to disappear and its use sometimes seems unavoidable. The problem arises from what others attribute to these words. If I tell someone in my neighborhood that I‘m conservative they would think I’m Republican (which I’m not). I think I know what some are trying to say by calling themselves conservative Christians or speaking about cultural conservatism, conservative resurgence, conservative music, or conservative churches. Yet it seems more confusing than helpful. It’s okay to use the word conservative as long as it doesn’t become synonymous with biblical or Christian or a badge that separates the right guys from the wrong ones. In the end it matters less what you call yourself or what others call you. What really matters is who God knows you to be.


2 Responses to “Am I A Conservative?”

  1. It seems that some who unhesittatingly call themselves "conservative" also have the same concern about the term's vagueness.  I'm thinking of Bauder here and his attempts to define what would be a true "conservative Christianity."  Unfortunately, it often boils down to "conservative is whatever I am."  That may be good or bad (not passing judgment here), but it only further erodes the denotative meaning of "conservativism" by giving it yet another definition.
    I understand what you intend by your final comment about labels' ultimate unimportance. However, can't that be cop-out to being pinned down at all?  We are by nature verbal creatures, and we have to express ourselves in words.  It seems to me that that necessarily means labels.  To me the problem seems to be on the end of those who make decisions based on simplistic labels.

  2. You are correct. We won't get away from labels. In many ways I am certainly conservative as many would understand it. But I want the opportunity to explain.  And I don't want to judge or be judged on the basis of a label. To me it's more of an in-house term and to be used sparingly with lots of explanation in public discourse. I may know what I mean when I use the term but it is so elastic. If I tell my neighbor I'm conservative, he thinks I'm a Republican. If I say I'm a conservative Christian he will either have no context for that or some wrong associations. So I don't use it – at least until I can explain it. If I’m speaking with a believer who has a theological grid then it would be easier and more appropriate to use.

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