Liberal…Really??

I am a typical Portland girl. I do not like to be labeled. My son tells me that I must create a brand for myself. I have struggled with this sage bit of self promoting advice. Branding requires consistency on some level. I have a very hard time with consistency. I like what I like and I don’t like what I don’t like. For instance, I drive a bright red BMW and I have dreadlocks… yeah inconsistent. I have been caught vacuuming in high heels, a party dress and pearls just for fun (the June Cleaver experience), although I mostly wear jeans, something funky on top and boots.

My random impulses have kept me from any cohesive presentation of self. It’s a branding nightmare. This tendency bleeds through to all areas of my life.  I was passed over when the consistency gene was meted out and at this stage of the game change seems, well, inconsistent… :-).

Last week I spent 16 hours on campus teaching students from one of my online classes. Students talk amongst themselves. “Should I take that class? Is so and so a good teacher?” etc. I was privy to some feedback about my class and this is what  I heard, “She’s liberal, but she teaches a great class.” Hmmm… this stirred many thoughts and emotions.

First reaction: Pisted off… I hate labels
Second reaction: That’s not fair… you don’t know me
Third reaction: Liberal, hmmm… Maybe I need to think about this

Great class: this refers to teaching ability. I like that.
Liberal: this refers to theology and it is problematic. To most evangelicals and reformed theologians it is pejorative and divisive. If you are Liberal your salvation is in question because, as we all know, we must be cognitively aligned to a certain theology to be true Christians. One’s theological  fortress of certainty must be well established and cohesive.  This is where I go off the rails… or do I?

I am accused of being inconsistent theologically. I believe in the basic tenets of the faith like the Trinity, the characteristics of God such as omniscient, omnipresent, etc, Lordship of Jesus, and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. My statement of faith would please the Baptists. When it comes to other less prominent issues that are given fewer words in the scriptures, it is a different story. I either admit to not knowing, that is I do not see the scripture as expressing a conclusive view, or I lean towards grace. This is what has garnered me the Liberal label.

Then I began to think again about this word Liberal. I asked myself, “how might my beliefs be Liberal?”
Here is my best guess:

I believe that it is within God’s nature to say yes more than to say no (Matthew 7:7-8). I believe that God made the earth and said, “It is good,”  all of it, without reserve, even though God knew what serpent would do (Genesis1-3).
I believe that Jesus exhibited unconditional acceptance throughout his life.  He sat at dinner with those on the edges of society without requiring their mental ascent to his theology. He even loved the Pharisees.  Why would he would spend so much time addressing them if he did not?
I notice that the Holy Spirit blessed and energized the Antioch church for nearly 20 years before they were instructed to stop drinking blood, eating things strangled, and practicing sexual immorality (Acts 15). These things were all forbidden by Jewish law and yet the Holy Spirit of God was present in the midst of these practices and grew the church. The Holy Spirit was focused on the best rather than the worst.

I came to the conclusion that if
believing the best about creation,
saying yes more than I say no,
practicing unconditional acceptance, and
focusing on the best rather than the worst in a person or community,
if this is Liberal, then that is what I am….   I am a Liberal.

If it means that I openly embrace all who are running towards God (the prodigal father), I am a Liberal.
If it means spreading my arms wide (Jesus on the cross) and loving people without reserve,
then call me Liberal… it’s is not such a bad label  after all.

Am I inconsistent theologically? Most likely.

But I strive to be consistent in love because God is.

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17 Replies to “Liberal…Really??”

  1. So good. Liberal is a badge I wear proudly ever since I looked up the definition of the word: “favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs” (dictionary.com). Progress and reform are positive things, even in the history of the church! I know this might not be what people mean when they throw that label around but It is what I think of when they sling it at me.

    1. Kristen… that is so helpful… favorable to progress or reform. I like that very much. I remember once my local priest, Father Chuck, said that sometimes culture prophesies to the church and the church needs to listen. Historically he was talking about the slavery issue and comparing it today with the woman issue. He urged us to march for women’s rights. So much progress and reform needed. Thank you for the positive slant!

  2. Good thought to explore. Only problem with labels as I see it is that defining them is like herding cats; meanings change depending on the perception of the person using them or the situation that defines them, or what the language means to the speaker and/or the listener. Labels can confuse in oh so many ways. Hot or hot? Cool or cool? Gay or gay? Tall? How tall? Short? How short? Fair or fair? Or progress. What is progress? Is all progress good for us? Or only sometimes good? Who decides? Just saying…

  3. …a liberal “what”? The word is an adjective not a noun. Problem with labels today is that English words mean so many different things, personal labels really muddy the conversation, as the Webster’s definition puts the label more in a political context than a religious one. It’s more important to know what one believes than what word one uses to define oneself…and speaking of belief, as outlined above, I fall into the same belief system you mentioned above. Does that make me a liberal too?

    1. :-)… I think you had better get comfortable with the label. Freedom of thought is one thing, expressing those thoughts publicly sets one up for all kinds of excitement.Thanks for your input, Rob!

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