Most people who know me would say that I am a liberal – a progressive – a bleeding heart – and, for most things, they would be correct. I tend to err on the side of compassion rather than dogma. I would rather give than withhold. So yes, if that is being liberal, I am guilty.
But if you asked my children, they would tell you that I was not liberal as a parent. I was all about rules and appropriate behavior, and would not bend. That would be considered, by some, a conservative approach to parenting. I was, at times, too strict, and I regret some of those decisions. Still, like any parent, I did the best I could with the tools I had.
Too many “liberal” people I know accuse “conservative” people of being mean or stingy or cruel. On the other hand, too many conservative people accuse liberal people of being loose with the rules or socialists or immoral. My experience has shown me that no perspective is monolithic, and we need to take care about how we define people. The terms – liberal and conservative – have become slurs that are thrown around foolishly. Let’s get rid of them for now.
I would rather try to understand people with these metrics: are you loving – forgiving – compassionate – understanding? Do you have faith in each person’s ability to achieve their full potential? Are you, as Jesus said, “Wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove?” Are you hateful, vindictive, and hard-hearted? Do you treat others they way they want to be treated? Do you love God, self, and neighbor?
I know hateful liberals and compassionate conservatives. I know open minded Republicans and judgmental Democrats. I know people who are socially liberal and fiscally conservative, and I know people who are willing to give lots of money away in social programs but send their kids to private schools to keep them away from poor people. We are not just one thing, and if we listed better, we might learn where people are, rather than assuming.
Don’t think you know what people believe or who they are inside their heads until you talk and share and try to understand. Judgment is a tricky thing. Jesus told us two things about judgment: don’t judge until you fix yourself, and be prepared to be judged right back. Sounds like risky business to me. Peace!
Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary UCC in Reading, PA since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), and MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a DMin in Christian Ethics from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a PhD in Leadership from Alvernia University (PA).