Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Cultural conservatism versus Christian conservatism

In the last November election, an underreported story (at least on mainstream websites) was the story of the defeat of Amendment 2 in Alabama by 2,500 votes. This amendment would have officially repealed racist laws written into the Alabama Constitution. Specifically, it would have repealed segregation, poll taxes and equal funding for school funding. Alabama is the last state in the Union to officially repeal racist language from the law books. In practice this wouldn’t change anything because the United States Constitution already overrules the Alabama state Constitution on these issues. Let me say this again..this change was only symbolic and wouldn’t have changed anything in practice in Alabama

The effort to defeat this (seemingly no-brainer) amendment, was led by the Alabama Christian Coalition(ACC). President of ACC John Giles and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, of Ten Commandments in courthouse fame, were against the amendment because it appeared to create a right to education.

The Alabama Christian Coalition denies that they were against this amendment on race issues, but rather they didn’t want the state government to be required to adequately fund public education. Links at the bottom of the page direct visitors to horrible organizations that believe in education as a right such as United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Unicef, and The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE).

Hello? Excuse me? Did I hear that right? A fully funded public educational system? God forbid. Clearly Jesus would be against this.

Again people using the Christian name, but totally inappropriately. Honestly, there should be some sort of licensing group to protect the Christian brand. I would bet that 99% of all Christians in the nation would be shocked to see a group that opposes full funding for education and opposes removal of racist language from the law books using the Christian name.

It is important that we draw a clear line in our minds and in society about the difference between cultural conservatism and Christian conservatism. Let me start to sketch the line. Cultural conservatism is the fear of change in the culture. Generally this takes on the form of fear of progressive programs or ideas. It could be a fear of new environmental laws or increased police powers. The more extreme elements will be xenophobic or racist. This type of conservatism has nothing explicitly to do with Christianity. Jesus was a radical with a radical view of society. He certainly didn’t sanction the Roman society he lived in. Being afraid of change in society/culture is not important to the Gospel or even the church.

On the other side is Christian conservatism. This is the concern about the change in the church or the Gospel. Many examples exist in much of the infighting between denominations over doctrine and practice. Another potential point of concern would be the place of women in the church hierarchy. Christian conservatives would want woman to follow the traditional role, while Christian progressives/liberals are pushing for woman to assume positions of authority and power.

Sometimes, Christian conservatism and cultural conservatism might overlap, like in the case of laws mandating Christian organizations to hire homosexuals or lose funding. However, sometimes Christian conservatism might be in open conflict with cultural conservatism, like in the case of racism. Jesus and Paul both made the Gospel open to all people and argued for treating all people with love, respect and equality.

I think the confusion arises from Christians that are culturally conservative and don’t see the distinction. They see their Christian beliefs as part of who they are. Being afraid of change is also who they are and the two intersect. Many times people will even use the Bible to support their cultural conservatism. I’ve had people use scripture to explain that woman aren’t qualified for the Presidency using the second chapter of 1 Timothy, even though it is about how a woman should be behave in church. The real issue was whether they felt comfortable looking to a woman as the ultimate authority figure. And as someone who pushes for a progressive economic policy in the name of compassion, I’ve had Matthew 26:11 thrown at me to show that it is pointless to try to alleviate poverty. While I could get into a discussion over the meaning of that verse, that isn’t the point of today’s post.

The point is this…some people are culturally conservative and don’t want society to change. They fear change (as we all do at some level) and they feel helpless to stop the change (history shows that the only thing that is constant is change). Because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, they cling to Him and then begin to project their version of Jesus back on society. While the media, in an effort to satisfy the craving for sound bytes, will never draw this distinction, those of us who are socially progressive Christians need to start pointing out that “conservative Christians” are really social conservatives who believe in Jesus.

*extra extra* slacktivist has his take on the same issue. I definately agree with the sentiment if not all the words.