[Note: To get this blog site up and running, I am reposting a few of my Facebook posts from recent months. This is one of them. It was first posted to Facebook on the date listed, though these first few posts to Neighborfy are being uploaded in June 2017. I’ve made minor edits to some of the Neighborfy versions. Because these posts were originally posted to Facebook, unfortunately the original comments from readers are not copied here.]
(***Watch out, if you read this, it might make you mad, or it might change your mind about some things. Tread carefully.***)
Since the election, I’ve attempted to watch and listen more than speak. Many of my FB friends, emboldened by their candidate’s election, have done the opposite — you’ve posted. And posted. And posted. I’ve been listening.
I don’t want to talk policy at the moment, although there will be plenty of time to do that in coming days. But I’m going to make three points in this long-winded post that are equally valid criticism of both left and right — right now, however, I’m directing these points a little more urgently to my dear, much beloved right-leaning friends. Here they are:
Point #1: In recent days the language of the posts I’ve noticed has shifted from bashing candidates to a stark, mean-spirited bashing of all “liberals.” Stop it.
Technically speaking, you, too, are a liberal. Almost certainly. “Liberal democracy,” as opposed to mere “democracy,” is a system that takes individual rights seriously. In a pure democracy, the will of the majority is the rule in every circumstance. If, for example, a small majority thinks that people who voted for Candidate X should never again be allowed to vote, they could do that. (Attention all Trump-supporting voters, who weren’t in the vote majority — you wouldn’t want a simple majority of voters, like the Hillary-supporting majority, to create such a law, right?) By contrast to “mere democracy,” in a liberal democracy, like ours, some fundamental things are beyond the reach of a simple majority. We call those things “rights,” and many of them are enshrined in our Constitution. The simple majority cannot, for example, decide that public schools must teach little children to pray a prayer that reflects some particular version of Christianity. (BTW , I’m pretty certain that such a law or such a prayer would NOT parallel my own Christian tradition — Alabama several times passed such laws when I was a child and they were never consistent with my Methodist upbringing. It was hard for folks like me to recognize the God I know in those particular, state-authored prayers.) Thankfully, because we have “rights,” any such attempts by a simple majority would be unconstitutional. (Those Alabama laws were struck down by the courts 4 separate times!)
This idea about individual rights has many historical roots, but my Jewish, Christian and Muslim (yes, Muslim, too) friends will all recognize how the concept of individual rights resonates with our bedrock commitment to the notion that every person is made in the image of God. And most folks (almost all folks) who don’t share those particular religious traditions ALSO embrace the basic principle that every person is of ultimate worth and is entitled to equal regard.
If you share those ideas, you are — in the big sweep of history — a liberal. The opposite of “liberal” isn’t “conservative.” It’s “illiberal” or “non-liberal.” You can, technically speaking, be a fiscally conservative or socially conservative liberal.
I am a liberal. Because I am committed to living a life that embodies Christian discipleship as best I can discern, I believe in the sacred value of every human. As I see it, Christianity insists on encouraging political systems that are “liberal” in that sense. (Don’t get offended if you’re unaccustomed to using the word “liberal” in that way. If you don’t think you’re a liberal, at least make an effort here, please.)
So point #2 is simple: I’d really appreciate if you stop describing “liberalism” as a disease or a sin or a shortcoming. It is the most fundamental commitment that I fully expect all of you (especially the Christians among you) to live out every day in every way you can. Besides, painting large segments of society with a broad brush, as many recent “anti-liberal” FB posts have done, is lazy, uninformed, incorrect, and guilty of the very wrong that you’ve accused liberals of committing — that is, you’re acting like all liberals are the same. You’re also acting like all conservatives are morally superior to all liberals. Stop it.
What distinguishes us liberals — the “conservative liberals” vs. the progressive liberals vs the libertarian liberals vs others — is about SECONDARY principles. When we are at our best, we are trying to figure out how to translate our FUNDAMENTAL commitment to human dignity (that every individual is of sacred value) into action, into policy, into votes. We have disagreements about those secondary principles. Lots of disagreements. Sincere disagreements. But that doesn’t change our shared fundamental commitments.
So point #3 is super important: Stop acting like every disagreement is evidence that progressives are looking down their noses at conservatives, as if progressives are “elitists.” That’s really disappointing. Whenever FB posts skewer large segments of our neighbors by lumping them into categories and calling them names, the poster seems self-superior, whether the person who posts the rant is conservative, progressive, or anything else.
Can’t you see the problem? Because we’re debating very important things, opposition sometimes seems like the opponent is against our fundamental commitments. But that can be a big mistake. For example, Randy Republican and Doug Democrat both believe that all persons have infinite worth. Let’s imagine that they are both Christian, in fact, both Methodists. Both believe government should run efficiently and should therefore not tax more heavily than required to do government’s work. They also want families to flourish economically. In other words, they share some fundamental commitments to care for persons (in this case, based on their common religion) and they even have some notion that tax policy should reflect those fundamental commitments. Randy thinks the best way to carry out his commitment is to support one tax policy; Dough thinks the best way is a different tax policy. (Details of those policies aren’t important here.) Randy and Doug disagree with each other about the best way for their fundamental commitments to be APPLIED via tax policy. They disagree about secondary principles. But it sure seems to both of them that they disagree about fundamentals. You’ve heard the argument before: Doug thinks that Randy’s policy helps the rich more than anyone else and therefore isn’t really about care for all persons, even if it’s intended to be. Randy thinks something equally disparaging of Doug and Doug’s policy proposal. But they’re both confused: They do indeed share fundamental commitments. Whether one policy or the other is a better application of their commitments is an empirical question that can be debated, but neither of them has gone to the dark side morally.
It’s just the nature of debates about anything important that is complicated: One guy wants policy A because he thinks it is the most effective or efficient way to provide care for sacred fellow citizens. Another guy wants policy B and opposes policy A. To the first guy that sometimes seems like the second guy doesn’t share fundamental commitments. That’s often wrong. Very wrong.
When conservatives throw “elitist” grenades, from the progressive’s perspective it sure seems like the conservatives are the ones looking down their noses. Stop it (and that admonition applies to both conservatives AND progressives). Disagreement isn’t automatically elitism, nor is it automatically moralizing self-superior arrogance. It’s just disagreement.
I am a liberal. And a Christian. In fact, I am a liberal because I am a Christian. That shouldn’t be controversial, because people of faith ought to see the image of God in each brother and each sister, which leads us to support systems that support human rights, civil rights and equal dignity of all persons. We just might disagree about the best policies to carry our shared fundamental commitments into action. We can think each other are mistaken and can continue trying to persuade each other to change minds. But stop the anti-liberal bashing. You’re better than that. And, btw, as I’ve described above, you’re a liberal, too.
[A first side note: I continue to be disappointed that more churches don’t have this conversation. At church, out loud. One of the primary reasons that my peers are disinterested in church is their conclusion that the Church – or worse, that Christianity — doesn’t have anything relevant to say to them about matters they consider important. Or at least that the Church is afraid to have such a discussion, perhaps out of fear that no congregation’s membership could weather the arguments that might follow. That’s a shame. They might be right about congregational membership — many presently in attendance might not welcome or tolerate such debate. But in avoiding the conversation, they are deciding to insulate themselves and attempt to “protect” what they’ve got (their current membership), rather than 1) equipping their own membership to live relevant lives of engagement, or 2) caring about the folks outside their walls, out in the community, who desire to hear a reasoned, moral voice as part of the unavoidable conversation and real-life choices that real people confront. If you have any say in the matter, encourage your church to learn how to talk about real life, including politics and policy, in a way that overcomes all the things I griped about above. If you are one of the clergy among my friends, I urge you to engage your congregation about all these things. I’ll be happy to talk with you about it, and will help in any way I can. Call me if you want to connect. And don’t wait until the next election cycle — start today.]
[A final side note: Not everyone is a liberal, not even in the sense I’ve described above. Some folks don’t share our fundamental commitments. They don’t see the spark of God in everyone they meet. They are, e.g., members of the KKK, who wrongly and sinfully believe that non-white persons are “less than.” There are other, less obvious groups of non-liberals out there. If you voted for Trump and are mystified by the uproar among many progressives, you might be under the mistaken impression that progressives are upset about conservatives (who, as I described above, are another version of “liberal,” who just happen to disagree with progressives about some things). No, don’t fall for it. Progressives are mostly upset about the non-liberals — the folks who don’t share the same bedrock commitments that we progressives and conservative liberals share. They’re worried about the groups and individuals who don’t believe women deserve equality with men, or who don’t believe that the civil rights of non-white people are worthy of vigilant defense, or who don’t believe that immigrants or non-binary persons are sacred human beings, too. Just remember that some of those non-liberal groups (like the KKK) came out of the woodwork during the campaign and claimed that they saw in Mr. Trump a potential champion for their worldview. Among the wide variety of things he said during the campaign, he did give them some ammunition for their misguided hopes, after all. If you’re my friend, I know that YOU don’t belong to those groups and that YOU had other reasons to vote for Mr. Trump, merely because you disagreed with me about some secondary principles (i.e. what policies would best reflect our shared fundamental principles). But we progressives think that you conservatives should share our desire to make sure that those il-liberal groups never get their way. If they do, it would fly in the face of the deepest commitments that you claim to share with us. So, to be clear, we are trying to enlist you, at least to unite in opposition to the folks who don’t believe in liberal democracy and who, by their words or their actions, demonstrate that they don’t believe that every man and woman is God’s sacred child. We ALL need to be sure that our newly elected administration supports our most fundamental commitments. We can agree on that, right?)
If you read this far, thank you. I’m sure all this can be said in fewer words. I hope you take these words to heart.