It has been a while since I posted here and part of the reason for that is that I have embroiled in a bit of a kerfuffle. I didn’t go looking for it but it came and found me. Anyway, here is a part of my response to all of the hullabaloo.
Once is an incident. Twice is a trend. Three times is a pattern.
This the now the 3rd time this thing idea about shying away from the label ‘liberal’ has come up.
- I heard it for the first time almost 10 years ago: “Emergents are just cool liberals”. This came from conservative, evangelical and reformed folks who were squawking at the Blue Parakeets that were new to the yard.
- More recently Fitch & Holsclaw leveled the accusation in their new book Prodigal Christianity and Tony Jones took exception.
- Then last week the idea was suggested on a different blog that Tripp & I were really just closet liberals who where afraid of the label because of its intrinsic baggage.
I tend to bury my big point in the final quarter of every blog post. For the purpose of clarity I am going to begin putting them at the top of the post. Here is my main point:
There is nothing wrong with being liberal. It is one of many valid ways to participate in the christian tradition. If I were liberal I would be so proudly. I am not liberal. Liberal approaches do not go far enough to combat capitalism, address colonial consequences or repent of the Constantinian compromise that led to Christendom it’s subsequent horrors.
I am not liberal. While Tripp and I are left-leaning. We are progressive. We are postmodern in our approach. We are emergent in our expression. We are playfully heretical (in a good way) and we are innovative where appropriate given our christo-centric hyperTheism.
But I am not liberal. Liberalism doesn’t go far enough in addressing five of my biggest concerns:
- Critique of Capitalism and Consumerism
- Post-Colonial consequences
- Continental Philosophy’s reflection on late modern thought
- Criticism of Christendom (Western and Constantinian)
- Our cultures’ dangerous cocktail of Nationalism and Militarism
I have written extensively about how Progressive is not Liberal and even got taken to task over at Scot McKnight’s blog for trying to make that distinction. I will say this again:
There is nothing wrong with being liberal. It is one of many valid ways to participate in the christian tradition.
If I were liberal I would be so proudly. But alas I am not.
One last thing in closing: I understand the historic drift of the term ‘Liberal’. I know what it meant in the 1700’s (specifically as it relates to individualistic epistemology) and I understand what it has become in the late 20th century (a constellation of loyalties and identity markers). I also know about it’s demise as an impotent political approach and I get why some evangelicals are allergic to the term and thus why some would desire to shy away from it. I get all that. I even recognize the unique draw of its individualistic epistemology.
What I am saying is that calling me a closet liberal who is afraid to be identified by the label is like saying that I don’t wear ‘medium’ sized T-shirts because I don’t like the letter M. It is to miss the point. I don’t wear medium sized T-shirts because they are not big enough and don’t cover some essential areas that I deeply care about.
i.e. It just doesn’t fit.
August 13, 2013 at 5:50 am
You know, it seems like I have to have this conversation all the time. I have no loyalty to either the liberal or conservative narratives, and find that while both have value in their own way, they both are incomplete on their own. Without being in relationship with each other I see conservatism leading to stasis and liberalism leading to dissipation of energy. I would love to see a robust dialogue rather than a turf war, but…
As someone who identifies as neither, I sometimes feel as though there is no place for me in certain discussions since I don’t see the “sides” as necessary or helpful.
As for your five big concerns, Amen, I guess I can call myself a progressive, but there is something in me that really wants to rebel against having any label applied to me.
August 14, 2013 at 1:05 am
I like what you have said here. I just keep going back to the fact that Liberal isn’t big enough and doesn’t cover the things I most care about.
I’m not opposed to it … I just don’t find myself or my approach there.
It is why I keep going back to this christo-centric HyperTheist thing…. maybe that is where I should invest all me energy from now on … -Bo
August 14, 2013 at 8:38 pm
I have seen you mention the christo-centric Hyper-theist thing a few times and wonder if you have some reading recommendations so I can learn about it?
August 13, 2013 at 1:25 pm
Great post. Not sure who you are reacting to, but I don’t think I would attach the liberal label to Homebrewed Christianity and I do appreciate your distinction between progressive and liberal. My question for you is this, would you put progressive and liberal are the same kind but different species? For instance a coyote and a fox are both the same kind (dog), but different species?
I only ask because I think emergents are lumped into the “liberal” category because those in that circle seem to embrace or make more space for progressive and emergent thought.
August 14, 2013 at 1:09 am
Ya. This is what I was trying to do in the former ‘Labels’ post. My point is that when something is used as a pejorative to dis-credit then the application of the label will be less accurate and almost unhelpful. WHICH is exactly what has happened here.
IF those who were placing the label on me were trying to do so in order to more clearly position me and my approach – that would be one thing.
So to answer your question: Yes in one sense. Progressive as I using it is someone who would have been Liberal in the past but has seen its shortcomings and heard the lessons from post-colonial, feminist, Liberation and other marginalized voices. Does that make sense? -Bo