In his speech at the Dallas Memorial Service a few weeks ago, former president George W. Bush said this: “Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions.” I thought his words were very insightful.
While I was still pondering them, a friend gave
me a short article by Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, entitled “Our Churches Need Both Conservatives and Liberals.” Later I found another article by Rolheiser on line about this same topic. I was interested in these articles because I, like some of you, struggle with the tension between conservatives and liberals wherever I encounter it—but especially in politics and in the church. With that in mind, I’d like to share this brief summary of Rolheiser’s words with you.
Rolheiser says, “Liberals and conservatives should be judged by what’s best in them, not by their worst expressions.” He then describes both conservatives and liberals at their worst and then at their best.
He says that, in Church circles, conservatives at their worst are “mean-spirited, narrow, and grandiose.” They view every liberalizing tendency as “dangerous, godless, (and) an enemy.” Conservatives at their worst “live a lot by fear, and their primary instinct is to protect, circle the wagons, reduce ambiguity.” At their worst conservatives “move more naturally to exclusion than inclusion.” They tend to be “overly serious” because they are “the sole guardians of God and truth.” They see a whole generation of Christians who have never been catechized and who lack a Christian identity. That is why they “insist on proper boundaries, rules, and regulations.”
Liberals at their worst are “naïve and arrogant.” They see “Secular enlightenment…as the exclusive agent in having brought about the liberation of human freedom from superstition and false authority.” They also see secular enlightenment “as the sole agent in the struggle against racism, sexism, and other forms of inequality and injustice.” At their worst, liberals fail to see that’s what best inside their morality “comes out of Judeo-Christian roots.” If such liberals do not like you, “they will try to intimidate and shame you intellectually.” Liberals insist that what is needed is change—not more catechesis and rules, but renewed emphasis on love and personal responsibility.”
That’s conservatives and liberals at their worst. What are they at their best?
At their best, conservatives keep us mindful of some important truths:
+ energy isn’t always friendly; change isn’t always for the better
+ “Taboos exist for a reason”; there is such a thing as a “slippery slope”
+ some things need to be protected—like our countries, neighborhoods, marriages, families. “It’s naïve to think that what’s precious doesn’t need to be protected.”
+ there are some absolutes we cannot ignore without seriously hurting ourselves and the world
+ human beings often lack the inner strength to live the Gospel of love without some rules
Liberals at their best, keep us mindful of these important truths:
+ freedom is a divine gift; “God wants us to be free, and free from fear.”
+ there are as many dangers in being too safe as there are in taking risks. As Goethe pointed out: the dangers in life are many and safety is one of those dangers.
+ the golden age of the church was not as golden for non-whites and women
+ liberals challenge us to true “catholicity,” to an ever-wider embrace; “the truth revealed by Jesus (is) that God’s heart is not a ghetto but a house with many rooms.”
Rolheiser says, “most liberals and conservatives fight each other when in fact we badly need each other. Both carry important truths, and our culture and our churches would be far healthier if both would accept that.”
I don’t know to what extent you agree or disagree with Rolheiser’s appraisal. But it might be fruitful to reflect on these questions:
When it comes to the Church, do you consider yourself a liberal or a conservative—or somewhere in between?
If you are a conservative, what is your attitude toward liberals? If you are a liberal, what is your attitude toward conservatives?
No matter what your stance is, where are you being called to conversion?
In this talk about conservatives and liberals we must remember that the bottom line is not being right. The bottom line is love. Here is the song “Love Never Fails” by David Haas. It is based on St. Paul’s beautiful words on love from 1 Corinthians 13.
Do you have any thoughts on conservatives and liberals that you would like to share with us?
PS: Last week I spent a few days a the Chautaugua Institute in New York, a gift from some friends and the Catholic Community there. In future blogs I will be drawing from some of the talks I attended there. Also last Saturday I facilitated a retreat day for the women from St. Lad’s Parish in Westlake, OH. The setting (The River’s Edge in Rocky River, OH) provided a beautiful background for our prayer, reflection, and sharing. A big thank you to Pam for organizing the event and to everyone who came!