Why not ‘liberal’?

Sep 26, 2016 by

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You seem to have dropped “liberal” from your vocabulary, favoring “progressive” instead. That is a mistake if you want to broaden your audience among the array of Mennonite groups. “Progress” suggests moving toward a desirable goal. But most of these Mennonites oppose the LGBT agenda and thus take offense at your editorial positions.

In Romans 14, the Apostle Paul’s classic (and largely ignored) teaching on relationships between liberals and conservatives, he places himself among the liberals but then states it is the liberals’ responsibility to treat the “weaker” consciences of conservatives with special care. Ain’t seen much of that lately.

D.R. Yoder
Epworth, Ga.


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  • Keith Wiebe

    I don’t know why liberal does away with LGBT “agenda” and progressive doesn’t. Here’s my limited understanding. The conservatives have so demonized the word liberal a change had to be made. Just turn on any hate radio program and you’ll hear the word liberal used in a derogatory way. The word progressive is starting to be their word of choice to demonize now too. Anyway have any suggestions for another word?

    • Berry Friesen

      Keith, you might want to read some Chris Hedges (or writers of his ilk) for an explanation of why “liberal” has lost its cachet.

      Best I can remember, Hedges points to a combination of causes, including a determined effort by corporatist forces during the post WW2 era to co-opt and eviscerate liberal institutions (labor, academia, the media, the church) and liberalism’s inherent predisposition to privilege individualism. This has produced a worldview that can talk a good line but never achieves the courage, self-discipline and solidarity necessary to reshape the political landscape and bring justice to the delivery of society’s opportunities and goods.

      Think about it: contemporary liberalism is hopelessly splintered into narrow identity groups (gender, race, sexuality); has little connection with labor; has given Obama a free pass on drone warfare and his destruction of Libya, Syria and the Ukraine; always votes for the Democrat Party, no matter how grievous its betrayals; and achieves victories mainly on issues (such as sexuality) that serve to erode the bonds of organic community.

      In my experience, liberalism works well for the wealthy and the affluent (they have lots of options for taking care of themselves), but poorly for the rest of us who need the protection of strong communities and disciplined social movements.

      Before MCUSA further loosens its own commitments and moves further in a liberal direction, we would be prudent to invest some time and energy trying to understand why liberalism has been found wanting.

      • Keith Wiebe

        Berry, it might be an interesting read but just a quick read of his life on Wikipedia he sounds more “liberal” or progressive than me. It sounds like he’s upset they aren’t more (left, liberal, progressive-whatever you want to call it). Your post would be like me suggesting one read a book from Ralph Read on what the GOP doesn’t get right when in reality I don’t agree with either one. Your paragraph with “In my experience…” in my mind would be: “In my experience, the right wing works well for the wealthy and the affluent (they have lots of options for taking care of themselves to get out of the rules they put in place), but poorly for the rest of us who need the protection of strong communities who allow social movements without discrimination.”

        • Berry Friesen

          Critiques come from more than one direction. Hedges speaks from the left, is harshly critical of liberals, and obviously recognizes that “the left” and “liberal” are not one and the same. We need to heed such critiques, IMO.

          But too many of us (particularly the baby-boomer generation) have bought the liberal/conservative binary as if it is an accurate and comprehensive map of reality. Maybe the Millennials are breaking liberals free of this . . . .I hope so.

          • Keith Wiebe

            I heard on hate talk christian radio that 39 percent of the millennials say bias against LGBT persons as the reason they’re not going to church. If this survey is correct that’s something to think about.

          • Berry Friesen

            Religious News Service reports 29 percent cite that as a reason, as compared to 60 percent who say they just stopped believing the religion’s teachings.

          • Keith Wiebe

            If your percentages are correct we are left with 11 percent for other reasons. The bias against LGBT is the largest reason by far (other than stopped believing in their religion).

          • Brian Arbuckle

            More than likely a large percentage of this 60 percent never believed the religion’s teachings. If they were part of contemporary Christian congregations, of whatever brand, they never believed the religion’s teachings because they most likely never learned what those teachings are. Further, why would anyone want to stay in or attend a church that offers them nothing more than what they can get in the wider culture? The obsession with relevance that drives many (most?) conservative Christian congregations ends in the same moral, spiritual and theological bankruptcy that is inherent to liberal/progressive ones.

          • Brian Arbuckle

            Keith, why do you listen to “hate talk Christian radio”? You seem to mention it quite often.

    • Debra B. Stewart

      Brilliant. Rational. Advanced. Tolerant. Lenient. Open-minded. Forward-thinking. Level-headed. Logical. Farsighted. Enlightened. Reasonable. Want more?

    • Brian Arbuckle

      I like more traditional words. Heretic, orthodox, heterodox, and gnostic. Those four words cover pretty well.

  • Rainer Moeller

    D.R. Yoder,
    I’m with you about Romans 14 (and I Corinthians 8). This is imho the most subtle part of Paul’s ethics and too little reflected. I also agree that “liberalism” in its genuine meaning (as used by Dewey and his ilk) implied openmindedness in all directions, also w.r.t. conservatives. (In theory, not always in practice, but this can’t be expected of a mortal human.)
    But I suppose that this genuine meaning is so lost that it can’t be reestablished. On the other hand, “progressive” definitely excludes the conservative half of the Mennonite camp.

  • Brian Arbuckle

    The following words from Alan Hirsch came to mind. Similar sentiments have been expressed by others. Hirsch here speaks specifically of theological liberalism as being parasitical. But that is the nature of every form of liberalism.
    “Theological liberalism is an indicator of institutional decline not only because it tries to minimize the necessary tension between gospel and culture by eliminating the culturally offending bits, but because it is basically a parasitical ideology. I don’t mean this to be offensive to my liberal bothers and sisters; I wish merely to point out that theological liberalism rarely creates new forms of church or extends Christianity in any significant way, but rather exists and “feeds off” what the more orthodox missional movements started. Theological liberalism always comes later in the history of a movement, and it is normally associated with its decline.”

    Hirsch, Alan. The Forgotten Ways (pp. 261-262). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
    Then there is the work of J. Greschem Machen who argued convincingly in his book, Christianity and Liberalism, that the “Christianity” of religious liberalism is not the same religion as that of biblical Christianity.
    The primary reason that theological conversations between liberals/progressives and orthodox Christians produce so little fruit is the failure to see that while a common vocabulary is shared a common dictionary is not.

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