I have spent a fair amount of time suggesting that the modern conservative/liberal continuum (with moderates being somewhere in the middle) is quite problematic for Christians to embrace, even though the vast majority do. I have certainly received some push-back on all of this which I welcome, of course. One friend of mine has suggested that the issue is not the labels per se, but the underlying problems that give rise to the labels. She is correct. The problem is that I know of no other way to attempt to bring this point home but to question the labels themselves, otherwise the discussion seems far too abstract. I like to get to the heart of the matter and for me that heart is a complete rejection of the left/right continuum because that continuum continues to keep these problematic assumptions alive and well. At this point, I am half-tempted simply to refer to Stanley Hauerwas who says that the conservative/liberal continuum is sterile and uninteresting, but obviously more needs to be said because this way of looking at the world, even for Christians is so embedded into all of life, we can't seem to escape it, and for the church, this has been to our detriment.
One of the most valuable things I learned as Stanley's student many years ago was to question the questions, to question the assumptions, and to question the framework of the discussion. So while many simply assume the left/right continuum is the way important issues should be viewed, I was taught to question everything, including that which everyone unquestionably accepts. The first problem with the left/right continuum is that both are based on the questionable assumptions of modern Liberal Society. David F. Watson explains:
By "liberal," I’m not referring to a political position. I mean a society that presupposes autonomy, individuality, and agency on the part of its members. In this sense, both Democrats and Republicans are liberal, as are most forms of Protestantism. If our society places a high premium on autonomy, individuality, and agency, then people who are impaired with regard to their decision-making capacity occupy a very strange space, They are ostensibly people, though without full command of the capacities that define personhood and serve as ports of entry into the social world. They are outliers, and that is a dangerous way to live.So, modern conservatives and liberals are all Liberals (with a capital L) who prize individual reasoning capacity above all things. The problem for Christians is that Liberal assumptions about autonomy, individuality, and agency fly in the face of the historic Christian tradition with its emphasis on community, accountability, and discipline. Thus, when the church takes the ecclesial issues it faces and distills them through the sieve of modern Liberalism, what is left in the bottom of the "bucket" of argument and debate looks quite unappetizing to those who truly desire to embrace the "faith once and for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 1:3) Any Christianity that remains in "the bucket" is so light on Christian seasoning, it is palatable to anyone whatever they may believe.
So, how did the left/right continuum become so normative for Christians? That is the subject of the next post.