Thursday, January 13, 2005

Okay....so what's a 'conservative' Christian?

Recently I've realized that we're all conservative...it's just a matter of what we're trying to conserve. Some wish to conserve the rights to which all human beings are entitled, some wish to conserve the present form of their worship service, some wish to conserve spending or eating. And some wish to conserve 'traditional moral values,' whatever those are (how far back do you have to go to cite something as 'traditional?' And whose tradition?).

Well anyway, I've been thinking recently about what Jesus was 'conservative' about, just to give the other half of my readers a fair shot after recently considering 'liberal' Christianity. So we begin much the same way that the other post did: with Webster's definition: "tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions."

Now I have to admit that I really had to rack my brain (and scripture) a little bit before I could figure out what 'existing views, conditions, or institutions' Jesus was trying to maintain. He plucked grain and healed on the Sabbath. He hung out with the ritually unclean. He didn't wash his hands before sitting down to a meal at a Pharisee's house. And he didn't attempt to maintain the existing condition of not angering the Romans or preaching against Caesar's kingdom (see God, kingdom of and Cross, The).

So what does this leave us with? Surprisingly, quite a bit. We read of his attending the Festival of Booths and the Passover meal, two very important Jewish feasts tied to the Exodus. We read of his citing the law on occasion, usually to answer what is required of people to serve God. Love of God and neighbor can both be found in Leviticus and Numbers, respectively. And he got angry with people defiling the Temple. Here are a few instances of existing views, conditions, or institutions that Jesus wanted to maintain, to say nothing of the many, MANY places in the prophets where Israel is urged to care for the widow and the orphan, the poor, etc. The funny thing about that is that in order to follow the commands to love God and neighbor and to care for the poor, Jesus had to break down some traditions in the process.

So here we are on the other side. Jesus was in some aspects 'conservative.' He kept the law and various other Jewish traditions and recognized the importance of the Temple to faith and practice. He sought to conserve the importance of all people in the eyes of God (ironically something I mentioned he was also liberal about). To this end, he was conservative about practices that affected others, citing various commandments in the process. In other words, he was pretty conservative about his tradition when it came to others' worth.

Jesus disrupted the status quo just as much as he kept it. Sometimes in order to keep it he had to disrupt it. How else can you explain conserving the prophets' call to care for the poor by breaking the Sabbath? How else can you explain disrupting Temple practice in order to conserve its true purpose?

Jesus was 'conservative,' but sometimes to be 'conservative' he had to be 'liberal.' After all, it depends what he was trying to conserve. His approach was sometimes more subtle than any term could properly express.

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