Depending on what particular theology you hold, or perhaps which piece of the denominational pie you slice off, you have probably at one point or another been referred to as a "conservative" Christian or a "liberal" one, most likely by a Christian who falls on the opposite end of this spectrum.
This is a problem.
It's a problem because these words - "conservative" and "liberal" - are not theological words; they are political words. Icky political words meant to set us into one camp or another. And indeed, they have come to somehow represent something of a political leaning in our Christianity. A "liberal" Christian is one who tends to support social issues like welfare, gay marriage, transgender rights, feminism, etc. A "conservative" Christian, on the other hands, tends to support working for what you have, traditional marriage, two distinct genders, etc. Informally, more "liberal" Christians tend to accuse the "conservatives" of being outdated Bible-thumpers, stuffed-shirt theologians, and the entire problem with Christianity in the modern world. "Conservative" Christians tend to accuse the "liberals" of being too lax, of not taking God seriously enough, of being jean-wearing, coffee-drinking semi-heathens who are the entire problem with Christianity in the modern world.
And we're doing this to ourselves, by the way. The unbelieving world isn't looking at us and dividing us along theo-political lines. They're looking for Christ, and to a very real degree, they aren't finding Him in either camp.
Yes, I said it. Does that make me politically incorrect?
The politics are incorrect. It's the same thing that the contemporaries of Jesus were guilty of, and here we are making it a formal doctrine in many of our churches. Most of the men and women who inhabited Jesus' world, who knew His Scriptures, who were looking and waiting and longing for the Messiah, expected Him to be some sort of political figure. Even after witnessing three years of His incredible ministry, many were still waiting on Him to bust loose and step up into a political kingship that would displace the Roman government. Instead, He was displaced by the Romans.
Because Jesus never had any interest in politics. He didn't much care about them. They were not, to Him, the best way to love in a broken world. They were not, to Him, the best way to gain power in the world. They were not, to Him, the best way to make a difference in the world.
If Jesus' distance from politics is not convincing enough (and it should be), just look at the way that these political words set us up to fight against each other. If a conservative Christian believes in traditional marriage, the other side is quick to say that this Christian "does not love the homosexual." That's not necessarily the case. I know many Christians who believe in traditional marriage who love their homosexual brothers and sisters quite well, perhaps even better than those Christians who are fighting for gay marriage. On the other hand, if a liberal Christian believes in gay marriage, the other side is quick to say that this Christian "does not care for God's laws." That's not necessarily the case, either. I know many Christians who believe in gay marriage who are doing a better job at obeying God's laws than many of those who believe in traditional marriage.
See, just like in regular politics, using these political words to describe our theology skews the picture and puts us in a place to make snap judgments about one another based on limited information or tunnel-visioned issues. None of this has anything at all to do with Jesus. It's politics, plain and simple, and it's got no place in the church.
That's not to say that there are not fundamental differences, to some degree, in the ways that we do church. That's not to say there is not something dramatically different between the two Christians I have described above as "conservative" and "liberal." There certainly is a difference. But it's theological, not political. It's about the way we love, not what we love. (Or even who.) It's the same difference the church has been wrestling with for two thousand years; it's the same struggle we're all fighting in our own hearts, trying to get it right. It's not an issue of conservative and liberal. It's not an issue of left and right.
It's an issue of grace and truth.
It always has been.
A little more on this, tomorrow....