There is no clear, distinct definition of “conservative” or “liberal”; these are always relative terms. I think I can most often tell, after getting to know someone, whether he is more or less conservative than I. Then again, humans have a penchant for inconsistencies, and I may be surprised by where someone falls in this or that discussion, on this or that question. . . .
Some folks in churches of my past (TX, AR, TN, DE, but maybe not CO) would’ve called me liberal. Parodoxically, I think that would have been because those folks were not conservative enough.¹ Said another way: compared to the “change agents” and “liberals” that some in those churches would vehemently lambaste, the latter were just liberal in a different way. They were either not paying enough attention (harshly put), or paying a misguided kind of attention (more charitably, palatably put) to scripture.
Many leaders in my general tradition have been interested in restoring the “ancient order.” This interest might be seen as patently conservative — even reactionary — and yet, when the restoratory methods are shallow, the end result is more liberal than the supposed restorers would ever want to admit. In other words, what they end up restoring is further afield than they might realize from the ancient order. In my book, this makes that kind of restorer liberal. Certainly not radical, but not conservative, either. It takes moorings to be conservative.³
Orthodox. Now there’s a term. I have very little interest in orthodoxy, though, so I don’t think I’ll take that one up, except to say that orthodoxy can end up liberal just as easily as it can end up conservative.
I can acknowledge the elusive nature of unity, no matter what we attempt to base it on, but if we were all more bibliodox, there would surely be more common ground.
¹ Others, perhaps including a few in our NY church, would call me uptight, and they’d be mostly right, but that’s beside the current point.²
² Does anyone ever read my footnotes? I have fun composing them, but I guess I should know if no one bothers. :-D
³ If anyone clicked to this post to read about political, social, or even economic conservatism and liberalism, by now you’ve become fully disappointed. Oh, okay . . . here’s a bit: political liberals seem to me to have just about as many rational moorings as conservatives. There. That’s done.