Belligerent pt. 15: Conservative vs. Progressive

If you haven’t been following this series it might make more sense to you if you go back and try to catch up. You can start here.

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If you have been following this series you know by now that I am not a big fan of labels. When we label we limit. When we label fellow Christians we draw a line in the sand with you on one side and me on the other. The thing that is hard for us to accept is that we’re all on the same side even though we might have serious disagreements about serious subjects. If unity means 100% agreement on every important theological point then Jesus’ prayer in John 17 hasn’t a chance of being answered.

Popular labels among Christians:

Egalitarian
Complementarian
Charismatic
Cessasionist
Conservative
Liberal
Progressive
Mainline
Calvinist
Armenian
Liturgical
Welcoming and Affirming
Welcoming and Non-affirming
Evangelical…to name a few.

Labels can be helpful as long as we realize that they come with limitations. Labels are like clothing, seldom does one size fit all. For example, it might be helpful for me to know if I am coaching a conservative or a progressive pastor. But after more than eight years of working with both conservative and progressive pastors I’ve come to realize that there are degrees of every label we assign to someone and therefore, knowing who is a ‘liberal’ (the old fashioned word for ‘progressive’) and who is a conservative Christian is only of little value.

Did you know that there are progressive conservatives and conservative progressives? Not all progressives agree with each other. Not all conservatives agree with each other. Some conservatives are liberal in some areas of their politics and theology. Some progressives have areas in their belief systems that align more with some typical conservative positions. It’s almost impossible to say, “All conservatives believe ______. And all progressives believe ______.”

The irony in what has been said up until now is that I’m about to use labels. In fact, I’m going to attach labels to labels.

Allow me, for the sake of this article, to oversimplify things by saying that Christianity can often, but not always, be divided into two groups, conservative Christians and progressive Christians. I’d also like to use the labels ‘close-minded’ and ‘open-minded.’

Being close-minded (at least not in the way I am using the phrase) is not necessarily a bad thing and being open-minded is not necessarily a good thing. Try not to read into my use of these words any bias.

If you tell a progressive Christian that they are ‘open-minded’ there is a good chance you mean that as a good thing and that they will take it as a compliment. However, if you tell a conservative Christian that they are close-minded there is a good chance you mean that as a bad thing and that they will take it as an insult. Let me be very clear again, especially to those of you who consider yourself a conservative Christian…I am not using the phrase ‘close-minded’ in an entirely negative way nor am I using ‘open-minded’ in an entirely positive way.

It seems that conservatives get a bad rap as being close-minded simply because they have firm convictions about what the Bible says and what it does not say. Conservatives tend to see things as black and white, truth and error. They are not ‘open-minded’ to things outside of what they understand the Bible to teach. Progressives look at the same scriptures but see many things as grey. There is a lot of black and white in the Bible and there is, or so it seems to me, a lot of grey in the Bible. Conservatives and progressives can’t always agree on what is black, what is white, and what is grey.

Below you’ll find a list of observations I’ve made after working for eight years with both conservative pastors and progressive/liberal pastors…open-minded and close-minded church leaders. Whether you are a conservative or a progressive it is my hope that what you’re about to read will help you understand better those who think different than you and possibly recognize weaknesses in your own approach to life and ministry.

Both the ‘open-minded’ and ‘close-minded’ demonize one another. This represents a closed-mind no matter which group is doing the demonizing.

Being ‘close-minded’ does not mean you will never change your mind, it just means it might take you longer to change your mind about an important conviction you’ve held than the one who is open-minded.

It’s risky to be open-minded because you might change your mind for the worse.

Being ‘open-minded’ does not mean you don’t have strong convictions, it means you are willing to challenge those convictions and listen objectively and respectively to those who do not share your convictions.

Some open-minded people find it difficult to listen objectively and respectively to those who do not share their convictions.

Some close-minded people find it difficult to listen objectively and respectively to those who do not share their convictions.

Close-minded people don’t think they are close-minded, they think they are right. Open-minded people do think they are open-minded and they think they are right. This can indicate a closed-mind regardless of who is doing the thinking.

Being ‘open-minded’ can be a slippery slope…but that’s no guarantee that one will slip.

Some things are worth being closed-minded about.

Both the open-minded and the close-minded can have a pride problem.

There are extremes of open-mindedness and extremes of close-mindedness. Both are dangerous.

In many ways God is ‘closed-minded’.

The close-minded tend to think in terms of black and white. The open-minded tend to think in terms of grey.

The only balance in regards to open-mindedness and closed-mindedness is found in Jesus. All the rest of us are imbalanced.

Both the open and the close-minded find it hard to be like the balanced-Jesus.

The trick is knowing when to be open-minded and when to be close-minded.

If you are open-minded and feel superior to the close-minded you grieve the heart of Jesus.

If you are close-minded and feel superior to the open-minded you grieve the heart of Jesus.

Both the open-minded and the close-minded must learn to accept one another. This is a form of open-mindedness in both.

If there is something more virtuous than open-mindedness or close-mindedness what would it be?

It is possible to be an open-minded conservative and a close-minded progressive.

It is unwise to assume that a conservative is totally close-minded or a progressive is totally open-minded.

Just because one is open-minded is no guarantee that it is easier for them to admit when they are wrong.

Just because one is close-minded is no guarantee that it is harder for them to admit when they are wrong.

Both the open and the close-minded find it difficult to admit when they are wrong.

No doubt there will be things the open-minded are open to and they are wrong; and there will be things the close-minded are closed to and they are wrong.

Any virtue in close-mindedness or open-mindedness is negated when accompanied by pride.

Our secular culture will appreciate us more if we are open-minded but this is not necessarily a good thing.

Our secular culture will appreciate us less if we are close-minded but this is not necessarily a bad thing.

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Are you open-minded or close-minded? Are you a conservative Christian or a progressive/liberal Christian? Are you a mixture? Are you friends with anyone who is the opposite of whoever you are? When we lay down our labels, fears, and pride, and sit down with brothers and sisters in Christ who are different than us, engaging in respectful and open-minded discussion, we soon discover that we have more in common than we originally thought.

You might be wondering, “Dave, which are you? Are you a conservative or a progressive?”

My answer is, “Yes.”