Politics and religion have often been labelled taboo topics for backyard barbeques and other social events. No matter. People ignore the taboo and talk about them anyway. The conversations, at times, surface a conflict of outlooks and limited understandings. In the sphere of religion, alone, not to mention politics, some words are used and misused: words like liberal, conservative, orthodox and traditional. The way these words are used can easily skew discussion. In anger or disagreement, people fling those words at one another as though they were – well - swear words.
Consider this a mini-update, not to be used at the backyard barbeque – only to have in the back of your mind as a generous framework for conversation. To begin, there are positive and negative sides to the liberal and conservative theological positions that are part of our times.
Theological liberalism helps nourish and hone the spirit of critical inquiry, openness to new questions and new insights. It resists injustice and is sensitive to the experience of minority people and positions. Among the weaknesses of theological liberalism is a bare minimum approach to doctrine and spiritual resources. It sometimes locates the whole work to be done in the here and now, without seeing this work in a larger human, historical and divine context.
Theological conservatives offer the faith community real praise of God, honor signs of holiness and work toward the freedom of the children of God. But for conservatives, faith is not seen as a way of life. It is not a journey and but a tool, a given, complete and whole and in some cases, a weapon. Boundaries are sealed, doubt and darkness are banished. Without space for creativity or exploration, faith is a package.
Some women and men argue that, in resisting the theological liberal approach to living faith, they are upholding the tradition of the church. Further probing shows that what this group pf people want is to continue the conventions of recent decades or centuries. They mix up this clinging to recent history with knowing and living by the rich and complex tradition of “faith seeking understanding” that has enlivened the church from its beginning.
While theological liberals and theological conservatives each have gifts to offer the community, the most untried and perhaps remarkable approach to plumbing the depths of Christianity is … orthodoxy.
The word orthodoxy literally means right praise. Believers are called to give right glory to God, and so live fully ourselves and as a world. We look to our source events and documents for help to know how to be faithful to God in this culture and time. Our good works are rooted in the founding vision of Christ.
Christian orthodoxy is God-centered, and not elitist. It holds that the world and its structures are meant to be vehicles of the divine. Orthodoxy condemns neither liberals or conservatives, but invites them to the table of dialogue and the works of justice and peace. The primer s done. Tuck it away.
Now, enjoy your barbeque and the conversation that enlivens it … for the good of all.
~Sister Joan Sobala