I am a Christian and I am a liberal.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ve been reading a lot of feminist books lately, and learning a lot more about feminism. It’s been really wonderful to feel like I OWN my feminism for the first time in my life. But one of the things that I learnt, while reading those books, is how much I’ve grown accustomed to misogyny in the world, and how accepting I am of it. I laugh off jokes about women in a way I’d never laugh off jokes that were similarly racist. I see women depicted as shrewish, stupid or desperate, and don’t respond to the fact such woeful stereotypes are common. Accordingly, since I’ve been reading these books, I’ve been offended a lot more. Not because I’m overly sensitive, but because there are a lot of genuinely offensive things said about women. It’s like my eyes are open to it for the first time.
It’s weird, though, because it’s had another effect. I’ve also become newly aware of how much I similarly ignored insults of my Christianity, and how often I’ve not said anything while my faith was offended. Just as I’d laugh off comments about women, I’d similarly laugh off comments about Christians, never stopping to say “wait, that’s offensive”. In many cases, I don’t think it was deliberate or malicious on their part, but just as I’d started to be offended by a culture of misogyny that I saw more broadly in my life, I found a culture of anti-Christianism which was particularly noticeable amongst my fellow liberals.
And really, Christians are still one of the great targets of liberal scorn. Yes, it is the majority religion in the US, and yes, they have a considerable about of political power, but that doesn’t mean it’s somehow ok to religiously profile them in a way that is utterly unacceptable when done to other religious groups. Yes, some of them do it too, and yes, sometimes “they start it”. But that doesn’t make it acceptable or justifiable or in any way ok. Doing the same thing just exacerbates the problem.
It came to a head recently after a conversation with a friend recently in which I felt my faith was insulted. It wasn’t deliberate or malicious… it just was. He didn’t realise he was being offensive. The truth is, for a long time, I didn’t even realize I was being offended. Then, all at once, I did. Just like the misogyny, anti-Christianism was suddenly everywhere in the liberal world. Previously blind to it, I could now see it everywhere I went. And more than that, I realised how much my faith informed what I believe about a whole range of things, and the degree to which I’d been self-censoring any acknowledgment of that because I felt uncomfortable as a Christian who is very much a liberal.
Liberalism is poorer for the way it often regards Christianity. We cede this vast swath of society to conservatives, and don’t even bother to engage with it. And if we do, we almost delight in offending it much of the time. We aren’t culturally sensitive, we don’t think about how to speak their language. We often assume they are bigots. Even as a Christian, I find myself doing this on occasion. We are happy for them to agree with us, but only on our terms. Mostly, though, we’ve made the liberal world such an unpleasant and mocking place for the Christian that it’s easier to run back to conservatism, even if they don’t always agree with it, because at least they aren’t mean to them.
But here’s the thing: we should be talking to them. About many things. Because there is common ground, and there are discussions to be had. There’s certainly a Christian case for health care reform… is anyone making it? What about a serious discussion about the role of government? We liberals need to rethink how we talk to and about Christians. We’ve written them off as the great unwinnable. Many of them probably are. But it’s silly to just give up, and assume this from the start. It’s almost a kind of ideological purification we so mock the conservatives for.
I’ve read feminist bloggers complaining about women saying “I’m pro-choice but I’d never have an abortion”, because if they’re pro-choice, they’re pro-choice. And yes, that is true. But that’s become a necessary statement because liberals frequently conflate public and private morality. It’s as if agreeing with a political position is endorsing an action. In our political culture, it’s become so automatic that the two are the same thing that people feel it necessary to make that statement.
What a false thing! Being pro-choice doesn’t have to mean endorsing abortion, it can simply mean a belief that decisions about when life begins are so complicated and personal that they should not be made by the government. Being pro-gay-rights doesn’t have to mean a personal belief that homosexuality is right, but that that decision is personal and not to be legislated. We seem to have this belief in the liberal world that people have to not only agree with the outcome, but agree with how they got there. We have a notion that the private lives of people must be fully reflective of their beliefs about public life.
But beliefs about society are not the same as beliefs about one’s own life. I have several principles that guide me politically: I believe governments are responsible to protect the physical security and wellbeing of their citizens to the greatest practical extent, and, after doing so, to ensure their maximum liberty. Which is why I love socialized medicine, and I’m entirely pro-gay rights, and pro-choice. I’m also a Christian. And my belief in who God is and what he’s done is real and true. But I believe in democracy, not theocracy, and whatever my personal beliefs (aside from my Christianity, which you’ll notice is quite vaguely described, I have been very careful and specific to avoid mentioning ANY specific personal beliefs in this post, because it is not about that), I don’t think they should be informing the way my representatives govern. I want a government that will protect individual liberties, because that is right, and because that will ensure I am always free to believe what I want.
And that is the conversation we should be having with Christians. Not “what do you believe about abortion”, but more fundamentally: what is the purpose of government? What are its limits? What should it do? Surely it’s not a stretch to believe there are many other Christians out there who believe government should protect and educate its people, and to preserve individual liberties. And if there are, we should be talking to them, because there is a lot of room for them in liberalism. But to do so, we probably also need to stop making fun of them, and assuming that because they live a certain way, they are inconvinceable. And we don’t need to convince them to change any of their personal beliefs… just to think about the way they think about government.