Thursday, December 07, 2006

Compassionate Conservatism: An Oxymoron?

Our little Podunk Paper has knocked it out of the park once again. They carried an AP article that really ought to make Baptists stand up and take notice. The article, Methodists Overlook Differences to Join Mixed-faith Union, chronicled clearly how folks of different denominational stripes can indeed work together to make substantive differences in the lives of underprivileged people.

Though the title carries with it an obvious fear factor for Baptists, there was neither compromise nor true ecumenism going on. A grey haze generally settles over Baptists when there is talk about working with anyone of another denomination for fear of compromising theology. Though I will not concede that theology is unimportant, I can work with other folks with whom my theological opinions vary to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than myself. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 clearly articulates this stance in Article XV, The Christian and the Social Order:
In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.
However, Baptists are often seen on the wrong side of adequately addressing social issues such as poverty and immigration rights, or at least go about it the wrong way. In a recent Baptist Press article, Kelly Boggs wrote about the strides Baptists are taking to change the world's opinion on their stances of meeting the needs of the disadvantaged. His article was well-written and thought-provoking yet it was also using conservatives' new-found goodwill as a cudgel against liberals.
“I don’t know any conservatives that are opposed to helping the poor,” I replied. “We just disagree with liberals on what is the best way to provide assistance to those in need.”

Over the next several minutes I explained that of all of the conservatives that I know, while they want to help those less fortunate than themselves, they do not believe government was the best vehicle to get the job done.

When it comes to government-run programs, I said, there seems to be a tremendous amount of waste. Not only that, but there is virtually no accountability. At best, most government programs are only placing a Band-Aid on the problem and, at worst, are only perpetuating the plight of the poor.

“An old adage states, ‘Give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you have fed him for life,'" I told the reporter. “The conservatives that I know want to teach people how to fish.”

The reporter’s perception of conservatives, specifically religious conservatives, as callous and uncaring toward the poor has been perpetuated by liberal politicians and their willing accomplices in the left-leaning media.
I don't know if the veracity of the last statement, a broad generalization at best, could be proven, but could it be proven by conservative churches' responses toward the poor in their own communities; some raw, empirical data? Would the perception not be there if conservatives in some way had not instigated it? Besides the areas of missions and evangelism, there is no other area in the ministries of the church a wider gap in what is said and in what is done (James 2:18) than in the area of helping the poor.

Granted, we may work at the food bank, soup kitchen, or clothes closet once a quarter; even receive a love offering for world hunger. But do our responsibilities end there? Consider this brief smattering of verses:
Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard. Proverbs 21:13

For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. Mark 14:7

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just. Luke 14:13-14

They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do. Galatians 2:10

Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble...James 1:27

Are there any Baptist churches that are really exploring ways and means to address these things that were very near to the heart of the Savior? Upon reading the AP article, Baptists were noticeably absent and the opening sentences of the article explain why:
Virginia religious leaders are setting aside philosophical differences to form a four-denomination union they say will help them more effectively lobby social causes like poverty and immigrant rights.

Leaders with the Virginia Conference United Methodist Church this weekend signed onto LARC, a union previously limited to Virginia's Lutheran, Anglican (or Episcopalian) and Catholic denominations.

The resulting LARCUM-Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic and United Methodist Churches in Covenant-will promote dialogue between the faiths, which often have clashed on touchy subjects like gay marriage and women in the ministry, explained the Rev. James Parke, with the LARCUM planning committee.
Baptists notoriously have a difficult time setting anything aside and typically rail whenever gay marriage and women in the ministry are mentioned. However, allow me to draw a parallel from the BP article. The heart of Kelly Boggs' BP article arose out of an interview with a newspaper reporter about the issue of homosexuality.
A couple of years ago I was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter on the subject of “gay marriage.” Somewhere in the midst of our conversation the discussion turned and the reporter said, “You have to admit that there are places in the Bible where Jesus comes across more like a tax and spend liberal who really wants to help the poor rather than a conservative who wants the disadvantaged to help themselves.”
I could be making a false extrapolation and I am willing to admit it if I am. But since when does working with others in matters of goodwill constitute an abandonment of theological belief or doctrinal compromise? Dan Edelen is one of my favorite Godbloggers and in a December 6th post, where he addressed Christians' fascination with ____ & Violence, he draws an interesting parallel between evangelicals' outspokenness regarding sexual sin and the deafening silence that accompanies social issues.
Curiously, when you look at major political talking points in Evangelicalism, sex appears at the core of almost every ballot initiative, signature collection, and protest. Major hot-buttons like abortion, homosexual marriage, sex education, and abstinence promotion all have sex at the center. Meanwhile, we seem mum on the environment, fighting injustice, advocating for the disadvantaged, and so on.
There are places where I differ theologically from other denominations. There is a a Grand Canyon-like difference in my views of the Bible from my liberal friends, but they are still exactly that; friends. In the AP article, there was no obvious compromises regarding orthodoxy or even orthopraxy. Rather, there was a common sense approach to tackling some major issues and consent that compassion transcends denominational lines.
Despite their differences, [Bishop] Kammerer said places where the denominations agree offer the chance for cooperation.

"The issues of women's ordainment (and) the issues of priesthood of all believers have not prevented us from sitting at the same table," said Kammerer, who thought leaders could work together on some things without compromising on others. "On many social issues, we can speak with one voice."
Denominations are going to bump heads over biblical interpretation, homosexuality, and abortion. They should. There would not be denominations if they didn't. In spite of these differences, our communities can and should be improved by our churches working together on those issues where we find common ground. Perhaps then "compassionate conservatism" will not be regarded as such an oxymoron.


All Scripture taken from the NKJV.


Dan Edelen said...


Thanks for the kind words and the link to my post at Cerulean Sanctum.

Blessings on your blogging.

Tony said...


You're welcome. Hope to see you back again.