by Jay Atkinson

There is a positive way of conservatism that holds onto what is good from the past and cherishes the traditions of the faith, that is generally not what you see from one who is called a Conservative. The pitting of Conservatives and Liberals against each other is another diabolical diversion in the church, both are relative terms. We can be conservative on the issues of personal faith, grace, identifying and condemning sin, reverence for scripture and still hold onto liberal values such as generosity, tolerance, democracy and working for peace and social justice. If we were to generalize the way that Conservatives are, (with a capital C), we would have to say that they are anti-progressive, resist change, rely on the traditions of the past and are illiberal. Legalistic conservatism is the extreme reaction to the licentiousness and lasciviousness at the other extreme, falsely called liberal.

Until about the 19th century, in Europe and in America, Conservatives in government possessed sufficient power and prestige to check the advances of progressive democracy and social action. The key word here is "progressive," which is a better antithesis than pitting Conservatives against Liberals. The Great Awakening brought about much needed social reform, so did the reaction to counter Marxism, but the 20th century entered with the capitalist spirit and prosperity doctrines were ultimately preached from the pulpit.

Conservatives instinctively struggle against espousing new ideas and reject pre-existing notions of truth except where it affirms their own positions. There exists in the Conservative mentality a tendency to reduce the new and changing to the old and stable once illiberal traditions outweigh the prophetic spirit of present truth. Walking in the spirit suggests a penitent change of mind and attitude, turning from sin to the spirit of God and His righteousness. Illiberal attitudes such as bigotry, white-washed intolerance of others, closed wallets and closed minds are inevitable if there is an aversion to liberality. Since many Christians feel that once they have come to the cross they have all they need, holiness and action is no longer necessary, thereby leaving progress and social justice to God alone.

Fundamentalism is conservatism reduced to narrow systematic theologies. The more legalistic a particular church is, the more divisive and exclusivistic their individual theologies become. Conforming to the letter of the Word instead of the spirit would not give man nor God, enough freedom to bring about needed change. Repentance demands radical change. This quenching of the spirit ultimately leads to selfishness of one form or another and gravitates to the more oppressive and totalitarian world view, society's ills rather than the solution. George Orwell, author of the book "1984" wrote that "Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness."

What are Conservatives trying to conserve, anyway? Is it morality, abortion, homosexuality? The heart is desperately wicked; repentance, not Conservatism is needed here. Is it family values? Family values were thrown out long ago when someone decided that marriage was no longer a sacrament, a revolution is needed here, not Conservatism. Conserve church tradition? The traditions of men are what quenched the power of the Holy Ghost and plunged the church into apostasy, we need to throw out the Conservative traditions of men and the doctrines of demons. We are not to be conservative in our giving, in our compassion or in our social justice, we are to liberal.

Conservatism in the church has always come against restoration, revival, enthusiasm, radical faith, spiritual vitality, prophecy, liberality, Christian freedom, the social gospel, human progress, civil rights, acts of liberation from oppression and exploitation toward the poor. Those who show liberality or progressive thought or social progress have always been criticized by Conservatives.

Since free market economists, and those who echo their views, resist most forms of government intervention, they are sometimes referred to as "Conservatives" or "Libertarians." Conservatives demand that government's role be limited and that when government must intercede, it should do so in a manner that preserves as much private initiative as possible. Eugene McCarthy - "Conservatives oppose additional governmental action." Liberals see a need for greater government involvement and planning to effect social change, with government choosing the quickest and most effective path to a goal. Conservatives want less government so they can protect the status quo and be free from regulation so they can hang on to their privileged positions. Those of us who understand how much damage that deregulation is causing know how much the foolishness of Conservative thinking has done to the economic well-being of America. Over time, the backlash grew into an economic collapse of world wide proportions.

Goldwater: "The Conservative approach is nothing more or less than an approach to apply the wisdom and experience and the revealed truths of the past to the problems of today. The challenge is not to find new or different truths, but to learn how to apply established truths to the problems of the contemporary world." Thus the difference between the conservative and the radical seem to spring mainly from their attitude toward the future. Fear of the future causes us to lean against and cling to the past and present, while faith in the future renders us receptive to change. For the Conservative, to change things is to ask for trouble. The Conservative doubts that the present can be bettered, and he tries to shape the future in the image of the present. He goes to the past for reassurance about the present. Progressive thought is therefore thought of by Conservatives as an evil that must be challenged instead of a spiritual dependence upon what God would have us do.

Emerson wrote, "In our society, there is a standing antagonism between the conservative and the democratic classes, between those who have made their fortunes and the young and the poor who have fortunes to make... Innovation is the salient energy: conservatism the pause on the last movement... Conservatism makes no poetry, breathes no prayer, has no invention; it is all memory."

There is always certain meanness in the argument of Conservatism, joined with certain superiority in its existence. the mentality holds onto a fact, and it will not open its eyes to see a better fact. The process of innovation and change for the better is always the best possible state of things but since Conservatives are ideologically blind to it, they turn the other way. Conservatism is always apologizing, pleading that to change would be to deteriorate, they suspect and stone the prophet and quench the spirit of progress to protect the status-quo.

The Conservative Christian in the Evangelical mold began in the belief that the New Testament in its completed form has put an end to the need of God speaking to men through spiritual gifts, and knowledge has ceased. There are always exceptions, but in its most destructive form, Conservatives hold no spiritual responsibility for social change or to speak out against injustice. These beliefs resist change because they are presumed to have been laid down in the remote past and progressive revelation is challenged. The over-all effect of this whole system of behavior is to keep things as they are and presumably always have been.
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