Transcending The Labels

No one who knows me would dare to call me "liberal," whether in the political, cultural, or theological sense. Lately, however, I've been thinking a lot about whether I want to be known as a "conservative." Maybe it is a sign of reaching middle age, but a lot of the things I used to be so sure about aren't as clear anymore. The death penalty is a good example. I used to be a "hang 'em high" law-and-order kind of guy. Now I'm not so sure.

On the other hand, I am far from being a liberal in the way most people understand it. I disagree with Ted Kennedy about, well, pretty much everything. I used to call myself a libertarian but that doesn't really fit either. I don't know what political label to wear, and this is a little bit distressing to me.

David Kuo had a post last week about the early Christians that gave me some food for thought in this regard. Kuo quoted another blog by David Fairchild on the 10 marks of the early church. I don't know if these are strictly accurate, historically speaking, but they sound about right.

• 1- They refused to attend blood thirsty entertainment. They wouldn’t go to gladiatorial events because they believed it defiled humans who were created in the image of God. This made them appear to be anti-social. Tertullian and Augustine both write about these events in a negative light.
• 2- They did not serve in the military to support Caesar’s wars of conquest, which made them appear weak.
• 3- They were against abortion and infanticide. In this culture, both were considered acceptable. To throw your baby out on the dung heap if you didn’t want it was not taboo.
• 4- They empowered women by showing their value and dignity in places of learning and service which had previously been exclusively for men. Christians held women in high regard and treasured them rather than viewing them as just a step above expendable children and servants.
• 5- They were against sex outside of marriage. This fidelity was considered odd and against culture. Sex was viewed as nothing more than a desire like eating or sleeping. Christians held a high view of the bed and kept it pure and would not engage in sex outside of marriage.
• 6- They were against homosexual relationships. This was odd in a time when same sex practice was not frowned upon.
• 7- They were exceptionally generous with their resources. They shared what they had with one another and welcomed others in with a hospitality that was unparalleled.
• 8- They were radically for the poor. In a time when the poor and downtrodden were viewed as getting what they deserved, they were aggressively committed to loving and serving people in the margins of society.
• 9- They mixed races and social classes in ways that were unseen in their gatherings, and for it they were considered scandalous.
• 10- They believed only Christ was the way to salvation. This was in a time when everyone had a god and could believe something entirely different and it was totally acceptable to be polytheists and pluralistic. Christians dared claim that Jesus was the only way and refused to bend to other gods.

These all sound great, right? Fairchild goes on to compare these to today's political labels. What we now call "liberals" follow points 1, 2, 4, and 9. Those we call "conservative" stress numbers 3, 5, 6, and 10. Very few people on either side truly practice 7 or 8, though some monastic communities come close.

What does this tell us? It suggests to me that if we really try to live the same faith that the church fathers did, we probably won't fit into anyone's political box. I suspect the first Christians didn't worry about what political party to join, how to influence the emperor, or what ideological terms they should apply to themselves. They lived their lives in a simple, consistent manner. In this way they brought down the Roman Empire.

The Empire didn't fall overnight. Christianity did not prevail by force. Christians didn't compromise their principles for short-term gain. All they did was practice the faith in their everyday lives and lead their families as best they could. It worked.

What can we learn from this example? I'm not sure yet. I'm thinking through a lot of things right now and it's leading me places I didn't expect. I'll write more about this as I develop my thoughts. Meanwhile please leave comments if you have anything to add.

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