My personality dictates that I’m a by-the-book person. I have been this way all my life. When one follows the rules, one doesn’t get into trouble. When one follows the rules, one makes people in authority happy. Since I don’t like conflict, and I prefer to keep peace between myself and the people I associate with, I follow the rules.
With this in mind, it shouldn’t surprise you that when I was younger, I was pretty conservative. When I made the decision to follow Christ at the age of 16, my faith cemented my conservative beliefs. When I was able to vote for the first time, I voted Republican, and I was proud of it. Most of my friends were conservative, my boyfriend (now husband) was a staunch Republican, and I had been raised in a fairly right of center home. God was on our side! Not the side of those pesky liberals!
I stayed conservative until I was about twenty-nine. And then I went back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree.
I’ll back up a bit now. I had been concerned about the plight of the poor in our country for a while, and felt a strong call to work with the homeless “when I grew up.” (I’ll let you know when that grown up thing happens, ha) I was interested in learning what I could do to help the poor.
I took a class on geopolitics my senior year of college, and some of the articles we read were about how what we do affects the poor in this country and all over the world. One of the articles was about the use of land to raise livestock versus the use of land to raise vegetables and grains, and how studies have shown that more protein is available for food from land used to raise vegetables and grains than is available from land use to raise livestock for food. After mulling that over for a while, and deciding that I wanted to support farm practices that are better for feeding those who are hungry, I became a vegetarian (technically a pescetarian, since I still eat fish, but I’m mostly vegetarian). As I’ve explained before, becoming a vegetarian caused me to become more aware of the environmental concerns surrounding eating meat, which led me to a greater awareness of environmental concerns in general. This led me to becoming a practicing environmentalist, then into a MA program to learn about how what we do to the environment affects people all over the world and how Christians should become better stewards of the environment to show their love not only for God, but for the rest of His creation. Learning about stewardship in one area led me to learning about stewardship in other areas. But what this all comes down to is a single purpose: God loves the poor, and He wants us to love them as much as He does.
So many conservative Christians believe, and rightly so, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2: 8-9) and reject a works-based salvation. Which is good and fine. But they forget that right belief and right practice go hand-in-hand, because “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26). When it comes to salvation, what we believe about Jesus is important; however, our belief about Jesus is on the other side of the same coin that says that if we truly believe what we say we believe, we will put those beliefs to work in the world. James, in his lead up to the last verse of the chapter, says it this way:
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
I bring this up now because a friend I’ve known since I was ten posted something on Facebook a few days ago about the Occupy movement. This friend said that the pastor’s sermon at Church Sunday mentioned that while the Occupy movement is mainly concerned with the top 1% of the United States, from a global perspective, everyone in the United States is in the top 1%. Which is true. Even the homeless people in the United States are better off than the well-to-do in some very poor countries, because the homeless here can often find heated or air conditioned shelter and a meal at a moment’s notice. They have clean water and can probably find a way to make money for the necessities pretty easily.
That’s not the way of the rest of the world. In reality, all United States’ citizens are spoiled.
That statement on Facebook led to a lively discussion about liberals, Socialist/Marxist thought, the American poor vs. the poor of the Global South, and what Jesus really thinks we should be doing. So as not to offend my friend or any of my friend’s friends, I stayed out of it.
Because I’m not that conservative anymore.
Truth be told, I’m what people would call a liberal, but I really strain against that label. When handing out political labels, opponents tend to use those terms – liberal and conservative – as slurs: “those damn (insert opposing political affiliation here), they’re so stupid! Always basing their politics on their feelings, and never thinking about what they really believe and the ramifications those beliefs have on the world!” There also seems to be a strong feeling that liberals don’t follow the rules.
Am I wrong, or have I gotten the sentiment right?
I really, really don’t want people to think that I haven’t thought about my beliefs. I really don’t want people to think I’m stupid or thoughtless. And sometimes I think I horrify people I’ve been friends with since childhood because I used to be so conservative, and now I’m a vegetarian environmentalist with Socialist leanings — who likes to quote Scripture to back it all up. When it comes down to it, I still like to follow the rules, but now I have a much broader perspective on what the rules are.
So, you think I’m liberal, folks? Here’s what Jesus said and did:
When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”
Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” (Matthew 8:1-7)
Jesus healed people. The Gospels are full of stories of people coming to Jesus for healing. Sometimes they asked, sometimes they didn’t, but they all got healed – free of charge.
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air havenests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20)
Jesus was homeless. You know all those people that live on the streets, in shelters, or on friends’ couches? Yeah, Jesus was one of them. He was a vagrant, a tramp, or a hobo. But the point is, He did not have a home.
Freely you have received, freely give. Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food. (Matthew 10:8-10)
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. (Matthew 16:24-27)
Jesus told those who followed Him to leave their stuff behind and deny themselves.
Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”
Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is:‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shalllove the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:44-45)
But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.
“But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)
The Greatest Commandment is to love God; the second, which Jesus said was like the first, is to love our neighbor. Jesus also said to love our enemies, bless them, do good to them, and pray for them.
Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
Jesus told us to be humble, for in our humility, we are justified before God.
Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”
Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”
And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”(Luke 19:1-10)
Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”
When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call therighteous, but sinners, to repentance.”(Mark 2:15-17)
The Pharisees, the ones who wanted to look righteous in the eyes of everyone, looked down on Jesus, questioning his character because He spent his time with tax collectors and sinners.
And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things. When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.”
But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:34-37)
Then He also said to him who invited Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, theblind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)
Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”
So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He said to Him, “Which ones?”
Jesus said, “ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ 19 ‘Honor your father andyour mother,’and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”
Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:16-24)
Jesus told the disciples to feed the people who had come to hear Him speak. He told us to invite the poor, the lame, the maimed, and the blind to dinner and not expect anything in return. And He told a rich man that to achieve perfection, he should sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor.
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”
And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matthew 7:24-29)
“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:43-45)
“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? (Luke 6:46)
And then Jesus told us to follow His commands, even going so far as to ask why we would call him Lord (from the Latin Dominus, which means “Master”) if we’re not going to do the things He tells us to do.
This guy is our example, people. We’re told to follow a homeless man who didn’t give a rat’s ass about our possessions. He told us to love the people that hate us, serve the poor, be humble, hang out with sinners, and — as if those things aren’t a kick to our pride and self-righteousness — obey him if we really want to call Him our Master.
He didn’t tell us that it’s OK to buy a lot of stuff, judge people for what they look like or who they hang out with, or ignore the poor. Yet I see a lot of conservatives doing just that.
To be fair, the liberals aren’t doing so well either.
Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15) His commands weren’t conservative or liberal; Jesus was a radical, and His commandments are radical. They go against the very core of who we are as fallen people. Yet, to truly follow Jesus, we have to live out these radical commands.
So to my friends, whom I love very much: I know I seem like one of those bleeding-heart liberals, but I’m just trying to follow my Master and obey His rules. I fail a lot, but I just keep trying.
Written by Stephanie Moulton and originally posted on November 10, 2011 at Flood.