On labeling

Liberal, conservative, even moderate, progressive, traditionalist, these are often the ways we identify ourselves within our communities. While these labels may set our personal views apart from other people, they rarely move us toward consensus.
In the world of religion, people might call themselves traditionalists, progressives, or moderates. This is certainly true of the Christian tradition, but although the labels may differ, may apply to other religions as well. While this may suit people’s orientations, they are wrong-headed. In the Christian tradition, for instance, the emphasis ought to be squarely on the teachings of Jesus Christ, the salvation Christians find through Christ, further teachings as revealed by other recognized scriptures within the Judeo-Christian tradition, and through loving the neighbor as that concept is most broadly constructed.
Politically, we might also identify as liberals, conservatives, moderates, libertarians, or something else entirely. Whatever we identify as is secondary to what we ought to be identifying as which is our citizenship. For example, citizens of the United States would ideally have more loyalty to their country than to any one political orientation.
Now that does not mean that we ought to give up on our political orientations. It also does not mean that we ought to compromise into oblivion, something that is too effective to work, or into something that is ineffective. What it does require us to do is to engage our primary fidelities instead of our more secondary ideologies.
Too often, it seems, we put our ideologies ahead of our primary fidelities. For example, we might insist that our political party of choice has the right solutions so much so that we we might demonize the other with hurtful names such as “bums” or “crazies” or insult the intelligence of the other person. Meanwhile, two or more sides are still divided as before and nothing productive takes place. Perhaps if a political party has enough votes or power, they can pass legislation through, but that does not necessarily change the public’s perceptions or the effectiveness of the policy. Instead of demonizing the other, we ought to be asking questions such as whether the legislation passes constitutional muster, will it be effective, how will it get paid for, which people will it impact the most, and how it will impact people.
Does this mean that we ought to compromise on everything? There are times in which compromise or a moderate solution might work. When it is possible to do so, compromise or accommodating solutions can be effective. However, in order to be effective, there needs to be guiding principles. Here, we might ask ourselves some key historical, sociological, and ethical questions.
First, we have to ask ourselves if the law, policy, or change reflects the values of the institution. I think it is helpful to look to history in this instance. That certainly does not imply history is always right (for example, racism and sexism have been issues throughout history), but whether good or ill, it can tell us some things about what we need to know for the present and future.
We need to look at the people who are most impacted. Will a compromise be good for them or will it simply continue their plight, albeit making some condition somehow better? Will there be some people more impacted than others?
Finally, we need to examine our own values. Does the law, policy, or change reflect who we are as a people? If we are changing a long-established policy, is there a good, verifiable reason to do so? For instance, when Christians consider how God may be speaking to the Church today, they might look to scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. If something fails one or more of these tests, there is a possibility that it is of human origin, not of God. If it fails on multiple levels, it is almost certainly of human origin.
We have to look past labels in order to be able to function as one community. This does not relativize Truth. The community is looking for Truth together. What it does do is to insist on a pragmatic way of thinking, taking history / tradition, impact, and ethical issues into account. We can have our different viewpoints and express them strongly. We cannot allow our viewpoints to demonize the other or to allow it to keep us from doing the important work of our cultural institutions. In order to succeed, we have to look past the label and be able to work together.


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