To identify oneself as a “conservative” is to identify oneself with some particular aspect(s) of the present/past that one believes ought to be retained or conserved going into the future. Needless to say, everybody is a conservative in some respect because we all think there are at least some things from the present/past that should be retained or conserved going into the future.
In case you’ve never thought of yourself as a conservative, ask yourself: should women have the right to vote? If you believe so, and you presently live in a part of the world where women in fact have the right to vote, then you are a conservative on that issue.
While we are all conservatives about some things, nobody is a conservative about everything. To see this, you need look no further than the Hutterite communities that populate the Canadian prairies. The Hutterites represent a stream of German Anabaptism that, like the Amish, live in independent communes and eschew modern technology. Consequently, you can always pick out Hutterites for their distinctive antiquated clothing … as they climb out of their brand new full size Ford F-150s at the local Walmart. (A friend of mine who knows Hutterite communities well told me that they remove the radio in their trucks and vans and replace it with a block of wood, but they leave the air conditioning and cruise control untouched.)
So denim and stereos are taboo, but F-150s and untold numbers of products at Walmart are okay. The Hutterites are conservatives, clearly. But just as clearly they’re not conservatives about everything. And in that respect they’re just like the rest of us.
On those issues where we are not conservative we are, in fact, progressive. Hutterite men are progressives about F-150s even if they are a particular kind of conservative about clothing.
In case you’ve never thought about yourself as a progressive, ask yourself: should government bureaucrats be expected to post their expenses so that they are accountable to the public? If you believe so, and you presently live in a part of the world where government bureaucrats are not expected to post their expenses to the public, then you are a progressive on that issue.
And this raises an important question. If we are all conservative about some things and progressive about other things, how do we decide whether to identify ourselves as on the whole progressive or conservative? Indeed, what’s the sense of identifying oneself as on the whole one or the other?
In fact, where Christians are concerned I think there is sense in identifying oneself with a generalized title, but it isn’t, as many Christians think, conservatism.
The reason is simple. Christians await the coming of the Kingdom of God in its fullness as encapsulated in the Lord’s Prayer: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Thus, Christians are defined as those who look forward to a coming reality that has not yet arrived. They pray and work for the progress of society into the Good Society that will one day come with this Kingdom. For a Christian to identify oneself as a conservative, as one who looks at the present and the past rather than the future, is fundamentally incongruous with this forward-orientation.
And thus while Christians are, like everybody else, conservatives about some things and progressives about other things, they ought, on the whole, to identify themselves as progressives.