Conservative or Liberal?

Conservative or Liberal?

by Ty Gibson  |  April 27, 2015

“Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21).

Apparently, God sees in us an inclination to veer off course to the right or to the left. In fact, one of the words for sin in the Bible is “iniquity,” avon in the Hebrew, which means to be bent or inclined. It is a general characteristic of human beings to polarize into conservative and liberal camps, politically and socially. The fact that the church also experiences this same polarizing segregation to the right and to the left should clue us into the fact that we tend to bring our imbalanced personalities into religion with us.

Ellen White insightfully observed this fact:

“There is in human nature a tendency to run to extremes and from one extreme to another entirely opposite. Many are fanatics. They are consumed by a fiery zeal which is mistaken for religion, but character is the true test of discipleship. Have they the meekness of Christ? Have they His humility and sweet benevolence? Is the soul-temple emptied of pride, arrogance, selfishness, and censoriousness? If not, they know not what manner of spirit they are of. They do not realize that true Christianity consists in bearing much fruit to the glory of God” (Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, pp. 305-306).

To be a conservative or a liberal is nothing of which to be proud. It’s a manifestation of our bent, unbalanced, sinful human nature.

Liberals tend to be proud of their liberalism, and conservatives tend to be proud of their conservatism. But the truth is, both are manifestations of the sin problem. Our extreme leanings to the right and to the left are two forms of the same mental illness.

Both conservatives and liberals in the church should find it deeply troubling that conservatives and liberals, Pharisees and Sadducees, united to crucify Christ.

To be a conservative or a liberal is nothing of which to be proud. It’s a manifestation of our bent, unbalanced, sinful human nature.

It doesn’t matter how different conservatives and liberals appear to be on the surface, because they tend to have one defining characteristic in common: they hate each other, or at least they dislike, discredit, disavow, and politically dismember one another. On both sides there is pride of opinion, arrogance of attitude and, most glaringly, a spirit of censor against the other side. So the differences are only skin-deep, while at heart they are moved by one and the same spirit—the spirit of self-serving enmity that crucified Jesus.

Bottom line: there is no virtue in being a conservative, and there is no virtue in being a liberal. The only virtue at all is in Christ, and our only real safety is to live His love toward those with whom we find ourselves at odds, especially toward those with whom we find ourselves at odds.

Ty Gibson Co-Director
Light Bearers
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  • Puddleglum

    Amen! When asked whether I am liberal or
    conservative, I generally respond with “it depends on what you’re trying to
    conserve or what you’re trying to liberate.” Mike

  • Jennifer JIll

    Wow! I have felt like I must pick a side, but now I’m glad I didn’t!

    The Man in the Middle
    by Jennifer Jill

    Samson blew his chance away
    They gouged out both his eyes
    He was just like a beast in captivity
    But there are those one-last-tries
    A pillar there at his left hand
    A pillar there at his right
    He brought down the strength of the Philistines
    With his dying might

    Walking in the way
    Shot at from both ditches
    Never mind the pain
    The bruises and the stitches
    Message on his trembling lips that he could not forbear
    Life in the balance, find the man in the middle there

    Pharisees and Sadducees
    Constantly at odds
    Finally found some common ground
    In the common hate of God
    Two extremes came rushing in
    Colliding in midair
    Bearing down on the Man in the middle
    In His hour of despair

    Walking in the way
    Shot at from both ditches
    Never mind the pain
    The bruises and the stitches
    Message on his trembling lips that he could not forbear
    Life in the balance, find the man in the middle there

    Balance is not compromise
    It’s radical repose
    Holding both the sides of truth
    Where the winds of doctrine blow
    And if you’re too free for the Pharisees
    And too straight for the rest
    You might just be a man in the middle
    On a straight and narrow quest

    Walking in the way
    Shot at from both ditches
    Never mind the pain
    The bruises and the stitches
    Message on his trembling lips that he could not forbear
    Life in the balance, find the man in the middle there

  • Curtis Schafer

    If I am trying to conserve or preserve that which is good, then being conservative should be a good thing. If I only wish to preserve the status quo with the advantages which it affords me, or if I am too lazy to embrace change, when the change is good for me or for my neighbor or for the environment, then being conservative is selfish or lazy.

    If I seek to liberate those who are held captive or oppressed, then being liberal is a good thing. It’s what Jesus did. If I justify immoral lifestyle choices with the word “liberal”, I have traded the rigidity of conservatism for slavery to sin.

    The Bible does admonish us to stay on the true path, veering neither to the left nor to the right. This does not mean, however, that the positions such a stance leads us to take will always be considered “centrist” by the general population. Those who truly seek to follow Christ will undoubtedly be called too liberal by some when they seek social justice, or try to protect God’s creation. They will undoubtedly be called too conservative by some when they take the Bible seriously in regards to the sanctity of life or the sanctity of marriage. You cannot take the world’s (or America’s, for example, which will be significantly different from Spain’s, Germany’s, or Madagascar’s) spectrum of liberal to conservative, choose a point in the middle, and say “I have found the truth”, “I am neither veering to the left or to the right”.

    Jesus was crucified, not because he was too liberal, not because he was too conservative, not because he found the happy “centrist” medium. Jesus was the truth, and lived truth in everything he did. This angered both conservatives and liberals, albeit possibly at different times. Jesus did not try to find a centrist position so as not to offend anyone. He spoke the truth, he spoke it with authority, and he did God’s will, regardless of how popular it was.

    Curtis Schafer

  • Adriana Kassay

    I truly believe this! I guess that is why I always say I am neither! I don’t agree with either side! But I do like Ben Carson for President! LOL! 😉

  • virginiadavidson

    Even “the right road” had a ditch on each side…or so it seems to me! So I try to stay in the middle…of the right road. Some think I’m too liberal, others think I’m too conservative. Maybe it’s working?

    The most important thing is not to allow the opinions of *either* side to determine my stance or opinion on *any*thing. Keeping one’s focus on Christ,–“loving Him, copying Him, depending wholly upon Him,”–we can be transformed into His image (SC 71). And I *know* that **He** is a safe example to follow!

    Postscript: Another Scripture to challenge our sense of balance is Ecclesiastes 7:16-18. Fascinating!

  • Hannah Luttrell

    Was just reading in Joshua 5:13-14 where Joshua sees a man with a sword and asks him, Are you for us or for our enemies? “Neither,” the stranger replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

    Most of us would have assumed that God was on the Israelites side, just as we often assume God is on ‘our’ side (be it literal or conservative) and not our enemies side. Yet this passage shows that God doesn’t seem to make the same distinctions we do. He doesn’t see ‘sides’, perhaps because He looks at the heart of the individual, not the side they are on.

    May our response then be like Joshua, who “fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?'” Rather than worrying about whose side everyone is on, let us find our what God would have us each do as individual servants of Him.

  • Maryann Lee


  • Musikmädchen

    Thank you for sharing this scripture. In reading the foot notes for verse 16 in the “Modern Language Bible, New Berkeley Version” I found this, “For two possible reasons – we may weigh matters too long without acting, and we may set standards for others which they will never reach.” Or which they are not expected to reach by Jesus, on out time schedule!

  • nessa rose

    Pastor Gibson and Mr. Schafer beautifully presented the down sides of “taking sides”. When people ask me what church I attend and I tell them they tell me “oh that church is conservative” I say “no it is bible based in Love”. We have to stop getting hung up with this stuff… In the end every person stands before God alone, we must shore up our relationship with our Father in heaven. Know one can do this for us. If we look at what God tells us is true religion Isaiah 58, we see Israel asking God where is the true religion. He answers that it is all around you, the weak, the widowed, the orphaned…When we unite in one purpose, to get the work done so Jesus can return, we put down our pride and prejudice. My feeling is when our own people become cumbersome, just reach out to that big community around you and serve Him in a mighty way. “…and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love and they’ll know we are Christians by our love”.

  • dawdish

    Thank you for this word. It has long troubled me that “political” verbiage is used to describe people in the church, by personalizing what are seen as issues of “truth”. It marginalizes and tends to stop dialog to the point that, what the truth really is, can not be discovered. To label is to make the issue personal.

  • jim farber

    The Bible says “The liberal heart shall be made fat.” I like that. Jesus had that kind of heart. He is our example in everything!

  • Morgan Graham

    And yet, most people will read this and still pick a side— or, more than likely, will simply remain on the side they are on already. Some might even renounce the label of ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative,’ but nothing else will change at all, and in a way the problems will become worse, because at that point there is no more visible focus on the sin— it is still in the book, but has been erased from the table of contents. Bottom line, we want to feel like we are right far more than we ever want to follow Jesus. When we see a side in the church, then, that is only minimally abrasive to our own views, we get the best of both worlds: a great demographic championing our selfsame opinions and dehumanizing ‘the other’—thus leading to the recognition that we must indeed be right, as ‘we’ all agree and ‘everyone else’ is wrong—and since it is of the church, and is ‘right,’ it must necessarily also be the side that truly follows in Christ’s footsteps.

    Thus we have two basic extremes in the church, neither of which claims the labels of ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ but both of which make up the vast majority of our denizens. The telltale sign of whether or not a group is either liberal or conservative is in whether or not it can be defined specifically by contrasting it with the other side (that is, any other side)— either by the group’s own admissions and proclamations or simply through observations thereof. Tragically, we see this definition-by-contrast most pervasively at work in the myriad ways by which the most conservative aspects of our church (including, in far too many instances, our leaders and leading institutions) define themselves in contrast with ‘the world.’ Inevitably, this method still very much puts our actions and beliefs very directly under the world’s control. When Elijah was running from Jezebel he was most definitely doing just that—that is, running from Jezebel—while he was most definitely not following God. No, he was not doctrinally converting to Baalism, but his actions were controlled by its teachings just the same. He ran from the world for fear of death— and that, as a church—and potentially even moreso as individuals—is, more often than not, precisely what we do: we run from the death that we perceive in the world rather than taking up our crosses daily and following Christ.

    God’s resounding question to Elijah, however, was still this: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Likewise He inquires of us. We spend so far and so long and so much energy in running from the death and sin that we see in the world we end up days and weeks away from where God was attempting to lead us— while at the same time we have made this flight so needlessly difficult upon ourselves that we often beg of God to end our seemingly fruitless lives— but we are the only ones who stop the fruit from being borne!

    Similar can be said for the liberal camps in our church. Where the conservatives define themselves in contrast with the world, the liberals define themselves in contrast with conservatives— and thus the world controls nigh the whole of the body, while Christ is present most often only in label.

    What can we do? What can each individual do to combat this pervasive tide of worldliness? The first step is to stop making the excuses and deflections that you have indeed been making throughout this reading. Everything along the lines of “the church doesn’t do that” and “I don’t do that” and “oh, for sure I see that in others”— just stop. The Lord does not see as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. So stop looking at others’ outward appearances, and start looking at your own masterfully deceitful and desperately wicked heart. Stop focusing on the specks in the eyes of others and start focusing on the planks in your own. Stop attempting to put down roots in the flaws of others and instead cultivate them in yourself. What is the greatest commandment? To love the Lord your God with all your mind, all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength, and to love you neighbor as yourself. You cannot love God when you love your works and your flight from the world, and you cannot love yourself when you love the flaws of your neighbor. It is not our works according to the law by which we are saved, but by grace through faith, that faith and fear cannot coexist, and that there is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear. In other words, when we design our works according to the law and in contrast with the world, it is still of our own design controlled by the world— still in fear through which we act, not in faith and in love. But recall that anything not done from faith is sin. Likewise, when we hate our brothers whom we can see, we cannot love God whom we cannot see— and to claim otherwise is a lie. So love God, love your neighbor, and love yourself, for everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Everything else falls outside of the will of God, who Himself is love.

    For reference: 1 Kings 19:1-10; Matthew 13:7, 22; 1 Samuel 16:7; Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 7:3-5; Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21; Mark 12:28-34; Galatians 2:16, 21; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 2:10; 1 John 4:18; Romans 14:23; 1 John 4:20-21; 1 John 4:7, 8.

  • Ray Edwards

    The article lacked one important element: the definition of “liberal” and “conservative”

  • Dimitar Peychinov


  • KJ1959

    Few have seen or used this verse to address this issue. I am so thankful to see yours here. I have used it for a number of years now in religious liberty work when I find among the saints those who would pigeon hole me as right or left and demand even, that I be one or the other. It’s as if the Angel said to Joshua, “wrong question. What should be asked is, are you with Me [God].” Joshua’s is the response we should and will have upon encountering Christ as we submit our lives fully to Him. If we do we will not be right or left, but centered in Him.

  • KJ1959

    Much appreciation for this article, Ty. Thank you.

  • InterestedFriend

    It is interesting that TY seems to speak in what some would call “judgmental” terms about conservatives and liberals.
    It is convenient to classify persons according to their predominate inclinations and it often serves a good purpose. Let’s admit that there are both liberals and conservatives who are not persons who speak kindly. OTOH there are liberals and conservatives who respect other viewpoints and do not excoriate others for contrary views.

    I don’t find Gibson’s conclusions convincing.

  • Dee

    Sitting in the debate on Women’s ordination, unfortunately this article seemed very apt. There were some unhelpful comments on both sides.

  • Stokanator

    It is my opinion that this article is far off base, so much so that I don’t even know where to start!

    I’ll agree that as Christians we don’t want to put much focus on labels, and who’s a member of this group or that group. In many cases its these categorization that push potential new Christians away from God. I also believe the church shouldn’t be used as pulpit to drum up votes or support for a particular candidate or convey one candidate is more Christianly then the other.

    Where the message fails to acknowledge is one of these political groups are at war with Christianity, removing God from the pledge, removing the 10 commandments and crosses from courts across America, legalizing gay marriage, supporting abortion, and so on! I won’t say which party supports these things but each and every one of you know exactly which one I;m talking about!!! Lets just say one of these parties aligns with Christian morals and the other does not and that isn’t even up for debate!!!

  • Grumps

    TY, I am not convinced your Binary holds: Pharisees were recognized for their strict observance of both traditional and written law, while Sadducees rejected any obligation to follow oral tradition and emphasized acceptance of the written Law, on its own.
    As I understand the difference between conservative and liberal – both sects were Conservative.

  • Marion Cheek

    Thank you for poem. It’s amazing. Is it yours? I hope it’s ok that I copied it. I plan to Post on my Timeline – is that alright? God bless your ministry.

  • Sharon Dudgeon

    I don’t even know where to begin with your stereotypes! God was never in the pledge until June of 1954, and that was in response to the communist scare and McCarthyism. Removing the Ten Commandments and God from courtrooms is known as upholding the Establishment Clause in the US Constitution. The government cannot favor one religion over another. You equate all of these activities with a war on Christianity, which is a totally false narrative. I can think of examples of either of the main political groups failing to uphold Christian values. No one group has a monopoly on that. Sadly, the group that claims to stand for Christian values is often egregiously out of line with them.

  • treesing247

    There is a concept in Islam called the middle path. Not being too extreme nor too lax but a balance that would allow one to function. It’s sad to see how oblivious people are to it. Not recognizing they (liberals & conservatives) are just as wrong/extreme as the other group. Two sides to the same coin.