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Whats in the name

What’s Really in a Name? – Well Quite A Lot

Are you modern, forward-looking, with an easy, extra-tolerant attitude to your fellows? Or are you old-fashioned, anachronistic, with unpleasant Right-Wing tendencies?

Are you someone who is quite certain they are fully observing Jesus’ requirement to be non-judgemental? Or are you one of those bad people who insist on the need for restrictive rules? Because something like these are actually what “Liberal” and “conservative” really mean.

I have to say, I wince when I hear some Christians call others “conservative”, because I know that, via Conservative, Tory, [Right-wing British] politics, they really have it in mind to dismiss their fellow-believers as little short of fascist; “He’s a conservative!” – in British society, at least – is the most effective put-down one supposed-Christian can dole out to another.

And then there is the strong possibility that the people using the phrase would call themselves “Liberal”, a label which has the splendid facility immediately to promote its user to the moral high ground (far above that of the wretched “conservatives”) – a sort of “holier than thou” for our times.

What’s more, there have been occasions when I’ve heard people denigratingly describe others as “conservative” when it has been quite clear, to all present, that they have known they’ve been doing it, as they’ve said it. But what neutral term would I suggest?

Like many, I call myself “orthodox” (being a Christian who believes literally the doctrines contained in the Creeds); but in a meeting, recently, someone (who I fancy would have called himself “Liberal”) said that this term could only denote capital-O Orthodox Christians: Greek, Russian, Armenian, etc. (I later realised I should have asked him how he understood “C/catholic”).

Some who would call themselves “Evangelical” are in truth not really happy with “Evangelical”, a term which, however positively we may view it, suggests a particular tradition of Christianity, not just what C. S. Lewis called “mere Christian/ity”.

But some neutral, general term has to be found. The temptation to use the subtle value-judgements contained in labels and names – which can slyly pretend to be neutral – is sometimes too much to resist; but I’ll try – for actually, I can think of a slighting, cutting, appropriate phrase to describe many liberals and modernists, but the command to resist retaliation forbids me mentioning it.