Liberal? Conservative? For Christians, Labels Don’t Apply

Charles C. Camosy[1]

On the Center for FaithJustice mission statement page we find references to phrases like “serve the common good” and “change the world” and “educate for justice.” Unfortunately, there are many people who, on the basis of these phrases, will label you a ‘liberal’ group–whatever that is supposed to mean. But you also claim to be “rooted in the Catholic tradition.” Just as unfortunately, there are many who think of this tradition as ‘conservative’–whatever that is supposed to mean. But to truly do those things in an authentically Catholic tradition, with a particular focus on “the vulnerable, the weak and the oppressed,” means doing it in a way that is not beholden to these incoherent and increasingly ‘content free’ categories.

Indeed, we are heirs to a tradition that began with the life of a Jewish itinerant preacher in the ancient Middle-East–and the idea that artificial categories created to win national elections in late 20th Century United States could be grafted onto this tradition is just as incoherent at the categories themselves. From its earliest documented history, for instance, the Church was particularly concerned about the violence done to immature human beings in abortion and infanticide–and the Church is still on the forefront of the fight to protect the vulnerable prenatal lives threatened by a culture that will kill them simply because they are mentally disabled or because they are female. It is also well-known that from its earliest times, the Church was particularly concerned about the violence (both physical and structural) done to the vulnerable poor–and even those who were not Christian. Even the famous atheist philosopher Peter Singer notes in his great book on poverty that the Church was the social welfare system of the ancient world, and has suggested that utilitarians and Christians can work together to serve the global poor today. Uncompromising support of both the ‘conservative’ view that we should protect prenatal human beings and the ‘liberal’ view that we must support the poor or fail to support Jesus himself is the equivalent of incoherency in our world which likes to fit every person and ideology into the liberal/conservative binary.

But Christians of whatever time and place are called to serve and defend the dignity of the most vulnerable wherever they find them: whether in a uterus, under an overpass, on a job site without documentation, or in an overcrowded nursing home. To the extent that we let secular political categories shape which ones we support and which ones we ignore (or even work against!) we fail to meet Jesus’ command to love one another as he loved us. We fail to meet the gaze of Jesus coming from the neglected faces belonging to the least ones in our culture. Indeed, an inordinate focus on one’s political party, if it keeps us from performing the Gospel, is a very serious kind of idolatry.

Happily, in the young people I have encountered who are associated with the Center for FaithJustice, they seem to be living out an authentically Christian mission to the most vulnerable without reference to our tired political categories. And I have found these meetings and connections very inspiring. Many wonder why I have so much hope for the Church and our world. Meeting the kind of people associated with the Center for FaithJustice is one of the reasons why.

Keep it up.  Our polarized, violent world needs you.

[1]Charles Camosy is Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics at Fordham University and, as a member of the Fordham Conversation Project, is one of a number of young Roman Catholic theologians dedicated to challenging the polarized division in the American Church. He is a regular contributor to and is the author of Too Expensive To Treat? Finitude, Tragedy, and the Neonatal ICU.

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