Equally helpful might be to clarify the title of this blog, “Glory Looks Forward.” There are two angles to the title as I understand it—one political and the other Biblical.
Little has been made of the rhetorical shift by liberals who proudly refer to themselves as “progressive”—they represent “progress”; looking forward rather than backward. To me, the change seemed rather abrupt—I woke up one morning and suddenly, the left was ditching the term “liberal” and opting instead for the term “progressive.” (I was a bit behind the ball on that one.) For some time, the word “liberal” meant freedom and was tied, interestingly, to contemporary libertarian market principles—thus “liberal” markets referred to capitalist, free-market economies. “Liberal” as “freedom,” in some ways, became an all-encompassing category. One thinks of the 1960s and 70s when counter-cultural cries for “freedom” were tied to drug legalization, the removal of social sexual taboos, and other works of the devil that stuffy, religious, hardened, war-torn old fashioned folks didn’t like, including The Beatles and later, Disco. (That was tongue-in-cheek, by the way.)
The word also meant “generous”—thus liberals were those who gave of themselves to help others. It came to be a very happy term for how democrats thought of themselves (and still do), and contrasted nicely with the caricature that was painted of republicans (sometimes deserving, sometimes not), where republicans are those who are greedy and wanting to cut taxes in order to keep money for themselves. Thus the root word of “conservative” is “conserve” or to save. By and large, conservatives represent that which is “traditional” (whatever that means) and are thought by liberals (sometimes rightly, I’m afraid) to be deeply reactionary—the party of “no” that is bigoted, old-fashioned, and out to rain on anybody’s parade who wants any fashion of equality. On the whole, 20thcentury conservatives do not have a history of rhetorical tact.
Yet here I am, as a conservative, finding myself largely in agreement with the principle of progress. Do not misunderstand—I wholeheartedly believe that we have much to learn from the past (“Study history, study history!”). But when we say we miss “old America” or “the way things used to be,” we’re probably talking about either the late 19thcentury or 1950s America (the former for freer markets, the latter for moral social consciousness). But consider how this sounds to, say, a black person, for whom neither time really represents much to get enthusiastic about. I watched an interesting YouTube video of a conservative at an Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest, touting how much better off we would be if we would just go back to the late 19thcentury. What he meant was that he wanted less regulation and freer markets. Fair enough. A black man holding a camera in the background, not missing a beat, responded: “Better for who? Not for us!” Some people believe (wrongly, in my view) that capital markets are intrinsically racist, intrinsically favorable to white males, precisely because this, they argue, is what history shows—that white male hegemony cannot be separated from free market capitalism.
So what do conservatives need? We need to look forward, because a 19th century-esque economic policy or a 1950’s-esque moral social consciousness will look very different when laid over the context of 2012’s plausibility structures. We need new ways, forward-looking ways, of articulating truth that is not fundamentally reactionary. Republicans must not be the party of “No, you may not have that abortion,” or “No, you may not take my money and give it to the poor” or “No, you may not marry”—we must be the party of “Yes, we cherish the sanctity of human life,” “Yes, we believe in freedom and prosperity and see businesses as partners in the alleviation of poverty,” “Yes, we treasure marriage,” all the while granting the legitimacy of liberal concerns (that women’s bodies have historically been made subject to the wills of men; that we do love the poor; that we do empathize with and love those in the LGBTQ community and stand against bullying and hurtful stereotypes). These statements are not mutually exclusive to Christianity, capitalism, conservatism, or the rule of law—they’re simply said differently and, truth be told, as far as Christianity is concerned, they are said more consistently.That does not mean that we duck truth, or are ashamed in any way to speak it. Abortion is wrong. Socialism, though well intended, creates moral hazard. The state ought not force churches to wed homosexual couples against the conscience of the pastor/elders, or in any way that is contradictory to scripture. But when we say only these things, to the ears of the public, we’re merely beating the Bible or the Wealth of Nations like war drums. When we say these things first, we come off as cold and not understanding the plight of others.
Thus, with the title of this blog, I hope to create space for some rhetorical redemption, and to encourage all to post on this blog as a safe place to interact with ideas firmly but curiously and lovingly. I believe, in efforts to promote the righteousness and welfare of the state, it is to the glory of God that we take our lessons from the past and look forward to how we will apply those lessons in present and future contexts.
More briefly but of central importance is the Biblical angle to the blog’s title. Throughout redemptive history, God’s people, whether in the locus of a state (Israel) or a transnational body (the Church), have and continue to "look forward" to the coming of our Lord. The original covenant was broken through Adam. Even through continued rampant disobedience, God mercifully saved Noah and gave the Noahic covenant. Then, the Lord blessed Abraham as a “father of many nations” from whose house (dynasty, lineage) the Messiah would come. In Jeremiah and elsewhere, God promises a new covenant in which He would write His law on our hearts. We looked forward to the coming of a Messiah who would be both Davidic King and Suffering Servant. That Messiah came—Jesus the Christ—to save us from our sins and God’s inexorable wrath to come. Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose (bodily and spiritually) from the dead, proving that His sacrifice was acceptable to His Father. What Christians yesterday and today look forward to is a new heaven, a new earth and resurrection existence, much like that which Jesus enjoys, unto eternity. But what is key to see in all of this is the covenantal theology—a redemptive-historical reading of the text, where God’s people look forward to His coming; look forward to His glory, such that the Lord is who we take joy in. It is to God’s glory for us to look forward to Jesus’ coming again and to delight in our Lord’s companionship and friendship, living in the presence of our Savior, God and King forever. And with the saints of old we still say, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”
Soli Deo Gloia.
Some might call this manipulative. But, wouldn't voicing an objection also be manipulative? All discourse is, in some sense, “manipulative” if by "manipulative” we mean it is affirming something that we believe to be true and is thus consciously or subconsciously working to persuade others. Foucault made this point at some length (i.e., All statements are totalizing) and I am inclined to think, at least on this point, that he was right. And yet, that cannot stop us from working to communicate patiently, carefully and accurately with one another. The fact is, some ways of saying things are more loving than others. It is the part of wisdom to know the difference.