Conservative Progressives?

By Brian McLaren 11-16-2009

It's been said that conservatives are people who honor the tombs of dead progressives. If that's true, then within the Democratic movement, even with its progressive reputation, there could be a wing of conservative progressives, those who remember the good old days and the great leaders who then presided.

What would a conservative wing of the progressive party stand for? First, I think, they would be staunchly secular, deeply suspicious of progressive Evangelicals and Catholics being "out of the closet" about their faith in party circles. Second, they would be nervous about progressive religious Democrats who do not favor criminalizing abortion but are deeply committed to abortion reduction. Third, they would be concerned if these Evangelical and Catholic Democrats wanted the same kinds of accountability for big government that they want for big business.

Most progressive Evangelicals, it turns out, are the sons and daughters of religiously righteous conservative Republicans, so they have already learned how to break free from conservative strangle-holds. Wouldn't it be ironic if they become the ones to help shift the center of gravity in the Democratic Party -- not regressively, but in a freshly progressive direction?

This is the time, I believe, for Christians and non-Christians in both parties to become truly progressive -- to move on from old and tired fights and litmus tests that polarize, paralyze, and never lead anywhere productive. We need to realize this inconvenient but urgently needed truth: it's not the 1980s anymore. If we keep asking the same old poorly framed or unproductive questions -- What is your position on abortion? What's your position on gay marriage? Are you religious or secular? Are you for or against big government?-- whatever our answers are, we remain stuck in a past moment and can't get out of it. We don't just need new answers to the same old questions; we need to raise new questions entirely, and in that way, change the conversation in both parties in a truly progressive way.

To regress in this way to the old battle lines of the 1980s is, in my view, a bad and sad idea. Democrats and Republicans alike need to progress to a new list of critical issues, beginning with three emergencies I identified in my book Everything Must Change:

  1. The Crisis of the Planet: How can we reorient our economy around sustainability and regeneration rather than consumption and environmental degradation?
  2. The Crisis of Poverty: How can we address the growing economic gap between a powerful rich minority and the marginalized poor majority of our world's people, especially when rich corporate elites have found ways to co-opt democracy and control political agendas here and around the world?
  3. The Crisis of Peace: How can we move beyond the morally bankrupt and economically bankrupting endless wars of terrorism and counter-terrorism to pursue peace through justice and reconciliation in a world armed with too many and too-dangerous weapons?

Christians have every reason to address these three issues with faith-based energy and passion, whatever their party. I hope that Democrats will welcome a shift in focus to a new kind of question, and that progressive Evangelicals (and Catholics) will aid in that process.

Brian McLarenBrian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) is a speaker and author, most recently of Everything Must Change and Finding Our Way Again.

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