How to Tell if You are a Liberal or a Conservative

We throw those terms around so much, you’d think one was godly and the other evil. Which is which depends on where you stand and what you believe.

We may have found the perfect litmus test to determine which you are.

This week, police in a community just west of New Orleans arrested a woman for killing her newborn baby. She had hid her pregnancy from the family and her boyfriend, given birth by herself, and then–sorry, but this is what happened–buried the just-born baby in the backyard. Wait, it gets worse, if you can believe it.

It appeared she had pulled it off without anyone being the wiser until the family dog dug up the remains in the backyard and–again, sorry–began chewing on the body. The boyfriend found the dog and what was left of the child and, clueless concerning the facts of the situation, called the police.

The police came out, studied the situation, and arrested the woman. They charged her with two crimes: murder of her baby (she said she thought it was dead when it was born) and cruelty to her dog. The animal, it turns out, was malnourished and that’s why he was digging up and eating the poorly buried body.

Sordid tale, I grant you, and I apologize for even telling it. However, we needed to tell the story in order to pose a question.

“Which charge concerns you more–killing the baby or neglecting the dog?”

Your answer tells volumes about you.

If ending the life of the child concerns you more, you are a conservative. If neglecting to feed and care for the dog bothers you more, you are a liberal.

Diane Sawyer once spoke to the chamber of commerce’s annual banquet in the city where we were living. She gave us a memorable distinction between liberals and conservatives.

“A man is drowning a hundred yards off-shore. A conservative throws him 50 yards of rope because it’s good for him to furnish part of the effort toward his own rescue. A liberal throws him a hundred yards of rope, then turns loose of his end and calls a news conference to say ‘Look what I’ve done.'”

It is for good reason that more and more Americans are identifying themselves as independents and refusing to limit themselves to one political party. Each side has so many faults, while we may like the good points of one party and consider aligning ourselves with it, we hesitate because of all the negative baggage that position carries.

I can understand Christian people voting Democratic because that party tends to be more for the working man and against big business, they believe laws should protect the underprivileged and voiceless in our society, and they want the blessings of our system of government to apply to everyone rather than the privileged few. That’s the theory, at any rate. However, the Democratic Party also stands for abortion (freedom of choice and a woman’s reproductive rights, they call it), the homosexual agenda, and Bill Clinton.

On the other hand, I can understand Christian people voting Republican because the party stands against abortion, for “family values” (however we define them), for less government, lower taxes, and such. (I know, I know–on paper, they do.) But the Republican Party also caves in to the National Rifle Association which has lost all sense of reason in its interpretation of the Second Amendment, to big business (think Enron and ‘big oil’), and to what President Eisenhower called the ‘military-industrial complex’.

If anyone sees either party as the salvation of this nation and the other as the devil incarnate, I say you need to change your specs.

My father was a seventy-year member of the United Mine Workers Union and thus almost always voted the Democratic ticket. My mom was from a Southern farm family in Winston County, Alabama, the only county in that state that tried to secede from the State of Alabama during the Civil War, and the only Republican county in the entire state for the next century. When they went to the polls, mom and dad laughed that they canceled out each other’s vote.

For my money, the worst thing the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ can do is to identify with one political party, no matter what they believe at any given time. The Church must always have the freedom to support whoever is doing right and oppose whoever does wrong without its hands being tied.

The old saying goes, “The religion that marries the culture today becomes a widow tomorrow.”

My friend Barry Miller of Los Angeles, a Jew and rightfully proud of it, feels personally offended when a candidate for president like Mike Huckabee talks openly of his faith in Jesus Christ. “Whatever happened to the separation of church and state?” he asks.

I reply that Huckabee is neither a church nor a state. He is a Christian man who seeks to be head of state (or he did, before he dropped out of the race this week), and for that he is not required to give up his identity and his values.

We’re told that Barack Obama is a longtime member of the United Church of Christ, that Hillary Clinton is a lifelong United Methodist, and that John McCain attends a Southern Baptist church in Arizona (North Phoenix Baptist Church? I’m not sure.).

One of these three will be president of the United States for the next four and possibly eight years. Personally, I hope he or she will be a strong believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and in Holy Scripture. If so, I assure Barry he has nothing to fear from such a religious faith.

I wonder sometimes how we should pray in the matter of the presidential election.

If I say, “Lord, you choose our president; thy will be done,” it could be the Lord’s will is someone not even in the running.

If I say, “Lord, which of these three is your will?” I can imagine Him saying, “Neither one, actually.”

And if I pray, “Lord, would you choose the best leader of these three for this nation,” I wonder if the Lord’s choice might actually be the worst one from our standpoint. That is to say, what if instead of wanting to “bless” America, God decides the time has come to humble this nation because of its long history of forgetting Him and neglecting the least, the last, and the lost among us?

I find myself praying what long ago became my failsafe prayer, the one I fall back on when I do not know any other way to pray: “Father, Thy will be done, whatever that is. And give us the grace to accept it and be faithful.”

Is that conservative or liberal? Probably neither, maybe both. Mostly, it’s Christian. And that’s what I am, a Christian American man who would sure love to see this nation stand up for the little guy, defend the rights of the unborn, protect the incredible natural resources God gave us, and restore integrity in our international relationships.

It is possible to grieve over the death of that newborn baby and also to feel concern over the neglect of the family dog. You can do both, but they’re not equals, friend, not by a long shot.

Your comments are welcome below. You’re welcome to disagree so long as you are gracious.

15 thoughts on “How to Tell if You are a Liberal or a Conservative

  1. Joe you are to be commended for this insightful blog on politics and faith. As you have rightly stated, there are issues that are good on both sides of the election and there are things that are bad on both sides. I cannot get out of my mind a statement from a historical tome on the ‘Fall of the Roman Empire’ it seems to fit us today; “the philosophers had decided that all religions were equally false, the people had decided that all religions were equally good and the politicians had decided that all religions were equally useful.”

    Thanks for speaking truth about our faith and politics.

    Jim Graham

    Cumming, GA

  2. In my life time I have been both a liberal and a conservative and both a Democrat and a Republican and none of the monikers fit all situations. I am not a fan of government programs but government is the best agency for some things. I have been an elected official and have worked the election day polls each election since 1964 until 2006. I say all of that because I used to pray (if I even thought to pray) that God would lead me to that ideal candidate that would cure all of our ills. That never happened. And now it doesn’t matter because now every time I step into the voting booth (or computer terminal) I pray, “God, help make the decision that will glorify you.” I don’t have to select the winner in every office – although some would be nice. But when I leave that voting booth I must lead a life that is worthy of the freedoms that my father fought for on Bataan.

    When I point a finger at politicians asking if that one is right or is wrong I need to remember that I have three fingers pointing back to me asking the same things.

    Keep up the good work. God bless.

  3. I read an article recently by Marvin Olasky (I think) He stated it’s important to care about politics. It’s even more important not to care deeply. As Gutenberg college professor Charlie Dewbery notes, “If politics can fix a problem, then Christianity is a lie.

    After reading this I remembered what God told Solomom in II Chronicles 7, 12-22. Therefore I think its time, we that identify ourselves as Christians take heed to verse 14.

    I enjoy reading your articles. May God Bless

  4. Right on, man. I’ve been an independent since LA changed to a dual system where you had to be a democrat to vote effectively for governor. i get really bugged that some doctrinaire types lambaste McCain from working across the aisle. We need a full congress that will work across the aisle. People doubt jail-house conversions. What about political conversions?

  5. Joe, you always have great insight and tell stories very well. Don’t stop writing and I will keep reading.

  6. John McCain was raised as an Episcopalian, but does attend North Phoenix Baptist Church and lists his religious affiliation as “Baptist”. If I remember correctly, his wife and kids are members, but so far he has not presented himself for baptism. An excellent work on McCain’s background is The Nightingale’s Song by Robert Timberg (Touchstone, 1995), which incidentally also includes biographical sketches of Sen. James Webb and Oliver North (the three men attended the USNA around the same time).

  7. Right on, Joe. On a lighter note: My grandmother’s brother (a staunch Southern Democrat and Baptist layman) is said to have been disappointed in both his sons. One of them once voted Republican and the other was a Methodist preacher!

    And my grandmother’s sister, who lived in Indiana, was a devoted worker in the Democratic Party (so much so that she received an engraved invitation to John Kennedy’s inauguration). When James and I were there, we registered to vote, and I carefully listened to political speeches and read the paper so I could make intelligent choices about which candidates for whom to vote. I wound up voting for one more Republican than Democrat — a novel experience for me, since at that time in Mississippi there were only Democrats on ballots. Aunt Rosa was shocked, and lost no time in telling me so. She implied that I was a disgrace to the family. I said to her, “Aunt Rosa, do you mean to tell me you wouldn’t vote for a Republican who was the best qualified person for the office?” “Of course I would,” she snapped. “I just never saw one who was!”

  8. “Which charge concerns you more–killing the baby or neglecting the dog?”…Apparently, despite what my family and some of my friends think, I don’t know a single liberal. But, using this question as a scale, I’m sure there must be only a handful in the nation. Other than using that question to sort conservatives and liberals, this article is up to your usual right on, nail on the head stuff.

    One of my biggest concerns is our government’s spending and taxing of individuals. As far as spending goes, the Republican controlled government of the last few years has been the worst in history. Just the interest PAID on our government’s debt in 2006 was around 406 billion dollars. Compare that to only 61 billion for the Department of Education and 56 billion for the Department of Transportation.

    Also, folks should keep in mind that only individuals pay taxes. Big business recoups what it pays in taxes by putting that cost into the products or services it sells to us.

    I think maybe the Lord’s will is simply to allow us to choose our leaders. I am sure that He sadly shakes his head after each election. I wonder if the election campaigns disturb Him as much as they do some of us?

    May the Lord continue to bless you Brother Joe so you can keep doing what you do so well.

    David Davis

  9. Keep writing, I’ll keep reading. May God continue to bless you in your writings.

    Sara Parnell

  10. Joe,

    A family member forwards some of your articles to me and other family members. I don’t read many of them for time’s sake but someone “replied to all” about being offended by what you wrote so I had to go back and read this one!

    I appreciate you trying to simplify politics but I think the opening illustration was a very poor one. However I don’t fault it/you as much for poor taste as for being a poor analogy. I agree with my family member who wrote, “This was a needlessly spiteful and hateful article by someone intent on crudely disparaging a group they clearly despise. How can anything like this accomplish any good whatsoever? How dare the author of this diatribe state that anyone is welcome to respond as long as they are civil, when he/she themselves are anything but civil. I do not consider myself a liberal or conservative but I have nothing but contempt for such diatribes. Please exclude me from any articles such as this in the future.”

    At first I thought my family member’s reply was harsh, but after reading the article myself I agree with him. Are you saying that your liberal-voting father would have felt more sorrow for the dog’s rights being trampled than the tragedy of losing the babies life?

    Oversimplification might appeal to some but I hate to see Christians (especially Bible believing conservatives) parking their brains at the door while we allow stories and ilustrations to form our biblical theology.

    It is hard to know how to pray for elections, I agree. But please don’t oversimplify what shouldn’t be reduced. We don’t need to over-simplify the difficult subjects as much as we need to bring up the level of understanding of the church. I don’t think stories are the vehicle to educate. Jesus did it well, but He had truth on His side. Me and you aren’t Jesus so if we are trying to teach with stories, they better be as accurate as His.

    I hope my words are received graciously.

    Bill Pfister

    Brevard, NC

  11. Joe, Thank you for your honest insights about this difficult situation. I just discovered your web site and have read several articles and have enjoyed them all. I, too have pastored most of my adult life and understand people having different insights about the same subjects, and the emotions that get going. Reacting to another should always be in love, and I trust Bill Pfister was sharing in love. Keep up the good work, for it is needed. In Christ Love, gary

  12. Thanks Joe, for your kind and gracious reply to my post. Email, blogs, and websites are wonderful additions to life but they pale in comparison to being able to speak friend to friend and brother to brother. I sometimes think I appear much bolder behind my mighty keyboard than I would dare in public when my maners and faith remind me to be kind. I pray one day my heart would be as transformed and loving as I know Christ is. You are a great blessing to my father in law and I thank God for that.

    Grace to you in your ministry and family,


  13. I questioned the lead example myself — I don’t know if anyone but a member of PETA would feel more sadness for the dog than for the child, but then, members of PETA appear to be among the most obscenely radical of all liberals, and I personally don’t know a single one.

    But I do get the point. As did Mr. Pfister’s relative, I think.

    Isn’t it odd that I was once a young, naive liberal who used to argue abortion politics with my father? Now I’m older, wiser, and the father of two children — and I have serious problems with the idea of leaving my kids alone with someone who not only supports but celebrates a “woman’s right to choose to murder her own children”. I find that attitude to be worse than dangerous — it is downright monstrous.

    I don’t know a single Mother who would not quickly give her own life, to save the life of her child. Praise God for Mothers!

  14. Ah, the wonderful world of blogs!! Those of us who have nothing to say can now say it boldly behind the annonimity of the keyboard. Why can’t the brethern? just read, digest and lay aside the bones of disagreement? Most of us have no idea the amount of time and energy needed to write these blogs. Yet, if we find a line of disagreement, we feel that we must correct it. Keep this in mind…if you survive with compliments, then you will die from criticism. Just keep up the good work and the adults will understand.

  15. A few words in self-defense….

    This refers to Bill Pfister’s first comment above, in which he refers to his relative going ballistic over the illustration I used to clarify the difference in liberal and conservative.

    First, I grant that it’s not a perfect metaphor to define the differences.

    Second, please notice that I did not say all liberals would put the dog’s welfare above the life of the baby. I said that anyone who did do that would be a liberal. Those are too very different things, but I gather by what the family member said to Bill that she is not into subtleties. This person is carrying quite a load of hostility and I happened to walk into her line of fire today.

    Third, it’s quite in order for Bill or the family member or anyone else to take a position opposite to mine. I pay for the blog (I keep remember Ronald Reagan saying in a presidential debate when they were trying to cut him off, “I paid for this microphone.”) so it’s mine and no one else is responsible for anything posted here, altho’ everyone is welcome to comment. In the rare instance where writers go over the top, my son Marty has been known to delete their comment and block any further participation from them.

    Fourth, it’s great when someone who disagrees with what we write takes the time to give their reasons logically.

    I hope readers will always feel free to do this. But whatever your position–you too, Bill–thanks for taking part in this conversation.

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