Grace and liberalism.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 November

As regular readers know, I’m somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum in the United States. It’s because I’m trying to follow Jesus rather than any of the political parties, and when his teachings differ with the party platforms, or the politicians running for office or holding office have deficient character and no plans to reform, I’m gonna differ too. Hence progressives see me as conservative, and conservatives see me as liberal.

Since most of the people I know are conservative, some of ’em see me as just a little bit leftist, and others consider me a fully radical socialist nightmare. Of course it all depends on how conservative they are; really, how much they’ve permitted partisans to compromise their Christianity. Because some of their beliefs aren’t Christian at all. They’re disguised as Christian beliefs, which is why I call ’em Christianist: Some of ’em do a full 180-degree turn from anything Jesus, the apostles, and the scriptures teach.

And no, this isn’t just a phenomenon found among conservatives. Partisans of every stripe do it. I know lots of people on the Christian Left who’ve made similar compromises. Because more of the people I know are conservative, you’re gonna find me pointing at them more often. Same as in the gospels when Jesus was constantly correcting Pharisees (or as the gospel of John calls ’em, “Judeans” or “Jews”) —that’s who he interacted with most.

Whenever conservatives object to my politics, it’s predictably because I don’t follow the party line. Right-wing radio and TV told ’em real Americans gotta think or behave a certain way; I won’t behave that way, so they rebuke me. I don’t keep up with their favorite pundits, so obviously I’m not gonna be in lockstep. Which is fine by me; those guys aren’t my Lord anyway.

But an equally common phenomenon is they object to my politics because I’m practicing grace. As Christians should; it’s a fruit of the Spirit. Jesus expects us to love all, forgive all, be generous with strangers and even enemies, show compassion, and preach good news to the poor. So I try to do that. And they object.

Yes, they object to grace. The same grace by which they’re saved; the same grace God shows to the just and unjust without limit. They don’t practice grace y’see, so it stands to reason they don’t recognize it as something we Christians are to do. It’s only something “the bleeding-heart liberals” do.

You know where the bleeding heart idea comes from? From Jesus. From the Roman soldiers stabbing Jesus in the heart. Jn 19.34 Over time Roman Catholics turned “the sacred heart of Jesus” into a big devotional thing, meditating on how Jesus’s compassion for sinners resulted in shedding his blood to save us. A “bleeding heart” used to be how irreligious people mocked compassionate Christians. Now it’s how conservatives mock compassionate people in general. They lost sight of the connection between bleeding hearts and Jesus—and whenever I point it out to them, they just dismiss it as ridiculous Catholic stuff. No, it’s Christian stuff—but what do they know of how Christians oughta behave? They don’t do grace.

To them, compassion is “liberal.” Charity is “liberal.” Generosity is “liberal.” Good works are “liberal”—they’re “works righteousness,” and the only reason people do ’em is to make themselves feel self-righteous. Loving your neighbor?—“liberal.” Grace? Same deal.

It’s actually not liberal. Conservatives can do all these things too—and if they claim to follow Jesus, they should be doing all these things too! Heck, they should be outperforming pagan liberals by a mile. So why don’t they? Because there are tons of Mammonists in the American conservative movement. Loads of social Darwinists who see generosity as a drain on their wealth; who see no profit in helping needy people whom they consider unworthy. They’ve come up with Christian-sounding arguments so as to lead the Christians in their movement astray—and these arguments have worked profoundly well. Screw grace; it’s not “good stewardship.”

Hence gracelessness has become associated with conservatism. I know; if you’re conservative but practice grace, you certainly don’t see it that way. Back when I was conservative, I didn’t see it that way either. But that’s reality. The Mammonists are ruling the movement (they are funding it, after all), and their policy is the reigning policy: Charity is for suckers, and if you “need” a handout you’re either weak or a con artist. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Get a job.

If conservatives don’t do grace—at all—stands to reason you’d think it’s a liberal thing.

There is a difference.

Thing is, while a lot of progressives do practice grace, a lot of the stuff which passes for “grace” among them isn’t actually grace. It’s toleration.

They do try their darnedest to make toleration sound like grace. (“Hey, isn’t it kind of me that I tolerate you? Isn’t it generous? Isn’t it gracious?”) But when you’re on the receiving end of this “grace,” it’s deficient in a whole lot of ways. Grace is God’s generous, forgiving attitude towards his people, ’cause he loves us. Whereas progressives (unless they’re Christian) don’t necessarily love everyone. But they’ll tolerate everyone. Sometimes because they really don’t care. Other times grudgingly.

In a lot of cases the progressive point of view is a theologically liberal one: “I can easily tolerate that behavior because it’s not actually sin”—because either they don’t believe bible (instead of, appropriately, not trusting the graceless interpretations of bigoted people) or they think it’s been cancelled out in our “age of grace.” It’s not tolerance so much as it is anarchy; you’ve broken no commands because there are no commands. No standards. No rules. God permits all. Which is not how he works; he’s gracious, not lawless. As should we be.

Other times God’s loving attitude is simply missing, and you can really feel it. It’s replaced with benign acceptance, and while that’s certainly better than anarchy or negativity, it’s not positivity. It’s neutrality. It’s “meh.” Here you go; here’s your charity; now be on your way.

There’s likewise a lot of reciprocity expected in the way progressives show tolerance: If they’re tolerant of you, but you show no tolerance in return, they stop tolerating you. Why should they bother?—you’re being a jerk. Tolerance expects a reciprocal response, and grace, while it’d certainly appreciate gratitude or grace in return, isn’t about receiving any reward for one’s efforts. It’s done out of love. That’s all.

I prefer grace. So does everyone!—unless of course they don’t do grace.