Open Letter to a Conservative Friend

Dear Conservative Friend,  

Glad you asked all the questions.  I will attempt to answer them all. But first a few comments to pave the road to our destination.

Comment 1:  You said, " I don't trust anyone who is for big government control." Okay, that's where you are at and I'm glad you are upfront about it. Just know this: by your own admission, you can't trust me. I am for big government in many aspects.  My main gripe with big government these days is the part of  it that is located in a five-sided building and has a disturbing propensity to take actions that result in the demise of many other people.  But I digress---If I had my druthers, I'd be sipping my cup of Joe in Sweden right now.  

Sadly, if you can't trust me, it will be hard for us to have an honest conversation. I'd like you to reconsider your statement and consider trusting me temporarily, at least until you read to the end of my post.   I'd even like to ask you to reconsider your stance on trust. Sure, we can't trust everyone, but to baldy state that you refuse to trust anyone who holds a different political viewpoint from you seems extreme.  Shouldn't trust be granted based on a person's proven character?

Comment 2: You say that you and your dad are both ready to testify that the world's morality has gone downhill.  That statement seems rather bold.  Are you really certain that you have a perspective on the entire world? We are talking about 6,865,343,578 people who speak perhaps 6,000 different languages.  Are you absolutely sure the morality has gone downhill in every ethnic group in the entire world?  Are you even certain that morality has gone downhill in the largest ethnic group in the world, the Han Chinese?  That's a judgment I'm not ready to make. 

Comment 3: You say, "We have made some headway in things like racism, treatment of women, conservation, but the moral values have declined."  I agree with the first part of your statement.  We have made progress.  But I am puzzled by your "but."  Aren't things like the eradication of racism, improvement in the treatment of women, and the conservation of the environment all moral values?  If they are not moral values, than what are they? 

Your statement seems to imply that the real moral values are things like ______ (fill in the blank with stopping abortion, gay marriage, divorce, and fornication),  while things like equality and fair treatment are just minor issues that don't even count as morality.  Okay now for your questions.

Q. "Where have you been?
A. Geographically speaking, I've been right here in Incheon, South Korea for the past six years. Before that I was in Dallas, Texas for a couple years.  Also spent some time in Greece, Israel, Egypt, Thailand, the Philippines, and China.  

But I guess you didn't mean to ask my geographical location. If you mean to imply that my head has been stuck in the sand for some time, just replace the word "sand" with the word "book" or "newspaper" and you'd be right on.  

Q. Don't you come from a conservative background?  
A. Yes, I do.  My conservative background is impeccable. As you know, I am a pastor's daughter and I was raised in a Bible church. For those of you who aren't up on denominational differences, Bible churches tend to stress a literal reading of the Bible and are considered to be solidly on the fundamentalist end of the Christian spectrum.  (Great video games could be made pitting Bible church members against Episcopalians--sort of "Moral Kombat vs P.C. Universe.)

Not only that, I was homeschooled K-12 using only Christian curriculum.  My science books were strong on young earth creationism.  My history books were all about manifest destiny.  My economics books weren't about small government--they were about gnomish government. 

If anyone else thinks he has reason to put confidence in his conservative background, I have more:  a Bible camp leader from the eighth grade, of the people of Otis Orchards Bible Church, of the tribe of the far right, a homeschooler of homeschoolers; in regards to the Bible, a prolific memorizer; as for zeal, a passionate evangelist; as for legalistic righteousness--I didn't even listen to any non-Christian music.

Q. Is God conservative, liberal, or somewhere in-between?  
A.  God is love. God is not conservative, liberal, or somewhere in-between. "I am who I am" is who he is and no label can define him adequately.

Q. Was Jesus morally conservative? 
A. By the standards of his day, I'd say Jesus was quite progressive, though not exactly flamboyant.  That answer may not satisfy you so let me put it this way: I could see Jesus going down to the local gay bar to minister to people by loving and accepting them, but I don't see Jesus popping ecstasy, getting trashed and bringing a man home with him.  

Q. How would you describe yourself morally? 
A. Well, I'm not sure what you mean by this question. I wouldn't dare describe myself morally.  If you mean to say, "What is your views on ______?" then go ahead and ask that in the comments.  

But my views on moral issue X, Y, or Z do not describe myself.  There are plenty of people, perhaps as many as 6,865,343,578 people, whose moral viewpoint and actions are at odds.  If I say, "I oppose murder" but then I vote for someone who invades other countries without just cause and causes the deaths of many innocents, am I really without guilt?  Being able to spout off all the right moral answers is hardly proof that I am morally pure. Thus, I decline to go down that road.

Q. Do you believe that things are morally right or wrong?
A. Sigh. Yes. Some things, anyway.

Q. Do you believe in what the Bible tells us about what is right and wrong?
A. You tell me what you think the Bible says and I'll tell you if I believe it.  I'm not trying to avoid the question. What I'm trying to avoid is the regrettable viewpoint that holds that "the Bible" equates "the American right wing agenda."  

Q. What do you use as your moral guide for life?
A. The life of Jesus.  Also the lives of people whom I have known and admired.  And the "Communist Manifesto." (Totally kidding about the last one.) 

Q.  Do you use the 10 commandments as a moral guide?
A. No, I don't. I've never found the 10 commandments to be very helpful. Not much there that I would even be remotely tempted to do anyway, regardless of whether I were a Christian or not. 




  1. Oh my! The Ten Commandments are not very helpful? I can't believe what I just read. If more people paid attention to the "shalt not's," you don't think this would be a much better world?

  2. Yes, James, you read me right. The Ten Commandments are not particularly helpful to me. They are too basic and don't offer me any help when I face complex moral dilemmas. I have no interest in taking the Lord's name in vain, in worshiping idols or in murdering people anyway.

    Jesus' life offers me far more helpful guidance than the 10 commandments do.

    If more people paid attention to the shall nots, the world would definitely be a better place. But it still wouldn't be nearly enough to make the world a great place.

  3. Hannah, you had me until the last point. I think the ten commandments are richer than you're recognizing - it's kind of like the Lord's prayer - it's deeper than a straightforward literal reading (I wonder if your background has made it harder for you to revisit Scripture from a more conceptual approach). For example, worshipping idols doesn't just mean statues, but rather anything that rules us - money, ideals, success, food, other people's approval, etc. I haven't read it yet but Tim Keller wrote a book about counterfeit gods, which I've heard is especially relevant to western culture.

  4. Hey, Ellie, thanks for your comment. But I still stand by what I said. My background was chock full of conceptual readings and from the time I was a little girl until now, I found them to induce uncontrollable bouts of eye-rolling in me.

    What you wrote is exactly what I heard in church all my life. But I don't agree. Worshiping idols actually does mean worshiping idols. It does not mean anything that rules us. Nope. That is reading back into the text something that isn't there. Eating too much chocolate cake or snorting a joint is not worshiping idols. It is gluttony and drug addiction.

    Even without the Bible or the 10 commandments, I realize that gluttony, drug addiction and other sorts of vices full somewhere in the spectrum of "unwise to deadly wrong." Most if not all non-Christians that I know realize this too.

    Basically, I think Evangelical Christians read all kinds of things into the Scripture that aren't there. These devotional readings are harmless enough until they aren't. These deeper readings can also be used to twist the Scriptures into saying very bad things that they don't say at all. For example, "Wives submit to your husbands" can be twisted to read "If you leave an abusive man, you are going against God's will." And "Children obey your parents" can be twisted to read "Parents beat your children to a pulp until they obey."


  5. Hmm...interesting that you insist on a literal, straightforward reading of the ten commandments, but not for the passage about marriage (btw, I totally agree that it should not be applied that way), when both are written in an instructive way. I'm not totally following the logic. Even Jesus said quite a few things that are subject to interpretation, so how do you discern which passages should be read word-for-word and which should be "big picture?" Or is that totally subjective in your view of the Bible? I guess the real question here is...what is your view of the Bible?

  6. You just moved up from being one of my top 15 favorite people to one of my top 10. :)

  7. Elle, I would strongly insist that the literal, straightforward reading of "husbands submit to your wives"--opps--I mean "wives submit to your husbands" is not "If you leave an abusive man, you are going against God's will." I have a post about that somewhere, in fact, but I'd have to dig around to find it.

    My view of the Bible will probably send most people I know into spasms, so I've been thinking of saving a detailed description of that for a separate post.

    Main point: every thing should be read first to determine the original meaning. This is so important I wish I could put it in 60 point bold font. But my HTML skills are rusty. So one more time: everything should be read first to determine the original meaning.

    By everything I do mean everything--including other forms of literature such as the constitution.

    One a reasonable attempt has been made to determine the original meaning (it is frequently difficult to determine), then the next step is to determine how to apply it or even whether or not to apply it at all.

    I do think the original meaning of the first commandment to not worship idols is intended to prohibit the worship of other gods. My tendency to buy too many shoes may be regrettable but I don't think it falls in the category of idolatry at all.

    Paul's advice to "Everyone submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. . . wives to their husbands" is easy to determine the original meaning but hard to determine the specific application. I don't think that anything said by Paul or by anyone else precludes us using our heads and consulting wise people for advice.

    What I strongly object to is people who insist that a particular application is necessitated by a particular verse. BTW, I don't think you are one of those people at all, as I've read enough of your writing to know. I'm raving against the machine, not against you personally.

    Oh and absolutely everything is subject to interpretation, though some things are easier to interpret than others.

    And every passage needs to be looked at both word-for-word as well as big picture. There are other issues in my mind that haven't even come up yet--let's see if they arise or not.

  8. Thanks, Ms. Plum! You should start a blog yourself.

  9. And a random thought: I'm not arguing for a literal meaning. Nor am I arguing for a figurative mean. I'm arguing for determining the original meaning of the statement. For example, when Jesus said "I am the bread of life" the original meaning is not that he is actually a loaf of super-bread (example of literal meaning). Nor is the meaning that we shouldn't read any non-Christian books because only Jesus has spiritual sustenance (example of figurative application.

    Determining the original meaning can be tough and it is also subject to interpretation. But we (and this is a We-Plural) should at least try.

  10. Great post! I wonder where the question about your morality came from? I agree that reading things into the Bible is something that conservatives tend to do and that the 10 Commandments are very basic.... In fact, after living overseas for several years, I realized that many of the Evangelical commandments are traditions that aren't in the Bible at all. In case anyone wonders, I do follow the 10 commandments minus the one that says not to work on the sabbath.

  11. Cinderella, Well, I'm not certain where the question comes from. All these questions came in the context of a discussion about whether or not Obama is a Christian. Obama said in an interview that he believes in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus. In my mind, he is a Christian. The person I was talking to disagreed and same something in the direction of "Obama can't be a Christian because he is immoral." And why is he immoral? Why, he is immoral because he believes in abortion. And apparently, I am also suspected of being immoral because I accept that Obama is a Christian.

  12. I have one, it's just really shallow and I never write in it but I might write in it again soon.

  13. "snorting a joint" ... you really are a homeschooler :D

  14. Josh, I can't hide my true self. heh heh.