This is grossly oversimplified but…the liberal/conservative polarization of American politics and culture is now a given, reinforced by our two-party political system which helps create the illusion that, in the end, there are only two kinds of people. The liberal/conservative dichotomy is prominent in the Church also, initially coming through a kind of back door when the new theology that came to prominence in the 19th and 20th centuries was popularly called “liberal.” What else could you have on the other side but “conservatives?” And when, in the 20th century, sanctity of life issues became identified with one political party more than the other, for better or for worse the die was cast. Religion and politics were thrown together and lots and lots of people began to think about everybody, and everything, in the one category or the other.
A while back Al Mohler said, “The worst fault of evangelicals in terms of politics over the last 30 years has been an incredible naiveté about politics and politicians and parties. They invested far too much hope in a political solution to what are transpolitical issues and problems. If we were in a situation that were more European, where the parties differed mostly on traditional political issues rather than moral ones, or if there were more political parties, then we would probably have a very different picture.”
There are no liberals or conservatives in the Bible, meaning those are not categories God uses to classify human beings. God has his own taxonomies (systems of classification). Jesus spoke of the lost and the found. The Parable of the Sower is an intricate, thoughtful taxonomy. Paul is famous for Jews, Greeks, and those who follow Christ crucified, a taxonomy that corresponds roughly to evidentialists, rationalists, and believers in Christ (1 Cor 1:22). Elsewhere Paul says that for those who are in Christ, all prior taxonomies are irrelevant: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11). And in the end there will be one, final taxonomy: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory… he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Mt 25:31-32).
Language is a deep and powerful tool — think for a moment on the fact that the Messiah was also known as “the Word.” The language and tools you use to think about and describe your world say a great deal about whose ideas control your heart and mind. If the culture has driven you to speak of everyone as either liberal or conservative, you may want to reflect on how God speaks to people. The author of Hebrews says that the blood of Jesus “speaks a better word” (12:24). To shine as lights in the darkness we will need to learn to speak that language.