The brilliant theologian David Bentley Hart once told me that, “Conservatism of every kind is a fraud.” Now to be fair, Mr. Hart can, at times, be hyperbolic towards those he disagrees with. So when he said it I assumed his comment was just another example of an exaggerated response, but as I’ve watched him engage more frequently with the American political culture, I am beginning to think he truly believes that there is no legitimate place for the “political right.” I admit Conservatism can be fraudulent, as Paul Anleitner recently pointed out in his commentary on the movie Interstellar, it is often despair which fuels the human desire to reach back into our past in order to find something to keep us grounded, and times of despair certainly breed fraud.
Hart’s comment lacked the depth and perspective which are so characteristic of his theological works. Conservatism just is the natural human desire to improve society by holding onto the past, while Progressivism just is the natural human desire to improve society by letting go of the past. Both of these qualities are essential for any group to improve, but during times of despair communities need leaders they can trust to guide them “into the past” and help them see what is worth holding on to, and what needs to be let go of. Our nation is currently facing desperate times, and unfortunately, many of our national leaders including our president have tried to guide us towards a fear of others. This fear has deep roots in our shared past.
I hope that as a society we can resist the temptation to reach back into our past and hold onto the fear which has caused us to commit some of the cruelest acts imaginable. From lynching’s to internment camps, the fear of others has allowed us to rationalize things that would never have been possible otherwise. Not only do I hope that we resist the temptation to hold onto fear, but I hope that we have the courage to look back and take hold of the most loving parts of our history. Perfect love does in fact cast out all fear, but with the growing chasm that exists between our political parties and even with our neighbors who hold differing political beliefs, it is becoming harder and harder to resist fear and embrace love.
With this rising distrust of our neighbors and political leaders, I would like to end a letter like this by encouraging people to turn toward their religious leaders for guidance, but I know that for many people that simply isn’t possible right now. Recent reports of widespread infidelity among leaders of the three largest religious organizations in America, the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the “Non-Denominational” Church, have left people wondering whether they can trust any religious leader. Considering these events all I can do is encourage you to not let cynicism set in, keep seeking out leaders in your community that can be trusted, those who guide people to love and not fear, and ask yourself whether this might be a good time for you to speak up as a leader in your community.