How many times in the course of personal experience have I heard some preacher deride someone else for being a “liberal”? Too many to count certainly. Of course, the same adjective is anathema to those of a certain political persuasion also, and that similarity of derogatory terms is no coincidence. Those who label others as religiously inferior because of liberalism generally apply the same pejorative to those whose politics they dislike.
Many labels that get bandied about simply lose all meaning after a time.
We just hear them used in a negative way enough that they take on a connotation without regard to the actual or original meaning of the word. Such terms are just convenient ways to dismiss people and their thoughts, ideas, and worth out of hand. In place of reasoned discussion or argumentation about espoused positions, religious or political, many resort to slapping a negative sounding name on those they disagree with. It a lot easier than actually defining and defending one’s own position in the matters.
When I took the time to look up the dictionary definition of liberal and liberalism, this is what I found:
Liberal- broad-minded; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms
Liberalism- a movement of modern Protestantism emphasizing intellectual liberty and the spiritual and ethical content of Christianity
Now if I don’t care much for the freedom to make up one’s own mind or if I dislike the spiritual and ethical implications of Christ’s teachings, then maybe this sounds a bit offensive. Likewise, if I favor religious authority and the promotion of the traditional faith, like the clergy always has, then liberal is going to be a bad label. Little wonder then that the professional clergy find this label to be appropriate for branding troublesome free thinkers.
Someone in my past pointed out that Jesus Christ was the ultimate liberal. No one has ever done more to shake up the religious status quo. He condemned religious traditions openly and challenged the religious hierarchy of his day. Jesus, without a doubt, focused much more on the spiritual and ethical principles which underpinned Judaism than on the outward trappings of ritualism which were the heritage of his Jewish world. Given all of this, I think the dictionary definition of liberal serves well to describe the Messiah. Maybe the next time you hear someone belittled as a liberal, you should consider the term to imply Christ-likeness.