The Idol of Conservatism

By Bob Hiller

I’m not one to talk much about politics. Though, truth be told, I consider myself a pretty conservative guy. I like my government small and my morals traditional. A number of my friends are further left of center from where I stand, but we have great conversations about our views and go our way more edified for the chat. Our talks are respectful and actually pretty entertaining. I am always learning from the perspective of other people, even when I think they are off base. But, at the end of the day (and at its beginning), I think a more conservative attitude towards life is a better way to go. You see, I’m a pretty conservative guy.

As it turns out, the church body I belong to, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), also has the reputation for being a conservative church body. In fact, after we finished up our national convention a few weeks back, an article was written by Aaron D. Wolf over at the Chronicles Magazine blogsite entitled The LCMS: A Triumph for Conservatism. The LCMS voted very conservatively by rather large margins, saying only pastors can perform Word and Sacrament ministry, lay deacons are no longer eligible to carry out these functions, women should not be participating in roles that have been given to men to carry out in the Church, and a woman’s conscience is not bound to fight in the military if the state calls for it. These three moves, according to Wolf, were all great victories for conservatives, who are increasingly being ostracized by the ever liberalizing culture around us. As the title says, this was a triumph for conservatism.

Now, like I say, I’m a pretty conservative guy. But as I read this article (which is very well written, quite insightful, and a valuable read), something wasn’t sitting quite right with me. There was something felt a bit off.  Then, Wolf said this:

By rejecting “lay pastors,” the conscription of women, and female communion assistants and “elders,” the Missouri Synod didn’t just bear witness to particular points of doctrine or to the truths contained in certain Bible verses (worthy though those actions are). The LCMS officially embraced a conservative ethos.

We embraced a conservative ethos? Wait, was that a goal? Is that something the Church, namely conservatism, should even be concerned with at all? Does voting against these measures make one a liberal? Are we, as a church, supposed to combatting liberalism by upholding conservatism or in some other way? Or is this just evidence that the Church is reacting so hard against the moral decline in our culture that we will bow to the idol of conservatism if it means we still get to have our slice of the cultural pie? I mean, hey, Babylon was a great asset to Israel when Assyria was threatening, weren’t they? What is more, not only are bearing witness to doctrine and Biblical truth “worthy” actions, they are part of the primary responsibilities of the Church! They are an end unto themselves and are not done for some perceived greater conservative (or liberal for that matter) purpose or ethos.


I’m not sure the Church should be concerned with a “conservative ethos” at all. Nor am I saying that the Church should pursue liberal ethos, either. Those are terms from the culture that enlist us to serve on either side of the political spectrum, a spectrum that the Church has no real business being on. Both sides of the aisle, whatever their virtues or vices, may serve important roles in our culture, but they also serve as very attractive idols to the Church.

It makes me s bit uneasy to know we are on a side within the cultural divide. The Church isn’t really to be part of the culture’s conservative or liberal projects, as far as I can tell. The Church is about forgiving sins, proclaiming Christ, killing with Law and raising with Gospel. Sure, some conservative or liberal causes will line up with the Word of God. The Law is written into creation, after all (or is it before all?). Nonetheless, the church isn’t to be fighting for a conservatism. It is to love the neighbor. If conservatives do that well, wonderful. If liberals do it well, we are equally pleased. But their cause is not ours. I am interested in a church that does repentance and forgiveness, baptism and discipleship, prayer and meditation. Conservatism and liberalism are both in the business of power (power which in this world may certainly be necessary). The Church is in the business of cross preaching and cross-bearing. We are here to forgive sinners, conservative and liberal alike.

That’s my issue. The LCMS is not a church for conservatives nor liberals. Actually, scratch that. The LCMS is a church for both conservatives and liberals. We take sinners from every political party. But our business is Christ. In His stead and by His command, we call all involved with the powers and principalities to repent and hear the good news: your sins are forgiven by blood shed by another world’s King. He reigns and the church serves Him alone by proclaiming His cross and His Word for its own sake and for the love of our neighbor. Whatever side of the aisle you are on, in this world, Jesus calls you to repent and believe the good news: you are forgiven for the sake of His shed blood. We are then sent to love our neighbors. I don’t know if that is conservative or liberal, but it is faithful. And that is what the Church should be concerned about.