I have always thought that liberals have the easier worldview to maintain. Generally, a theological liberal (and some of this spills over into our political use of these terms) gets to say “yes” a lot more than a theological conservative. Whereas conservatives are interested in drawing and keeping historic boundaries, liberals are interested in fudging or erasing those same boundaries to make room for new ways or modes of thinking.
Conservatives are interested in maintaining things as they are (this is sometimes disparagingly referred to as “the status quo”), and they will find themselves “standing athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it” as William F. Buckley once wrote. Liberals often push for social change, for adopting new customs and re-reading old texts. This is how the Constitution becomes a “living document” and how the Bible’s original context is said to have no relevance to our own day.
So when an issue becomes pressing in our society and the church finds it can no longer remain silent, the liberals almost always say, “Yes”. They can always put themselves in position to be the “good guy” because they never tell anyone “No”. No one can accuse them of being for the status quo because they say “Yes” when the world says “Change”. Of course, they rationalize it with Bible stories and verses, but such rationalizations are cheap and easy if you want to justify your position. They almost always are able to claim the moral high ground (even if their moral views are at odds with the Bible) because they are the people for adaptation and they rarely tell anyone “No” when historic boundaries seek to be altered or changed.
So it seems to me that theological liberals have a great advantage. It doesn’t require a great deal of thought and they almost always get to be the “good guy” when the world comes a knocking. They always get to say “Yes,” and who wouldn’t prefer that answer to the alternative? Sure, it will lead to some changes that will probably be less than ideal, but no one will be able to question the liberals motives or good intentions.
Staunch conservatives, though, have an advantage of their own. They get to say “No”, also without a great deal of thought. Now, I’m not saying that every time anyone says “No,” it is always without thought. Sometimes, a lot of thought goes into an answer and it remains “No.” But just as theological liberals seem to have a knee-jerk reaction to say “Yes” when the world presses on, theological conservatives just as easily say “No.” They assume, with perhaps too much ease, that they know the Bible and the God of the Bible well enough to be in the right virtually all of the time. And when moral issues are also social and political issues, the conservative takes his moral certainty into those spheres with equal confidence.
The problem with always saying “Yes”, of course, is that it will not be long before God’s revealed Law will be violated. To be faithful to God simply demands the drawing of boundaries and saying “No.” and probably pretty often as the world gets increasingly immune, ignorant and spiteful towards God’s Law. Every Christian will have to choose between what God has revealed and what the world wants, and that will involve in many cases fighting for the “status quo”. Of course, it should go without saying that the status quo isn’t always bad, and change isn’t always good.
The problem with always saying “No”, though, is that Christian ministry is not as easy as saying “No” in every situation. It is often the right answer, but a lot of Christian ministry is actually done in that uncomfortable in-between place where moral ambiguity and real world choices are already at play. Saying “No” is just as emotionally satisfying and popularly defensible as saying “Yes”, just for different reasons. For example, no one can accuse you of being a liberal, even if they could say you are hard-hearted. But sometimes, a “Yes” needs to be offered to accomplish actual ministry.
When a couple is ready to be married but they are already living together; when a church member makes a mistake, but they are retained as members; when a non-Lutheran comes to the Lord’s Supper with his or her hand out. These are just a few small examples of when it might be easy or tempting to say “No” but for the sake of ministering to real people situations, you say, “Yes.”
So if you want to do ministry, or you want to be active in a church that does real ministry among real people, there will not always be easy answers. Jesus said that our “Yes” should be “Yes” and our “No” should be “No.” And so they should. We should be people of our word and clarity of thought, and the drawing of boundaries is critical to a consistent life. But the easy path is always to say “Yes” or always to say “No.” I ask you to carefully consider Christ who refused to minister among hurting people in such a reductionist way. There are times to be absolutely clear about what is right and wrong. And there are times to come alongside those who may not be in the right, but are seeking to be closer to God.