Colossians 2:8 instructs us to “be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty and deceptive philosophy, according to human tradition, according to the elementary principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” I was brought up believing that to love Jesus is to be conservative, but as I have grown closer to God, I have begun to see that much of the conservative Christian ideology I was indoctrinated with is only “Christian” on the basis of tradition, not of scripture.
It is an appeal to tradition that is the core of conservatism. Conservatism clings to a toxic nostalgia, longing for the “good old days.” The modern movement is working toward the restoration of a “great” past that never truly existed, failing to realize that our past as a nation is something that must be reconciled, not restored.
Our savior was born into a culture of tradition and was quick to point out many of these traditions were not based on the word of God. Christ was slow to anger, but when anger rose, it was righteous and directed at hypocrisy and injustice. Let us not, as many Christians have, use the indictment of the Pharisees to excuse the evils of antisemitism, but rather as an inspiration to examine our own religious orders, as Christ did his.
You have no doubt heard the parable of the good Samaritan in which it was the traveler’s own religious leaders who left him to die. He was saved by a Samaritan — the religious and ethnic enemy of the Jews. It is the Samaritan who is his neighbor, illustrating an important point to us: While people of other beliefs may not be our brothers and sisters in Christ, they are our neighbors. As Christians, it is our duty to to protect their lives and their liberties as we would our own, to treat them as we want to be treated.
But we have often shown disregard for our neighbors, refusing refuge to those living in fear, both in the past and in the present. In putting “America first,” we are putting the interests of ourselves above our neighbors and disobeying the word of God. When we reject others for the “safety” of our own, we do so knowing that Christ will one day say to us, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:45)
It is comfortable for white Christians to ignore the injustices that do not affect us. It is also sinful and shameful. The innocent black bodies slain in American streets are the bodies of our brothers and sisters. The families who are denied asylum, the trans people who are murdered, the immigrants who are detained, the children who are trafficked, the women who are silenced and the veterans who are ignored are all our neighbors. We are called to love these people in the same way Christ loved us.
Standing against systems of injustice is radical and dangerous. Radical American Christians such as Angelina Grimké and Martin Luther King, Jr. followed the command of God to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly. They faced criticism, hostility, and in King’s case, death, yet they knew that “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Grimké and King did what was difficult. It is always easier to “let go of the commands of God for the traditions of man.” Human institutions, no matter their stated dedication to the word of God, are all corruptible. Neither the great Sanhedrin nor the Tyron Evergreen Baptist Association is infallible. Neither Pope Francis nor James Dobson is divine. We must allow their influence, as well as our own deeply held beliefs to be challenged.
To my conservative brothers and sisters in Christ, I ask nothing of you but that you ask God to search your heart and break it. Look into scripture and into history with an open mind, searching for the truth. I will do the same. Our prayer, together, will be that of Psalm 51:17: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”