Is a Conservative Christian an Oxymoron?

Some definitions:


holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.
a person who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes.


of, relating to, or professing Christianity or its teachings.
a person who is a believer in Jesus Christ and his teachings.


a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.

I am a conservative. It is my nature. I am financially conservative. I do not spend money easily, although I am not miserly. My politics are conservative. I have voted Republican since my first presidential election, with one exception and that may have been a mistake.

My religious views are conservative. While not a strict literalist, for the most part I believe the Bible means precisely what it says.

I view unasked-for-change with apprehension.

Recently, I’ve discovered that there was a group of people fitting the above description around when Christ lived—they were called the Pharisees. Of course, I knew about the Pharisees, but have only recently made the correlation that they were in fact, conservatives. Jesus—He whose teachings I claim to follow—was not like the Pharisees.

Luke 15 relates a parable which Jesus told. Commonly referred to as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it may seem a strange parable to apply to the subject of conservatism. I’ve almost always heard this parable focused entirely on the profligate younger son who receives forgiveness and restoration from his father when he comes to his senses, although perhaps in passing the teacher might mention that the older son is a jerk.

Timothy Keller has, I think, a more complete exposition of this parable in his book The Prodigal God. There were two groups of people gathered around Jesus when he told this parable, the tax collectors and sinners (corresponding to the younger brother in the parable), and the Pharisees and teachers of the law (corresponding to the older brother). Because the Pharisees were the ones muttering and accusing Jesus, he addresses them.

Remember, the Pharisees were the keepers of traditions, with a strict interpretation and obedience to the law. They were highly moral (outwardly anyway) and as political/religious leaders enforced the law strictly and in some cases severely. They dedicated themselves to knowing in detail the holy scriptures and following them. In short, they were the very definition of a conservative.

In the parable, Jesus skewers the Pharisees (clearly represented by the older brother). The older brother is angry about the younger goof-off son returning and being accepted by the father, upset about his younger brother getting a feast when he’d never been given one, and insulting to his father by refusing an invitation to the feast. Jesus tells the Pharisees they are refusing an invitation from God because they won’t modify their worldview to include the undesirables (tax collectors and sinners) in their faith community. They are too conservatively blind to accept this radical idea.

So I’m asking myself, would my conservative nature bring the same kind of lecture from Jesus as he gave the Pharisees in this parable? I think continually reviewing and applying the biblical “one another” imperatives is needed. Things like, live in peace with one another, accept one another, be devoted to one another in brotherly love, teach and admonish one another, stop passing judgment on one another, honor one another, love each other as I have loved you, to highlight just a few. If my conservative views run counter to these biblical imperatives then I’m too much like the Pharisees who Jesus warned in the parable mentioned above.

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