Much of what separates ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ theological positions (however defined) is, in my estimation, rarely a question of practice. It is most often a question of hermeneutics – specifically, how Christians ought to relate to the sacred text of Scripture. In other words, though some denominations may choose not to ordain women, it is the rare church that has no women in positions of authority – either elsewhere in the church or behind the scenes. Similarly, though some churches frown at the notions of “seeker sensitive” services, it is the rare church that takes no thought of possible visiting guests. While many denominations place limits on the affirmation of an active homosexual lifestyle, it is the (increasingly) rare church that actively tries to root out any ‘gender uncertainty’ from the church body. The question is not so much whether we will seek to love our neighbor, but within what framework we will do so.
Broadly speaking, the liberal tradition holds more loosely to divergent elements of Scripture, while still retaining a strong notion of what it means to be Christian. Conservatives hold more tightly to the Scriptural text, trying to make it fit together coherently and generally unwilling to sacrifice some parts for others. But, when debates get heated about some subject or other, it is important to keep in mind that what is ultimately at stake is not often the issue, but rather what this issues implies about the importance of the biblical text to the participants.
Grace & Peace
I am indebted to Anti-Blog for inspiration and direction in this post.