In the early days after Jesus’ death, when His followers were first called “Christians”, it was meant as a derisive term. Today, being called a Christian identifies us with Christ. A person’s attitude towards the term largely suggests his attitude towards Christ.
Today we have new labels. Since I choose a different type of dress and lifestyle than most of the culture, I have at times been labeled “conservative”. While I appreciate the root idea of the term, to “conserve” Biblical beliefs and values, most people do not see it as a positive thing.
Other than “disciple of Jesus” I prefer to avoid labels. However, if what I and others that believe like me are is called “conservative”, let me clear up a few things.
I realize I am generalizing. Each person is unique and I cannot speak for everyone on the planet. However, for most “conservatives” or “fundamentalists”, the following are only myths:
1. They are judgmental. This is perhaps the myth I hear propagated most often. While I have met some people from all denominations (and some who profess no faith) who are truly judgmental, simply living differently than others is not automatically a judgment of their lives.
I have a few friends who run every day and enjoy 5K races and marathons. I don’t choose to run unless I am being chased, but I do not feel like they are judging me every time I see them hitting the pavement. They make different life choices based on what is important to them. They do not become judgmental until they start telling me that I must run every day in order to be all I should be. If a “conservative” looks or acts differently than you do, it is the lifestyle they have chosen for themselves and has nothing to do with you.
2. They are legalists. This one runs a close second to being judgmental. We do love labels, don’t we? Someone’s choices rub another person the wrong way, so they react with more name-calling. So what is legalism anyway?
noun1. strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spirit.2. Theology .a. the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works.b. the judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws.
3. They have been abused. I do not deny that spiritual abuse happens. I have seen it myself on a few occasions. I know people who were raised in true legalism, with very specific rules to follow. They knew the fear of losing their parent’s love if they did not follow those rules to the letter. However, just because someone looks or acts “conservative”, does not mean they had anything but a loving childhood.
The difference between high standards and abuse is the parent’s attitude. If you knew they loved you unconditionally and that nothing you did or didn’t do would change that fact, then being required to wear modest clothing hardly qualifies as abuse.
4. They have been sheltered from the real world. Here are a few more relative terms. To be sheltered is a good thing if you are in the middle of a hail storm or in a war zone. To be sheltered is a good thing if you are a fledgling plant not ready for hardy conditions. In fact, I cannot think of many cases where shelter is inherently bad, especially for small children.
And what exactly is the “real world”? Is it your office cubicle, your neighbor’s construction site, the bar he frequents or the golf course where she tees off on the weekends? Since the United States is only 2-3% of the world’s population, perhaps the “real world” is living in a hut with a dirt floor where more clothing would be welcomed to protect from the elements and media choices are unknown.
Maybe we’re all a little sheltered?
5. They are ashamed of their bodies. This one comes up because “conservatives” generally choose more modest clothing styles. They are accused of covering up because they are ashamed of the human body or feel like something is wrong with it.
I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but I know many whose motivations for modesty are just the opposite. They realize the beauty and power of the physical bodies God created, and they choose not to cheapen it for everyone’s perusal. Fine china is special and beautiful because it is saved for the proper occasion and not sent outside with children to make mud pies in it.
6. They are followers. This idea is that a person cannot choose for himself, so he adopts the beliefs of someone else and copies them. This one amuses me a little. If a person lives out his life differently than most of the population, perhaps he is more of a rebel than a follower?
7. They are Amish. I am amazed each time someone asks me if I am Amish. I assume they ask, again, because I dress differently than most people. Here a few pictures of Amish women. Here is a picture of me.
Amish people are indeed conservative in their dress and habits, and they are considered Christians because they do believe in Jesus Christ and the Bible. However, they do not hold the same core beliefs about salvation that most Christian denominations do.
Assuming someone who dresses conservatively is Amish makes as much as sense as assuming someone with a large family is Mormon or that a person with a tattoo drives a motorcycle.
8. They are stuck in the past. This assumption probably comes from the automatic comparison of “conservatives” and the Amish. The Amish do keep to traditions of the past, even abstaining from automobiles and modern conveniences and technology.
There is nothing wrong with this simple way of living, but for most “conservatives” the motivation is different. They do not dress modestly because they are trying to imitate another time period. They do not abstain from some lifestyle choices because they weren’t available 100 years ago. To the contrary, most of them dress in modest but current fashions and embrace technology and modern convenience when it does not go against the truth of God’s Word.
9. They are uneducated in Scripture. Since comparatively few Christians in modern culture are labeled “conservative”, some assume that the “conservative” or “fundamentalist” Christians haven’t studied their Bibles as extensively. Or perhaps they assume that these Christians focus only on external standards of living rather than the core of Christ’s message which addresses the heart.
The truth for many “conservative” Christians is they love to study God’s Word and consider it His love letter to them. Most of them do the external things from the motivation of a heart that loves to please the Lord and show love back to Him. They often have specific principles and verses to cite for their beliefs.
A Final Word
I find that, truly, labels apply only when one is comparing another person to himself. Being a Christian identifies me with Christ. Being “conservative” or “liberal” identifies me with other people. I follow Jesus. I do my personal best to speak, act, and dress in ways that reflect that. He conserves me by His grace and liberally loves me. How does one put a label on that?