Why I Am a Liberal A. William McVey
I begin by explaining that I am not really a liberal in the usual sense of the word in present day Episcopal culture. As a matter of fact, the purpose of this blog is to reconstruct the meaning of liberalism. I find it important to achieve this purpose because I wish to make it clear that I am not a conservative. In point of fact, I was inspired to write this blog after reading an article by my favorite economist Friedrich A. Hayek, “Why I Am Not a Conservative.”
After some Hayekian reflection upon theological and ecclesiastical discourse, I have come to the conclusion that present day church liberals and conservatives share a similar authoritative dogmatic and morally coercive attitude. Therefore, if there is a possible journey of hope in a postmodern missionary culture, I recommend a rediscovery of a 17 century Anglican latitudinarian culture.
The Anglican latitudinarians of the 17th century, especially the members of the Cambridge circle, were scholarly Anglicans, but they held that matters of doctrine, liturgical practice and ecclesiastical organization were of very little importance. Richard Hooker was really a liberal personalist who had a pastoral concern for the care of the individual soul and was indifferent about things like church leadership. Is it not interesting that church leadership and polity are such big topics today? The Cambridge Latitudinarians would feel at home in the postmodern culture, and I suggest would be extremely confused by the conservative/liberal ideological division of Anglicanism.
Eventually, the liberalism of the 17 c. that moved into the 18th and 19th centuries was changed by neo-liberal Anglo-Catholic theologians like Frederick Denison Maurice who wrote, “I seriously believe that Christianity is the only foundation of Socialism and a true Socialism is the necessary result of a sound Christianity.” Contemporary theologians, bishops and clergy to avoid being called socialist then began to call themselves liberals or progressive liberals. Consequently, we have redefined liberalism.
These new progressive church liberals and the church conservatives, however, are rather similar in their demand for authority. Both schools hold that dogmatic and moral views are proper objects of coercion. It is primarily this aspect that distinguishes a classical liberal, or neo-latitudinarian, from a conservative or a liberal. The progressive liberal and conservative church persons hold for a body of persons who have a set of beliefs and morals that must be enforced on others through institutional policy. The classical liberal believes that there are higher beliefs and values that are shared in dialogue and spiritual transformation, but they are never enforced by coercive polity.
Let me offer a more via media Anglican diagram. It is a triangle with the conservatives occupying one corner, the progressive liberals pulling toward the second and the classic liberals (neo latitudinarians) toward the third. It is the conservative and the liberals who keep fighting the authoritative battles, and the classic liberals just keep seeing it as more and more irrelevant. I have a strong hunch that the best of our laity are neo latitudinarian liberals.