So, What Exactly is a Moderate?


Several years ago, Slate magazine linked to a post from my blog and described me as “liberal Mark Daniels.”

At about the same time, a blogger linked to something I’d written and called me “very conservative.”

It’s an experience that I’ve had many times through the years.

If that isn’t confusing enough, add this simple fact: I rarely express a political opinion. I talk about politics, to be sure. I’ve written extensively on my blog and elsewbere about political calculus, political candidates, political rhetoric and strategy, and about political history. But rarely have I expressed a specific opinion about a political issue.

The main reason for this is that I’m a pastor. While I certainly have political convictions–and even made the mistake of running for the Ohio House of Representatives three years ago, mainly to try to reform public school funding in our state, I believe that pastors should mostly refrain from being politically involved.

You see, except in the rarest of circumstances, it’s impossible to extrapolate a single political position from the Bible. Jesus is neither a Republican or a Democrat, a conservative or a liberal, which leaves me equally repelled by James Dobson and Jim Wallis. As a pastor, I don’t want to create the impression that in expressing my personal political preferences, I’m claiming the endorsement of God.

On top of that, as a pastor, I want to be able to share my religious message with people of all political persuasions. Why would I want to automatically erect a wall that might prevent people from hearing that message? It just doesn’t make good strategic sense. To paraphrase Jesus and an old saying at the same time, “I have bigger fish to catch.”

Yet, I haven’t felt compromised when critiquing events in the world or in my community on my personal blog or elsewhere. And, when Joe Gandelman asked me to become a contributor to The Moderate Voice, I felt no political hesitation. The reason for this is quite simple, I think: For me, being a moderate is less a matter of ideology than it is of the prism through which one views life, including politics.

When teetotling Christians have criticized we Lutherans over our fondness for beer, we’ve typically said, “All things in moderation,” meaning of course that as long as one doesn’t get soused, harm someone else, or abuse one’s body, there’s nothing wrong with having a beer. I became a Lutheran as an adult after several years as an atheist. Moderation, like beer, is an acquired taste for me. But I find that moderation appeals to me. That’s not because I’m wishy washy as some, usually those who want you to agree with their ideological program, insist.

Instead, I believe that a moderate…

…may be conservative or liberal, but refuses to close his or her mind to what others say.

…has core convictions, but not so many as to prevent her or him from agreeing with a conservative on one issue and a liberal on the next.

…asks three basic questions when considering national political issues: Is it right? Is it constitutional? Will it work?

…is an advocate of civility in the political process.

…has an equal loathing of all special interests getting special attention from those in power. A moderate believes in fairness.

I’m an unabashed believer in American Exceptionalism, the notion that there has been and remains something unique in the identity and mission of the United States of America. Unprecedented in world history, the founders declared this country into being and later, in order to perfect their union, established this country on the two principles of liberty and mutual accountability, of freedom and responsibility. While coercion–from taxation to laws against jaywalking–is necessary for the functioning of any society among imperfect human beings, a nation like ours can only work when people voluntarily accept these two principles, including freedom for my neighbor who might disagree with me and responsibility to allow my neighbor to make up his own mind. That voluntary acceptance of the American compact is what I call moderation and it is increasingly rare in our nation today.

For our politics to work in this deeply Red-and-Blue-divided nation, we need a strong dose of the moderation our Founders enshrined in our Constitution. Around the world today, we’re seeing that it isn’t enough to grant people the vote. Immoderate voters elect immoderate leaders, people who are duly-elected despots, tyrants, and hare-brains.

For America’s system to thrive, we need more moderates, not people who are without ideology, but people who are without rancor and without the cerebral moats that prevent the best ideas from becoming law or the best candidates from being elected to office. If by my writing here, I can influence one person to believe that moderation is the way of strength for America, I will be genuinely happy.


  • SteveK

    mark, Thank you for your thoughtful, well written post. I read it twice looking for a point of contention but couldn’t find it.

    This is the third time I’ve had to write a ‘thank you’ this week… Must be something in the water… That and the TMV crew has been sparkling.

  • Holly in Cincinnati

    Welcome Mark!

  • Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés

    welcome Mark!
    ‘immoderate voters elect immoderate leaders’ …boy, if that isnt the wisdom of the day. Thanks.

    Dont know if you meant for your byline just to be your first name only. If not, we can help you put you whole name there…

  • poetspirit

    You go right down the middle, and I agree. My political blog All Things Reform hopes to cater to a wide swath, for the purposes of citizen activism. Government reform is somewhat the moderate making better government. I look forward to reading more from you.

  • pacatrue

    I really like this part of your post:
    “…asks three basic questions when considering national political issues: Is it right? Is it constitutional? Will it work?”

    All three questions must be asked. Principle without practice is fruitless and practice without principle is aimless.

    Welcome aboard.

  • domajot

    A very thoughtful and soothing post.
    Thank you and weldome.

  • Somebody

    Either your conservative in nature and sympathize with the conservative party.


    Your (A) conservative. There is a big difference. Rudi Guillani is (A) conservative but he is NOT conservative in nature.

    This makes for the big differences. Jesus was very liberal in his nature but he would not be (A) Liberal in todays political climate.

    Hope that helps. You can thank William Buckley for reminding me of a very basic tenet of political philosophy that I and others tend to forget about in the heat of political debate.

    Religious people make the worst politicians because they are conservative in nature with a huge dose of liberalism. That makes them poor choices to label as Conservative or Liberal because while they might claim to be (A) conservative the fact of the matter is that Religion by its nature infuses a great dose of Liberalism into its teachings making for a confusing stew.

  • Entropy

    Glad to have you here! It looks like Joe has made another fine choice for a contributor. As someone who “married into” Lutheranism, I agree wholeheartedly about the beer and the idea of moderation in general. Thanks for explaining in a way I could not have done!

  • reader_iam

    Very cool to find you here, Mark–I’m thrilled, actually.

    Excellent choice, Joe.

  • PeggyR

    Bravo! & Thanks for this post. The term moderate is too often taken to mean “people who just can’t make up their minds or won’t take a stand” Its a term in dire need of a better more positive definition which reflects the reality. Yet it is one which stubbornly resists such definition. As someone who has been working towards my own positive definition of moderates/moderation, I really appreciate any and all attempts to do the same.

    BTW, My story could be yours except that I chose to join the Anglican Communion and I’m not now and never will be a pastor. I think one of the many reasons why I ultimately rejected atheism is because it is such an immoderate, as well as pessimistic, view!

  • Mark Daniels

    Thanks for the welcome and the comments.


  • kritt

    Very interesting post. My only thought is that one of the reasons that the extremists reign over party politics is that they care enough to organize over issues, and tend to stay much more involved than the middle-of-the-road voter who tends to be more pragmatic and moderate, but of course is also often more apathetic.

    Pragmatism and compromise has definitely been wanting over the last 7 years- and really both sides are to blame for failing to reach out to the other side.

  • StockBoySF

    Mark, great post, thanks!

    I really like what you said:

    For America’s system to thrive, we need more moderates, not people who are without ideology, but people who are without rancor and without the cerebral moats that prevent the best ideas from becoming law or the best candidates from being elected to office.

    I believe that too many politicians believe in “winning the game” and blocking their opponents- even if their opponents can constructively contribute to whatever matter is at hand.

    I look forward to reading more of your postings

  • bos4229

    Jesus was clearly a liberal by his very actions. Only “Word-Of-Faith” bozos like Crefflo Dollar and Kenneth Copeland try to turn him into a Republican.