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Posted by on Nov 19, 2007 in Miscellaneous, Politics, Religion | 14 comments

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.