Are you an ideologue? Most likely your instinctual reaction to this question is a resounding “no!” That nasty word has come to be one of the gravest insults in our culture, especially if the person being insulted is involved in politics. No one wants to be labeled an ideologue, and for quite obvious reasons. Merriam-Webster defines ideologue as, “an often blindly partisan advocate or adherent of a particular ideology.” Now, honestly assess yourself, are you an ideologue? I will confess that I am a recovering ideologue, and by my own informal assessment of the Church today, I would assert that a great majority of us are ideologues, especially when it comes to our politics. True, there is also a portion of the Church that hasn’t put enough thought into public policy to have an opinion one way or the other, which is a quite different problem, but the preponderance of us who participate in political discussions have a distinct ideological bent.
You will notice that the definition we gave of an ideologue mentioned the word “partisan,” and many of you are thinking that this is your way out of this etymological trap. And, as long as we define “partisan” in a narrow enough way, most of us would not be partisan. We cling to the fact that, while we may vote for party X every time we see a ballot, we still criticize them when they do something we don’t like. True, but let’s take a more broad use of the word partisan. Hardly anyone is blindly Republican or blindly Democrat, but all too many of us are blindly conservative or blindly liberal, and thus the pejorative: ideologue. We trumpet the idea that we can always leave our party of choice, but few of us ever diverge from our ideology of choice. So when we say we are nonpartisan (i.e. not a Donkey or Elephant), we should at least be intellectually honest enough to admit that we are ideological, and most likely an ideologue.
A caveat is in order, however. We do in fact need some intellectual grounding, and the philosophies of liberalism and conservatism provide a good framework from which to make political decisions. The problem for most of us is that they are more than simply a framework, they have become the altars upon which we worship our political gods, confident that they will provide the absolution our nation needs. We do a wonderful job of convincing ourselves that we are merely following the tenets of the Christian faith; that God is on our side. Rarely, however, do we stop to assess whether or not we are on God’s side. We blindly assume that Christianity obviously tends towards conservatism, or that if you read your Bible closely you will end up a liberal. The truth (and a painful truth it is) is that both liberals and conservatives are right on some things and wrong on some things. If we are going to fully reflect what it means to be the Body of Christ we will need to draw from both of these ideologies, which means there may yet be a place for us recovering ideologues.