The working assumption for most of us, is that liberalism vs. conservatism is a zero-sum game. This assumption is reinforced most visibly in the sport of news cycle politics, where a Republican (supposedly conservative) win, means a Democratic (supposedly liberal) loss, and vice versa. We can barely, if at all, imagine liberalism and conservatism being complementary; as having correctives for the shortfalls and excesses of the other; as being in creative tension rather than in win-lose, zero-sum competition. We cannot expect politicians to articulate or practice this complementarity, because their goal is total victory in the next election.
American religion ought to be the place where liberal-conservative complementarity is articulated and practiced; ought to be the place where we learn how to have strong, passionate disagreements that lead to deepening and new possibilities; ought to be the place where people who call themselves liberals, and people who call themselves conservatives, and people who call themselves neither, can find community over a shared meal.
None of this is easy. Freud’s insights (first articulated by the Greek tragedians, especially Aeschylus) are helpful here: broadly speaking, unacknowledged powerful forces are at work in us and in our culture. These forces work against community, connection, and meaning; these forces get their energy from anxiety and fear; and these are forces that political life really cannot tame. Religion– understood as systems of belief and bodies of observant practices whose authority is derived from a real connection to the Higher Power— can tame these forces. Every day we’ll need to begin again.