Liberal and Conservative at Church

What do we mean when we use the terms “liberal” and “conservative” in our discussions of faith?

Is the church “too conservative?” What does that mean?

What are the strengths and weaknesses of liberal and conservative tendencies when it comes to faith?

Are there liberal and conservative patterns in apostasy?

In this presentation, we discuss these and other questions.

Presentation Slides:

YouTube Narration:


Public Square, Exploring Conservative and Liberal Religion (part 1) Belonging and Believing in Conservative and Liberal Religion (Part 2) Doing Good in Conservative and Liberal Religion (Part 3)

The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Podcast

David Deavel, Liberal Religion and True Ecumenism

Ian Harber, Progressive Christianity: Even Shallower Than the Evangelical Faith I Left


It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless.

Abraham Heschel

As the least of those who have been sustained by you to witness the guidance of this Church firsthand, I say with all the fervor of my soul that never in my personal or professional life have I ever associated with any group who are so in touch, who know so profoundly the issues facing us, who look so deeply into the old, stay so open to the new, and weigh so carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully everything in between. I testify that the grasp this body of men and women have of moral and societal issues exceeds that of any think tank or brain trust of comparable endeavor of which I know anywhere on the earth. I bear personal witness of how thoroughly good they are, of how hard they work, and how humbly they live. It is no trivial matter for this Church to declare to the world prophecy, seership, and revelation, but we do declare it. It is true light shining in a dark world, and it shines from these proceedings.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

Those who govern their thoughts and actions solely by the principles of liberalism or conservatism or intellectualism cannot be expected to agree with all of the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As for me, I find some wisdom in liberalism, some wisdom in conservatism, and much truth in intellectualism—but I find no salvation in any of them.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Why doesn’t sacrifice strengthen secular communes? Sosis argues that rituals, laws, and other constraints work best when they are sacralized. He quotes the anthropologist Roy Rappaport: “To invest social conventions with sanctity is to hide their arbitrariness in a cloak of seeming necessity.”32 But when secular organizations demand sacrifice, every member has a right to ask for a cost-benefit analysis, and many refuse to do things that don’t make logical sense. In other words, the very ritual practices that the New Atheists dismiss as costly, inefficient, and irrational turn out to be a solution to one of the hardest problems humans face: cooperation without kinship. Irrational beliefs can sometimes help the group function more rationally, particularly when those beliefs rest upon the Sanctity foundation.33 Sacredness binds people together, and then blinds them to the arbitrariness of the practice. Sosis’s findings support Atran and Henrich. Gods really do help groups cohere, succeed, and outcompete other groups. This is a form of group selection, but Atran and Henrich say it’s purely cultural group selection. Religions that do a better job of binding people together and suppressing selfishness spread at the expense of other religions, but not necessarily by killing off the losers. Religions can spread far faster than genes, as in the case of Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries, or Mormonism in the nineteenth century.

Jonathan Haidt

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