I recall with some fondness the uneasiness around the room at a previous church where I was being “taken in” by a district superintendent to interview with the Staff-Parish Committee as their potential new pastor. I had spent a previous hour sharing my past, my convictions, and my heart with the committee. It all seemed to proceed quite well. When the district superintendent asked me to exit the room, I thought it would merely be a matter of minutes before I would be invited to return to hear the unanimous acceptance of my appointment by the committee and receive the “fixing” of the appointment.
When twenty minutes went by before I was asked to return, I assumed all did not go as well as I had thought. Just before being invited to reenter the room, the district superintendent told me that the committee had neglected to ask me one last question which was quite important to them. Thus, as I was seated the second time, I sensed the uneasiness around the room. The chair of the committee was the one who asked the question. She said in as polite a voice as could ever be mustered: “So we must know whether you are a conservative or a liberal.”
Now you must know of my strong objection to being labeled—even if it’s a label I like. People notice I put my Rotary pin on as I enter for lunch and remove it immediately following the lunch (to avoid paying a $10 fine!). Neither do I wear a cross and flame pin on my lapel nor a clerical collar to spill the beans of my denomination or occupation. And if you see any stickers on the vehicle I drive, please know that it is my wife who has placed them there, not me—not even the Disneyland Resort stickers. And so I do not appreciate being “outed” by someone who thinks they might have guessed my persuasion.
But back to the question! I believed I answered that I was a pragmatist looking for whatever seemed to work. I believe this to be following in the footsteps of John Wesley as, perhaps, the most practical of the theologians I’ve come to know. I’d like to think I’m conservative in maintaining the best of our historical values and traditions, while being liberal when considering the best of new ideas or scholarship.
So there you have it. While Wesley spoke of the “via media”—the middle road—I actually remember a quote from an old television show I watched when I was a kid called The Bold Ones. The Senator, played by actor Hal Holbrook, described himself as a middle of the road extremist. I’ve yet to find a better description that fits my avoidance of the label.
– Pastor Lee Neish