When the media speaks of ideological divisions, there are usually two sides: conservative and moderate. Almost never is someone labeled a liberal. Thus you are left with the impression that moderates are level-headed, open-minded folks who only want the right things. And then there are the ... conservatives! Reactionary, recalcitrant, backwards-looking, extremist. You don’t want to be one of them. Usually the stories don’t let “conservative” stand alone, but will add the modifiers “right-wing,” “hardline,” “extreme,” and so on.
To wit, we have this profile from a New Jersey newspaper that bemoans the retirement of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, DC, as a loss for “moderate” Catholics. (Which also gets us into the thorny issue of whether it is appropriate to label Catholics using ideological terms; after all, what’s important is orthodoxy v. heterodoxy, not ideology.)
In any case, the article lionizes McCarrick as a “distinctly moderate voice at a time when other bishops have grown more conservative and confrontational.” They quote the cardinal himself as saying, “A priest in the center can reach out to everybody,” McCarrick said last week. “He doesn’t cut himself off from people.” One might also say that a man who tries to straddle the fence quickly finds himself painfully attempting to be split down the middle. Or to quote from Scripture, “Because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold I will spew you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:16)
Great Moderates in History
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