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The word “liberal” is often taken as a dirty word. Particularly for listeners and followers of Rush Limbaugh. He has kidnapped the word and tarnished it with untruths contrary to its meaning. While Limbaugh and his ilk have blamed so-called liberals as the source for everything that’s wrong in the world, they are wrong. Webster defines liberal as: favorable to progress; views advocating individual freedom; free from prejudice or bigotry-tolerant; not bound to tradition; characterized by generosity; liberal arts.

The historical defense for liberal actions and liberal people speaks for itself. One good way to understand liberal is to look at its opposite; conservative or conservatism. Again, Webster clarifies the issue. It means: to preserve existing conditions; maintaining the status quo; limiting change; tendency to conserve; a preservative; the disposition to preserve what is established. The best way to understand ideology or philosophy is to image it through personality. Let’s begin with Jesus. Based on the previous analysis, Jesus was obviously a liberal.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were the conservatives. They were maintaining the status quo of hypocrisy. The teachings of Jesus were revolutionary. Particularly the great thought that “the kingdom of God is within you.” The world has never been the same.

A similar liberal attitudes and actions was reflected in the life of Martin Luther, who started the Protestant Reformation. He challenged the authority and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. John Wesley changed the religious scene of England and later the American colonies. His liberal views motivated schools for children, the Salvation Army and child labor laws. In fact, every religious awakening and new denominations were precipitated by liberal expressions.

Consider the advancements in science in spite of religious prejudice and scientific obfuscation. From Galileo and Copernicus to Newton to Edison to Einstein to Jonas Salk; they have been interspersed by thousands of liberal scientific thinkers. What would our lives be without creative men and women like Gutenberg, Eli Whitney and Neal Armstrong? All progress, again, has been made and will be made in spite of the Limbaugh mentality.

I dream of the great explorers who dared to “push the envelope” against the rigid views of their times: Marco Polo, Leif Ericson, Columbus, Magellan, Lewis and Clark, Daniel Boone, Cortez, to name a few. They all faced opposition from rigid thinking contemporaries.

Education, strange as it may, is another prime example where liberal thinking is essential. Valuable college learning is even called “liberal arts” study. It refers to a wide range of study including art, science, literature, history and philosophy. When rigid conservative thought prevails, ignorance is magnified. Think of the problems that students are having today. High percentage not graduating from high school; minimizing science and many districts pushing creationism; cutting back on the arts while pushing sports; as sex education is eliminated, pregnancy among teens is increasing.

The founders of our nation were by and large liberal thinkers; led by Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Adams. They challenged the stereotypes of Europe and definitely opposed a theocracy. The Constitution advocates not so much a freedom of religion as a freedom from religion. There is a mood in our country today of conservative churches attempting to dominate the political scene. Again, unfortunately, many of the traditionally liberal mainline church are dying out. The Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Congregational are showing significant declines in membership. They’ve lost their liberal edge. In times past they were on the cutting edge: supporter of civil rights and social services. While not liberal in theology, they are conservative in practice. They are the Pharisees and Sadducees of today.

The press is currently being accused of being liberal. Which it should be. Whenever it begins to parrot the views of the reigning establishment, it becomes ineffective. It must always be in a position to critique the behavior and decisions of authority. The same must be said for the pulpit. The Gospel is more than comfortable platitudes. When it ceases to be prophetic it becomes pathetic. The hearers must be challenged to THINK, as Jesus did. The hearers must be challenged to FEEL, as Jesus did. The hearers must be challenged to DO as Jesus did.

The press and the pulpit can only be what they should be in a liberal context.

Mr. Abersold is a retired pastor who writes a weekly article which is e-mailed to friends and acquaintances.

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