One of the more amusing attempts to watch is the attempts by those on the left to paint the Lord Jesus Christ as a liberal. They cite everything from His supposed appearance (long hair and beard) to the calls in His ministry to love one another and to support the poor (which of course follows from the commandment to love one another). Most importantly, they state that he came to "overthrow the existing order." In short, they make the argument that Christ to not be a conservative, and thus that Christianity is incompatible with the conservative movement.
This argument contains a number fallacies, however. These range from the gnostic trap to the problem of omission. More importantly, they fail to realize that the ends sought by conservatives as opposed to liberals are not necessarily static from age to age. Today, I will examine the ideas behind the terms "conservative" and "liberal" and demonstrate where today's liberals have mislabeled the ideas of preached by Christ as "liberal" based on a false definition of the term "liberal."
It is too easy to overlook that the terms liberal and conservative are not all-encompassing: there are plenty of different "flavors" of each. Too often, the definitions applied to liberals and conservatives are that liberals want things to change while conservatives want things to stay the same. This is a pretty foolish definition, as it means that there really is no such thing as a complete conservative today, only people who are conservative on certain ideas. Take for axample a specific issue: abortion. It is well-known that conservatives today tend to oppose abortion whereas liberals tend to favor it. But right now, abortion is legal in the US, and has been for over 30 years (and for even longer in many states). Thus, if a conservative was really only somebody who wanted to keep things the same, and liberals wanted change, then the two sides would be reversed on this issue.
Therefor, the terms being sought are not "conservative" and "liberal," but rather "preserver" and "progressive." A preserver (as I will define it) is a person who wishes to preserve something- eg to keep it the way that it is. A progressive is someone who wishes to change that thing. Usually, these terms imply that a person is satisifed with the way a thing is (he thus wishes it to be preserved) or dissatisfied with the way it is (he wishes it to change into something more "satisfying"). Too often the ideas of preserver and progressive are conflated with those of conservative and liberal, but as demonstrated earlier, there can be liberal preservers and conservative progressives.
Christ's commandments certainly introduced changes in the existing structure of the Law, thouhg they generally did so in a manner such that the Law was more completely explained or fulfilled. He was therefore a progressive rather than a preserver. The question though is what kind of a progressive He was: conservative or liberal?
The answer to this depends on the context of the terms. In one context, that of the classical definition of liberl ("one who liberates, e.g. frees"), a case could be made for His liberalism: He did come to set us free, particularly in the spiritual sense (free from the bonds of sins and from the captivity of Satan). However, it is also known that He did not come to change anything about the governmental institutions at that time: "Give to Ceaser that which is Ceaser's." Furthermore, many of today's conservatives can trace their ideas back to classical liberalism, so in this context, Christ is every bit as much a conservative as a liberal.
The second context of the terms conservative and liberal could be found in the approach to progress that each may take. It is here that the terms conservative/liberal are most easily conflated with preserver/progressive. The conservative progressive will seek to make changes to a thing based upon aspects of the thing's nature: in other words, he seeks to complete the thing. A liberal progressive, on the other hand, will seek ot change the thing contrary to aspects of its nature: in other words, to abolish the thing*.
This is a definition for conservatives and liberals which may be applied today, especially in the contexts of morality. For the conservative, there are changes in society which nee to be made because a certain moral code exists and is being broken. For example, there is the sexual morality of conservatives, which ultimately implies that people should be in monogamous, heterosexual relationships (marriages), that sex ought to occur only after marriage, and that if a person can't or won't remain in a hmonogamous heterosexual relationship, he or she abstain entirely from sexual activity. The liberal approach to sexual morality ultimately says that anything goes.
In the context of marriage, the conservative seeks to save marriages and a "progressive" move would be to repeal the no-fault divorce (to make it harder to end marriages) and to repeal the welfare benefits granted to single women who get pregnant (which tend to encourage childbirth outside of wedlock). Thus, the conservative approach to policies affecting marriage is consistent with the nature of existing sexual morality. For the liberal "progress" means first legalizing gay marraiges, then allowing polygamy, and so on. Eventually, marriage is for any two entities seeking it, after which point it is destroyed. And on the road to bringing this about, all of these sexual tendencies previously considered deviant under the existing morality are normalized, and therefor sexual morality has been abolished. Hence, the conservative seeks to have morality completed and fulfilled in society, while the liberal seeks to destroy or abolish it from society.
This brings me back to the teachings of Christ. Which of these did he try to do: destroy the Law, or fulfill it? Froma a comparison of Old Testament "types" to their New Testament counterparts, the answer is pretty clear: He completerd the Law, perfecting it. from the ritualistic animal sacrifices to attone for sins (OT) being perfected in His death and reserrection (NT) to his explantions of the meaning os many of the Old Testament commandments, there can be no doubt that He came to fulfill rather than to abolish the Law. It is thus true in this sense that he was a conservative progressive, not a liberal one.
*This distinction discussed in great depth by John Henry Cardinal Newman throughout his writings and speaches (or even homilies). He devoted entire sections to it in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. However, he tended to discuss this in different terms, e.g. progressive vs. liberal theology, and orthodoxy vs. heterodoxy.