This past week I read about Evangelical churches in Arizona posting large banner signs outside their churches that said “Progressive” Christianity: Fact or Fiction? The pastors of those churches will be preaching about the wrongness of progressive Christianity. The story caught my attention because I have been accused of and criticized for being a progressive Christian. I mean, what’s so wrong about being progressive? What’s the opposite of progressive? Regressive? Even the title of the sermon series reveals the effects of modernity. Progressive in quotes as if it really isn’t legitimate. Facts used as the basis for truth.
Where is faith in all of this? If belief is based upon facts, then what’s the point of faith? There is no need for faith. One simply has all the facts.
Let’s assume facts are the basis of truth. So, when Jesus speaks about the Kingdom of God (since I’m a progressive I prefer the phrase Commonwealth of God, or even better, Kin-dom of God) why doesn’t he repeat the same description of what it is like? Does he ever use the same description twice? Which description is fact? Or all they all factual? Maybe his descriptions are really metaphors. Maybe metaphors are more than “facts.”
So, you might be asking, “What does it mean to be a Progressive Christian?” Here is a working definition.
Progressive Christianity is a form of Christianity which is characterized by a willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity, a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and the oppressed, and environmental stewardship of the Earth.
John Wesley, an Anglican priest and founder of the Methodist movement in Great Britain in the 18th Century summed it up this way.
Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.
It turns out he was being really progressive at the time.
The real litmus test of the value (or not) of being progressive would, I think, be the actions of Jesus. There are four accounts of his life, death and resurrection in the Bible. The Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. What do they say?
Did Jesus question tradition? All the time. Eventually the church leadership wanted him killed, and succeeded in doing so.
Did Jesus accept human diversity? Yes he did. The Syrophonecian Woman (Mark 7:25-30/Matthew 15:21-28). The Centurion who asked Jesus to heal his daughter. And if you read Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, he came from a diverse heritage. In Jesus’ patralineal culture four of his ancestors were women, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. Only one of them was an Israelite. And one, Rahab, was identified as a prostitute in the book of Joshua.
Did Jesus emphasize social justice? Do I even have to answer this one? “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…to let the oppressed go free…” (Quoting Isaiah, and found in Luke 4)
Did Jesus care about the environmental stewardship of the Earth? There is a reason Jesus was raised bodily from the dead and not just spiritually. The Earth matters. God has reclaimed God’s creation, all of it, and that includes the environment and the Earth. The Christian belief that there will be a marriage of heaven and earth one day, and that we pray God’s commonwealth (Kingdom for you non-progressives) come on Earth as it is in Heaven makes no sense otherwise.
You know, it actually seems that Christians are supposed to be progressive.