I’m a theological progressive.
When I fell away from faith, I fell away from a faith that was absolutely confused about its identity. I was interacting in worlds that didn’t seem to speak the same language. One world I lived in included people I knew and loved who were of intellect and not willing to take the Bible literally, people of different sexual orientations, people of different faiths.
And I also lived in a world of religion that didn’t seem to encompass that other world very well. Or, if it did, it marginalized the people who didn’t fit well into certain categories, namely “Bible-believing,” “straight,” and “Christian.”
For a while my solution, then, was to leave the faith…at least in spirit. I still moved in both worlds, but my heart was with the first world and turned against the second world.
And then I came back to faith…a faith re-figured. A faith that could encompass the first world and still remain in the second. In fact, it merged the two worlds so completely together that now, for me, they are one cohesive world.
I came out as a theological progressive.
To me this means a couple things:
–I have a heart for justice. Sometimes people call it “social justice,” but I think that phrase is laden with all sorts of issues and assumptions. My justice is not just for society, though. It’s for the world in sum. Shalom is a better Biblical term for it. I have a heart for Shalom, God’s good balance and peace. Ensuring that people live with dignity, that the world we live in is respected, and that we keep an eye toward balance and harmony as we all eek out our God-given existence.
-I have a sincere respect for other faith traditions. The sincerity part comes from the realization that we are all trying to navigate life in a way that bends toward not putting ourselves at the center of it all. We’re all trying to navigate life through the lens of deeper truth.
–I talk about Jesus. Yes, I do. Sometimes I call Jesus “the Christ,” or sometimes I refer to God as “the Divine,” but I do so because different language helps, not hurts, our understanding of God. For a long time language has boxed God in…and we need to break God out of the box. But that doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t talk about Jesus. In fact, I think we have a lot of Christians who are afraid to talk about Jesus because they don’t want to be “that” type of Christian. I get that. But our silence isn’t doing Jesus’ rep any favors. Why? Because the Franklin Grahams and Glenn Becks (how did he become a Christian spokesperson, btw?) of this world do talk about Jesus. And their Jesus does not look like my Jesus…
–I want to be inclusive. Lots of people are excluded from faith communities for things they’ve done or not done, or for things other people think are “sin,” usually things they do with their bodies. In truth: I think we sin a lot more with our checkbooks than we do with our bodies. Funny thing about the Jesus we find in the Gospels: he doesn’t spend a lot of time making people feel guilty for their sin, real or imagined. In fact, Jesus doesn’t really talk a whole lot about specific sin if you read carefully. What Jesus does talk about, though, are people who think they have no sin, or that they lead sinless lives. “Because you say, ‘I am not blind,’ your sin remains,” Jesus says to the Pharisees, these archetype characters in John’s Gospel for those who think they’re above sin. So, in modeling Jesus, I want to be inclusive. Of everyone. It’s dangerous; I know. Try it out, though. You might just find Jesus lurking in people you never thought possible…
To me being theologically progressive doesn’t mean:
–I’m politically progressive. I know plenty of theological progressives who don’t fit into political categories. Honestly, I’ve never been able to vote with a clear conscience. And your church shouldn’t be a para-political organization, either. Your church’s mission shouldn’t sound like a party platform. Sure, faith is political. My faith certainly informs and shapes my politics. In fact, I think that pastors can’t help but be political. After all, in the polis we deal with money, health, life, and death…all things Jesus talked about extensively. But if Jesus were running for office, no party would claim him.
–I don’t take the Bible seriously. Actually, I take the Bible very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that I take into consideration its origin, its writing styles, its editing, its historical conditioning…all of it. I would claim that anyone who just takes anything at face value doesn’t take it seriously at all! They’re ignoring so much in their quest for simplicity. But life isn’t simple. The books of the Bible aren’t simple. God isn’t simple! Let’s stop pretending that you have to be an idiot to be a believer. The only thing someone reading the Bible at face value takes seriously is their own desire for absolute certainty at the expense of their brain.
–I’m a Communist. Again, idiocy leads to this conclusion, or any other label of fear-mongering that people come up with to keep you from actually engaging with others in this world. The best way to combat idiocy is to remove your head from your buttocks.
–I have a church that won’t grow. Our church is growing. We need not worry that fear and false certainty are the only ways to grow faithful Christians. And as a parent, I want to help my son hold tension with faith, not inadequately resolve tension with easy answers and cheap grace.
So, theological progressives, here’s the deal: we have to talk about Jesus more. Especially in this time of crappy Jesus movies and headlines of Christian charities being…well…uncharitable, and mega-church pastors claiming Jesus wants them to be wealthy, and Catholic bishops getting in hot water for building million dollar mansions. Because Jesus is getting a bad rap. And we shouldn’t be afraid to claim that we’re people of progressive faith.
And, sure, Jesus has a quiet way about him. This is true. Real Godly work doesn’t sound the trumpet in the temple, but locks itself in the closet. And God sees in secret.
But, as a parishioner of mine recently said in a conversation about this issue, “We’re not doing Jesus any favors by being quiet.”
And she’s right.