Is “progressive” the new liberal? The word progressive is frequently used these days referring to “non-fundamentalist” churches. I used it as a theme for our Lenten sermon series: Progressive Christianity takes a fresh look at traditions and rituals. You may see the word used in newspaper and magazine articles. What does it mean? Is progressive simply the “new liberal”? My perspective is yes and no. “Progressive Christianity” does not lend itself easily to definition. It is more of a movement; a path; an approach than a belief system. It is often more interested in spirituality than religion. Unlike the “liberal churches” of the 1960’s and later, it is not necessarily closely aligned with one political perspective. So how might we describe “progressive” Christianity?
Form my reading and listening to folks who consider themselves progressives, I have gleaned some “marks’ of progressive Christianity:
—intellectual questioning; more interest in searching for understanding and growth than in dogma, creeds and certainty.
—desire for radical inclusivity and equality in terms of sexual orientation, gender, race, age, etc. I say “desire” because many progressive communities and individuals still struggle with “how” to be multi-racial and multicultural—but being inclusive is the ideal.
—open to insights and spiritual exercises from a whole spectrum of world religions, while still being grounded in one’s own Christian tradition.
—recognition that, although our approach to God is through the life and teachings of Jesus, there are many paths to God.
—a desire and need for rituals and spiritual exercises that help us deepen our experience of God and our spiritual life.
—a desire for a holistic spiritual life: to connect the heart/mystical with the head/cognitive; to connect contemplation with action; idealism with pragmatism.
—a desire for a community of people who will share one’s journey—not necessarily agree but be willing to listen; to challenge and to allow each of us freedom of conscience.
—a desire for worship that is authentic, experiential and allows for spontaneity; that helps us re-connect to rituals with a fresh understanding.
—interfaith and ecumenically minded; open to the new.
—values the arts and science and creativity; does not experience a dis-connect between science and spirituality.
—is committed to social justice, ecology and peacemaking—although individuals may have very different ideas on the best way to reach such goals.
These are a few of the “characteristics” of progressive Christianity, as I understand it. Is Southminster a “progressive Christian church”? I think so. Does it matter? Yes and No. On the one hand, it is not necessary or even helpful to be “labeled”. What is important is to be authentic and faithful to one’s call. On the other hand, the term “progressive” can help us to articulate who and what we are as a congregation; what we stand for—not just what we might be against. It can help those who are looking for a church home; it gives some idea of what they might find here. And—just discussing some of the above characteristics as a congregation can help us grow in our own understandings of faith and spirituality.
The Session has spent some time recently discussing that question: is our congregation a progressive Christian congregation? How are we…and how not? How do we describe ourselves to friends and neighbors? If you are interested in more information on this issue, there are a couple of websites you might check out: www.micahsvillage.org; (Institute for Progressive Spirituality) and www.TCPC.org (The Center for Progressive Christianity). There are others…these two provide a beginning search.
Share some of your thoughts and responses—what resonates with you; what doesn’t?