By calling ourselves progressive Christians we mean we are Christians who are…..
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Progressive Christianity aspires toward a lively inclusiveness that transforms opposites into contrasts as it looks for holiness everywhere. The postmodern project challenged all universal narratives, philosophical systems, and theological doctrines. Postmodernism affirms the importance of personal, communal, and tribal narratives as windows into understanding the universe. No story encompasses everyone but the sharing of many stories provides great insights into the nature of the human adventure and the ambient universe.
Process theologians take seriously progressive inclusivism and ground their theological affirmation of diversity in the nature of revelation and inspiration. God is present in every moment of experience providing inspiration, intentionality, direction, and guidance. The world lives by its incarnation of God, even though our embodiment of divine inspiration is always personal, communal, contextual, and historical. God touches everyone and moves through the many diverse religious traditions and human experiences. Each is limited, and each is a window into the divine.
Process theology sees pluralism and diversity as signs of divine inspiration and not a fall from grace. God is working in every life, seeking abundance and beauty. Accordingly, the glorious diversity of flora and fauna and human self-expression reflects at varying degrees divine intentionality. You might say that, given the colors of the rainbow, God loves diverse expressions of creativity. God might be described as “generous” in artistry. God parents forth multiplicity while weaving together unity within the dynamic web of life.
Everyone’s life reflects to greater, lesser, or different, degrees divine artistry and deserves affirmation in their creative responses to God’s call in their lives. Today, many denominations and congregations are unraveling due to differences on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. While progressives tend to affirm diverse sexualities and gender identities, progressives are called to look for the good faith in their conservative counterparts, even if it isn’t always reciprocated. It is possible to take a conservative view on homosexuality without being homophobic. To label those who challenge our positions means the end of a conversation when new beginnings must be sought. People can take conservative approaches based on biblical interpretation and authority. While we take a different path, we need to remember that our understanding of authority is not arbitrary but may be a matter of life and death to us to those who oppose us.
Still, the progressive spirit sees God at work in the “holy other,” whether that other be a homosexual or a heterosexual, a male or a female, a believer or an atheist. At many Benedictine monasteries, the words “Treat everyone as Christ” are prominently displayed. The assumption is that Christ comes to us in the “holy other” and that Christ is, in fact, living within the holy other, and waiting to be noticed, even if he or she is unaware of it.
One of my teachers, Bernard Loomer, spoke of stature as a primary religious virtue. Stature involves the amount of otherness we can embrace without losing our fluid, personal center. Depth of spirit is the gift of stature. Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and understanding of the ever-widening circles of God’s love, and so should we!
Progressives are often attacked as persons who subject Christian truth to cultural relativism and political correctness. While this may be true of some progressives, more significantly, a theologically-sound progressive vision, influenced by process theology, grounds our inclusiveness in our understandings of the nature and scope of divine revelation. The whole earth is full of God’s glory (Isaiah 6:3) and this glory enlivens every child who is born and every adult exploring her or his gifts and identity. John’s prologue asserts that the light of God shines in and on everyone, enlightening and giving guidance. (John 1:1-5, 9) This prismatic light, reflected in all the colors of the rainbow, is the reason for our inclusive embrace of diversity. Turning away from the rainbow is turning away from God’s creativity and the wonder of each creature. Let us turn to the rainbow of divine love, looking for wisdom and wonder in all things.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He is currently serving as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.