In my work for TCPC over the last 3 years- I have noticed that most progressive Christians do not really like to talk about their beliefs. The comments on our TCPC Facebook are minimal though there are a large number of “friends;” when I am looking for articles I basically have to become a private investigator searching the world for hidden progressive Christian authors that aren’t white-male-over-50; and in conversations one generally hears only two sides of the Christian perspective- those that think its a bunch of outdated crap and those that are trying to save the world, one soul at a time.
Now, before I go on, let me first say, that I COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND. I grew up in a progressive Christian church and I didn’t like to talk about it either to my fundamental Christian friends- (they would just tell me that Jesus loves me and they are worried about me burning in Hell for eternity) or to my non-religious friends, who generally just cringe when the word Christian is said. I also have to confess that when someone asks me, “What do you do for work?” my answer is usually, “Oh, I just work for a non-profit.” And then I hope they don’t ask me the name. Which they usually do, so then I have to muster up my courage to say the words CHRISTIANITY. The hard part is not jumping into a long confusing explanation that usually goes something like: “I’m not religious at all and I don’t really relate to Christianity but I believe that Jesus was an amazing teacher and that his teachings have been grossly misinterpreted, stolen for the use of fear and power, and this organization is about promoting an approach to Christianity that is based on his true teachings from an educated point of view not from a misunderstood dogmatic point of view. I am happy to support anything that stands in opposition to the tyranny, violent, unjust, exclusive, and ignorant fundamental Christianity.” Or something like that. At which point they either say, “oh… cool” or “interesting” or just “hmmmm…” and I hope that I haven’t offended anyone on either “side” of the spectrum.
At our last board meeting, there was a large group of us standing in line for lunch and we told another customer to go ahead due to our large number. She smiled, surprised (it was in California, after all, where people are constantly trying to get ahead) and one of our board members (a young woman pastor of all people) said, “Yes, we are nice- we are progressive Christians!” proudly. Every single one of us, immediately shied away and acted like we had no idea what she was talking about. We were embarrassed- not by our beliefs- oh no- but by the fact that so few people have any idea what progressive Christianity is and so we assume that they immediately associate it with fundamental Christianity. We are NOT one of them, we want to shout in defense.
One of the challenges we face, is that followers of progressive Christianity haven’t really even agreed on what it is. After all, being progressive means constantly being open to change and new awareness. God, wouldn’t it be easier to just hand those people that ask “what is progressive Christianity?” a heavy, well read book and say- “this is what we are and this is what we will always be. This is THE truth.” But progressive Christians are not known for taking the easy route. In fact, we are trying to stand up to 2000 years of dogma and 50% of the population.
We began with determining what we aren’t. We are not fundamentals, we are not exclusive, we are not dogmatic, we are not bible thumpers, we are not ignorant, we are not brainwashed, we are not afraid, we are not haters, we are not closed minded. Slowly, we are letting go of the comparison and becoming, birthing, and re-birthing who we are separate from that negative association. We are compassionate, we are inclusive, we are educated, we are open, we are searchers, we are peaceful, we are earth friendly, we are social justice supporters, we are Jesus’ students, we are walkers…but NOT, at least not yet, talkers. Yes, there are a handful of scholars and theologians who have helped birth this movement that are continuing to talk about it and there are even a few of those that are women but far too many of us, pastors especially, do NOT talk about it. They, we, are afraid. Afraid of being misunderstood, afraid of losing friends, afraid of losing church members, afraid of being associated with all that we aren’t.
At a recent workshop that I helped organize, a group from a congregation attended and was very excited about the changes they could make to modernize their worship, to clarify their beliefs, and to hopefully draw younger people to their church. But as they walked out of the workshop, I heard the pastor say, “Did you hear Ethel, she was really upset about changing things too much…Do you think the rest will feel the same way? I mean, I can keep wearing the skirt if that makes people more comfortable…” She was really worried. Maybe they would lose the over 70 year olds to the change when the pastor really started talking or, gasp, wore pants. But guess what? Over 70’s is what our churches are going to be left with if we, as progressive Christians, don’t let go of our fear, muster our courage and say the words proudly, “I am a progressive Christian! This is what I believe and I am excited to tell you about it because it has changed my life for the better!”
So, I am asking for your help. Please, will the real progressive Christians Stand up and Speak up?
Together we can help the world see a different Christianity, one that is based on compassion, inclusion, justice and peace.