By calling ourselves
progressive,we mean that we are
Christians who form ourselves
into communities dedicated to equipping one another for the work we feel called
to do: striving for peace and justice among all people, protecting and
restoring the integrity of all God’s creation, and bringing hope to those Jesus
called the least of his sisters and brothers.
A tension exists
between the responsibility we owe to our own families and to those Jesus called
the least of his sisters and brothers (Matthew 25:31-45). According to the gospels, Jesus had nothing
positive to say about natural families.
He repudiated his own mother and sisters and brothers in favor of his
new family (Mark 3:32-35). Then he extended this concept of family to
those most in need – the sick, the hungry, the stranger, the prisoner. People have a natural instinct to look after
their blood relatives. This “kin
altruism”, as it is called, appears to be genetically driven. Jesus challenged his followers to widen their
circle of concern to take in all human beings.
experienced God in a profoundly intimate way as the “Parent of all of
creation.” As a result of this
extraordinary relationship it seems that Jesus, like others who have had such
experiences, had a clear vision about the interconnectedness of all life. As part of that reality, Jesus recognized
every human being as a child of one God.
For him, one’s identity began and ended by simply being God’s
child. Any other identifying factor was
secondary to this truth and likely a distraction (e.g., family, wealth, status,
position). As a child of God, every
human deserves dignity and justice regardless of status in this world. Anything less would be an affront to God or
sin against God. Because of this
interconnectedness of all life, suffering or injustice to any of God’s children
means ultimately suffering or injustice for all. This unique understanding of reality led
Jesus to what John Dominic Crossan calls, a “radical egalitarianism”.
tradition teaches that when one can have the same compassion in one’s heart for
all sentient beings that a mother has for her child, then one has achieved
enlightenment. Marcus Borg points out in his book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time the word for
compassion in both Hebrew and Aramaic comes out of the same root word as
“womb.” He suggests that this would imply that the intention was to “feel with”
the same kind care and love that a mother experiences for her child. It seems
clear that this common understanding of compassion is no coincidence. For those
special individuals who have experienced such a complete sense of connectedness
to the “Other,” that depth of love for others would be a natural byproduct. The
question is how can we have such a profound experience of that connectedness
that might break open such compassion in our hearts?
One way to have
that experience is to practice compassion in sacred communities, where gather
to “practice” living out Jesus’ teachings of compassion. We all would be better
served if we learned that our practice of compassion was an opportunity and not
an obligation. When we begin to live our lives as a child of God; when we
practice living, breathing, modeling and teaching compassion in a community
that does that out of a love for life, God and each other, something changes in
us. Sometimes when we begin to live a life of compassion we too may have a
profound experience the interconnectedness of life. We may even begin to feel
with the compassion of a mother for her child.
disciple of Jesus then would be someone who perceived and identified himself or
herself as a child of God and related to others with that perspective. The
church, as a spiritual community, is then a place where followers of Jesus’s
seek to live out this relational model with God and each other. It is both a place and an attitude which can
foster ways to appreciate and share one another’s gifts and talents in a common
effort to serve the world. Historically
those in the church have been called to find communally the perspective and the
courage to confront the injustices that always surround us, to seek healing,
and wholeness in the world, to provide hope where there may have been none.
of the challenges of progressive Christians is to recognize and acknowledge the
complexity and contradictions in the highest of ideals, such as peace and
justice. Can peace and justice be
achieved at the same time? Totalitarian
governments, for example, can enforce a “peace” but almost always at the
expense of human rights and of justice for many. Libertarian governments might enhance justice
and rights for individuals, but the price could be social chaos. It is too easy
to get caught up in a particular cause with self-righteous indignation and
loose sight of the unknown consequences of your actions.
must therefore struggle with the meaning of “justice” or what we mean by “just”
in the context of our understanding of life.
Karen Lebacquz, a well-known Christian ethicist wrote that the concept
of “justice” is complex and difficult to pin down but that “human justice can
never be separated from God’s actions.”
She writes in the same book that although justice may be an ideal that
is difficult to define or categorize, our understanding of “justice must begin
with the realities of injustice.” (Justice
in an Unjust World, 1987) These
issues are made no less complex with the reality that correcting a past
injustice can often cause an injustice for innocent people.
Christians are willing to engage the tensions of these ideals because we admit
to the limitations of our perspectives and have faith in the mysteries of God’s
creation. We dare to engage the
ambiguities with compassion because we suspect that God’s truth is somewhere in
the midst of them.
1. What does the term “community” mean for you? When does a group become a community?
2. How do we equip one another and restore hope in an
intentional faith community? How is this
different from other organizations?
3. How did Jesus seem to define “justice’ by his words
and actions? What did those things have in common?
4. What are the different ways that one might define
the word “justice”? “Injustice”? How can enforced peace infringe on the justice
5. What do you believe the church’s responsibility
should be in confronting injustice in the world or in your community? Why?