Progressive Christianity: Fact or Fiction

Progressive Christianity Fact or Fiction 3

Under the cover of darkness Monday night, the progressive Christian movement received a strong endorsement. The endorsement was a well funded and concerted smear campaign launched against it; and it was acknowledgement that the progressive movement is indeed progressing.

progressive christianity fact or fiction 2

I awoke one morning to a facebook post by Diana Butler Bass sharing pictures from friend David Felten, co-founder of Living the Questions and Sr. Pastor of The Fountains United Methodist Church.  He had taken some pictures (shown above and below) of a highly coordinated campaign by eight conservative evangelical churches in Arizona that kicked off the night before to debunk progressive Christianity. In response to the news some progressive Christians were upset.  Some were scared. As for me, I was excited!

DBB Capture

When I saw the above image, my eyes saw a sign that read, “Freedom to Think for Oneself: Right or Wrong?” Having been a church insider for a time I know quite well that the greatest perceived danger to many conservative evangelical church leaders is the idea that their congregants begin to embrace questioning and free thought. They are very threatened by this concept, and rightfully so if their goal is fundamental orthodoxy above all else.

 

In the 300’s CE, the first action that Emperor Constantine and his newly formed Church leadership structure took was to go out and eradicate – by force when necessary – any Christian thought that did not conform to the creeds they had articulated. Free thought impacted their power and control, both physically and spiritually. This went on for over a thousand years thereafter; and that mentality continues to this day.

 

But facts and intellect cannot be squelched forever. With the help of the internet age, and a host of contemporary scholars, it has become clear that the Bible is not inerrant, and that God is not a war mongering, anti-gay, evolution and climate change denying, bearded man floating in the clouds of a six thousand year old universe.

 

The group of churches is also coordinating a six part series to reinforce some ideas which fundamentalist Christians continue to hold dear, such as the virgin birth of Jesus. My view is that if Paul, the most devoted evangelist of Jesus; Peter, the best friend of Jesus; James, the brother of Jesus; and Jesus himself never once mentioned the virgin birth, that it is indeed probably a myth and not worth squabbling over its historicity. But this group of church leaders disagrees and is devoting an entire Sunday to preaching about it in a sermon titled “Why Does It Matter That Jesus Was Born of a Virgin.”

 

When I asked David Felten about it, who is clearly in the crosshairs of this campaign as the only progressive Church in Fountain Hills, he said “It’s hard to imagine how much this kind of publicity would cost if we had to pay for it!” I also talked to ProgressiveChristianity.org’s President, Fred Plumer, who has been at the forefront of the progressive Christian movement for over 20 years. His response was “I think it is great. I believe their actions may unintentionally open up some real questions from people who have never thought about these issues before, and that’s one of the best things that can happen to Christianity.”

 

These theological differences have created two macro camps. One camp embraces change and explores the ramifications. The other camp seems to double down and go to great lengths to deny them. To achieve their goal, the latter camp spends an exorbitant amount of money and time to choke out education and free thought.  The former group chooses to focus on more universal messages such as love, peace, and service.

 

This brings us back to the signs.  The word signs here could be metaphorical too.  Consider the “signs of the times.”  All credible research points to a U.S. church membership that is shrinking and struggling.  All credible data from gen-x’ers and millennials points to a serious disconnect with a judgmental, closed minded, and inwardly focused church. The church is dying, yet it is doubling down under the impression that it just needs to go backwards.  Diana Butler-Bass thinks this may only be the beginning of a nationwide campaign.  I can only hope.  It would be wonderful to hear churchgoers nationwide say “Wow, you mean there are churches down the street where we can follow the examples of Jesus, Peter, James, John, and Paul and not focus on convincing people that Jesus was born of a literal virgin?  I want to go to that church!”

 

So to answer the question of “Progressive Christianity: Fact or Fiction”  Well, it’s clearly fact.  Church leaders can divert a ton of time and money away from serving the poor, freeing the captives, and healing the sick in order to produce signs and campaigns against educated thought, but that is only going to hurt them more. Progressive Church leaders will keep their doors, hearts, and minds open for anyone who want’s to experience a different type of Christianity.

 

EricHeadshotBlackBackgroundSmaller2Eric Alexander is an author, speaker, and the founder of ChristianEvolution.com     >>Follow Eric on Facebook<<

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