Why is progressive Christianity so white?

 

Question & Answer

 

Q: By Ryan

 
Here’s my question: why is progressive Christianity so white? And who are the main non-white voices within the movement? Thank you so much.
 

A: By Eric Alexander

Thanks for a great question Ryan.

A few years back I was admin of an eight-thousand member progressive Christian community. At that time I asked the group why they thought there weren’t more black and latino voices participating in progressive Christianity, and there certainly was no clear consensus that came of it; but a few themes did bubble up.

We also ran some surveys in that group around that time (2014), and we concluded that the global community who labels themselves as “progressive Christian” was about 95% white at the time. We also determined that many blacks and latinos may not identify themselves as theologically “progressive Christians,” but they are often amongst the most socially progressive, especially as it regards issues of race, immigration, and income equality.

One of the key data points that stood out from that research was that the modern progressive Christian theological movement has been incubated in white and liberal academia over the past fifty years. And in general since it started as a white movement, it has continued to attract whites. It is sort of the natural order of things in humanity that white (or non-white) movements tend to stay mostly white (or non-white) –  although that is starting to change.

Another reason for the trend is that members of black and latino communities don’t tend to have such an easy opt-out option from their spiritual communities. In non-white communities, churches tend to be much more integral to social / business / spiritual constructs. Even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was quite theologically progressive, but given the social work he had to do, talking extensively about the theological aspects of the faith was not a key mantle that he chose to highlight during his ministry.

When it comes to modern non-white progressive Christian voices, it has indeed been a challenge to find non-whites in the explicit “progressive Christian movement.” As I’ve talked to many people of color over the years I’ve found that many aren’t as hung up on the theology as whites tend to be. People of color tend more to be drawn to the spirituality and liberation aspects of the faith. Whether the Bible is literal or not is not often the key concern in non-white faith communities. In contrast, progressive Christianity has been a mainly white, academic, and affluent group, and it hasn’t appealed as much to the more charismatic and deeply spiritual crowd.

With all of that said, diversification is definitely happening with each passing year. I have seen a number of black females getting involved within the label. One example is Rev. Irene Monroe recently joining the Progressing Spirit lineup. And Toni Reynolds being named to the ProgressiveChristianity.org board of directors. Neither of these women were added explicitly because of their ethnicity, but it is evidence that the demographics are changing.

Of course, everything said here is based on generalizations and over-simplifications, but it is an attempt to look at a very complex subject in just a couple paragraphs. I, like you, am excited to see what is happening!

~ Eric Alexander

About the Author

Eric Alexander is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur. He is a board member at ProgressiveChristianity.org, and is the founder of JesismChristian Evolution, and the Progressive Christianity and Politics group on Facebook. Eric holds a Master of Theology from Saint Leo University and studied negotiations at Harvard Law School, and and is author of Teaching Kids Life IS Good.

Review & Commentary

  • Frankly

    There are lots of people with progressive theology in all the denominations. Having that theology doesn’t always make people leave their denomination, though. Some people find value staying where they are at and being “salt” and “light” right where they are. Some stay because of the cultural aspects or tradition or even for the theological diversity.