Can one be a Progressive Christian and be a Republican?
How about a libertarian?
When I was growing up, it wasn’t odd for me to be evangelical and have liberal politics. It still isn’t that odd, there are many liberal evangelicals running around. I’ve tended to see evangelicalism as far more diverse than what popular culture portrays it.
For some reason, that tends to not always be the case with Progressive Christianity. It almost always seems to me that to be a progressive Christian, one must have progressive politics. There is no room for disagreement here. One would think a person’s political viewpoint is of more import than their theology. Methodist John Meunier sums my complaint perfectly:
My experience of progressive Christianity is that the first word is the most important one. Progressive Christianity asks me to be progressive first and Christian only to the extent that does not step on my prior commitment to being progressive. In that way, it is a bit like being a German Christian.
I stumbled accross this blog post by Presbyterian blogger John Vest on Progressive Christianity. What interested me was not as much what he wrote, but what a commenter named Jeff Carter said:
My problem with Progressive Christianity is that is has allied hand in hand with progressive politics. There is no difference between the left wingers and mainline religions.
So, instead of learning about Christ, or contemplating how Christ can fit into my life (or how I can make my life more Christ like), I learn that I should support minimum wage, that I should support illegal immigration, who I should vote for (at a Methodist church), ad infinitum.
I remember hearing from the pulpit at 4th Pres that a bomb went off last week when the Republicans took control of Congress. It was a terrible sermon and that pastor returned to Atlanta.
Fundamentalist churches are not the be all end all-but at least they are enthusiastic about being Christian. At my Easter Service this year, the pastor never mentioned that Christ rose from the dead and died for us! He phrased it in politically correct words that danced around the subject of death and rising.
Leadership means you have to have some standards. It can’t all be mush. It’s okay to say out loud that you are a Christian-even though you are tolerant and understand other religions. Christians are attacked viciously by supposedly tolerant people of other religions. We have experience with this.
There are certain churches out there, fundamentalist and progressive, that are totally idiotic to me. Rev. Wright isn’t Christianity to me any more than the minister in the south that wanted to stage a burning of the Koran. Both don’t represent what I was taught by ministers growing up in the Pres. church.
I think the church ought to dump overt politics from the pulpit and Presbytery and concentrate on stimulating people to make their own individual choices. Supposedly this whole thing is supposed to be about my personal relationship with Christ. Not being commanded how to have a relationship with Christ. Fundamental and Progressive churches are both doing that-just from differing viewpoints.
Your risk by aligning yourself with the far left, you will lose relevance because you will lose most of your members. Nationwide, that’s the case as people leave the progressive mainline churches and go to churches like Willow Creek.
Jeff sums up my issues with Progressive Christianity: it is too aligned with progressive politics and it doesn’t place emphasis on being Christian, cavilierly jettison essential teachings of the faith instead.
I get what people like John Vest are trying to do: they are trying to offer an alternative to some of the more narrow-minded and unwelcoming versions of Christianity that are out there. I appreciate all the hard work to show that people like me- people who are gay or lesbian (as well as bisexual and transgender) are welcomed at God’s table. I’m glad they are willing to show that one doesn’t have to pledge allegiance to the GOP to be a good Christian.
But while the intent was well-intentioned, I think in practice too much has been sacrificed in the name of appearing trendy and fashionable. Progressives dumped things like original sin or the divinity of Christ or atonement, but they have held on tightly to things like what is the proper stance on universal health care. They focus on the political nature of the gospel, but instead of seeing how Christ confronts all the powers of Ceasar, they have just hitched themselves to a left-wing ceasar instead of the right-wing version.
Which is why I think Progressive Christianity can be at times the worst of both worlds for mainline denominations. It drives away those who might want a deeper spiritual life as well as those who have differing opinions on politics, and it tells those outside the church that it really doesn’t matter if you are Christian as long as you vote for the Democrats.
I’m not advocating that churches become conservative or that only good Republicans can be Christians. I am saying that Progressive Christianity really wants to be taken seriously, it will have to be more self-aware of how faith and politics can mix in not so good ways and it will have to offer a more robust faith and theological view than what it does now.