Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
May 1st, 2015 by Joel Watts

Progressive Christianity is…

Is Progressive Christianity more white than Christian?

This article refers to the category of “Progressive Christianity” and is not meant to be directed at those who self-identify as progressive, progressive United Methodist, or other. Labels are often dangerous things, specifically when applied to others — and worse when it is self-applied. This is only for the current brand of “Progressive Christianity.”

There is a discussion currently going, via various posts and statements, on the Progressive Methodist forum involving the evolving and ever revolving system of beliefs know simply as “progressive Christianity.” Many are starting to see that while progressive Christians are “progressive” in one sense, it is becoming difficult to see them as Christian at least in the orthodox sense.1 It has nothing, at all, to do with how one views the LGBT issue or if one takes Scripture seriously as Christians have done for centuries. Rather, it has to do with the denial of historic Christian doctrines and a resurgence of American Christian imperialism.

Case in point, is Roger Wolsey’s continued statements on the dogma of the “progressive ‘Christian.'” This commandments are rather simple,

Progressive Christianity

  • is an approach to the Christian faith that is influenced by post-liberalism and postmodernism and: proclaims Jesus of Nazareth as Christ, Savior, and Lord; emphasizes the Way and teachings of Jesus, not merely His person;
  • emphasizes God’s immanence not merely God’s transcendence; leans toward panentheism rather than supernatural theism;
  • emphasizes salvation here and now instead of primarily in heaven later; emphasizes being saved for robust, abundant/eternal life over being saved from hell;
  • emphasizes the social/communal aspects of salvation instead of merely the personal;
  • stresses social justice as integral to Christian discipleship;
  • takes the Bible seriously but not necessarily literally, embracing a more interpretive, metaphorical understanding;
  • emphasizes orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy (right actions over right beliefs); embraces reason as well as paradox and mystery — instead of blind allegiance to rigid doctrines and dogmas;
  • does not consider homosexuality to be sinful;
  • and does not claim that Christianity is the only valid or viable way to connect to God (is non-exclusive).

Take  the first bullet. What Roger is really saying is that Progressive Christianity is a white male, post-European enlightenment, movement based only on European and American views. While historic Christian comes from Africa, Semitic peoples, and oppressed peoples of the Roman Empire, “progressive Christianity” evolved out of the leisurely pursuit afforded to  European and American intellectuals, a leisure afforded because of the continued existence of an oppressed class. Indeed, liberalism can be seen as a racist system. This doesn’t mean liberals are racist, any more than it means that conservatives are free of racism because the free market is itself neutral. Rather, liberalism as a whole (of which the two big modern American political parties are descendents) is a system inherently racist (warning, pdf). If we add to this the role of imperialist social justice (as opposed to Wesley’s social holiness), we come closer to the real image of progressive Christianity (see the point about social justice). To create a Christianity based on liberalism and imperialism is simply, evil. This alone should tell Christians to avoid progressive Christianity.

If we were to examine “progressive Christianity” from a Marxist lens, I wonder if we could not see the new system as the new bourgeoisie, the ruling class who are supported off the backs of the working class. After all, people like Roger (a UMC campus minister), live off dollars raised by working peoples. At the very least, we can see in the first statement an Euro/Americentric understanding of Christianity. Rather than arguing over whether or not Rome or Constantinople is the new Holy City, “progressive Christianity” has decided that the Holy City is in European and American academia (as long as it is progressive).

What does it mean to proclaim that Jesus is Lord? For Christians, it means that Jesus is the divine Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. For too many in the progressive Christianity campe, it simply means that Jesus is like us, but died because of the oppressive Roman empire. There was nothing uniquely divine or special about Jesus. “Jesus is just like you and me,” Roger says. When asked to support that claim, Roger usually says something along the lines of how “well-read” he is, and something about meeting Jesus like Paul did. For Roger, Jesus’s death was simply cruelty of the Roman Empire. For Christians, the death of Jesus was a (self-?) sacrifice on behalf of the whole world in order to win/bring/save that world for/to/for God. The Jesus of progressive Christianity is nothing more than a historic blip. Indeed, his words of “I am the ONLY way” is contextual.

The other points are just as nonsensical and I suspect due to a Girardian view of theology. Christians have always emphasized the immanence of God. This is who Jesus Christ is to Christians, God with us. In regards to the notion of “orthopraxy over orthodoxy,” I cannot help but see this as legalism — and I actually know something about legalism and cult-legalism, which I believe can be identified in progressive Christianity. There is no worship in this phrase, no divinity, no hope. There is only “do it our way or else and you had better do it right.” Thus, it becomes a religion of works.

progressive christianity is racistIn the end, progressive Christianity is nothing new. It mixes the heresies of the first 3 centuries with the imperialist agenda of the the last 3. It the ideal white male religion, securing their privilege, erasing their collective white guilt, and allowing them to continue to oppress all others. Christians, especially those of us in political and ethnic power, should take our cue from the margins. It was the martyrs, the outcasts of the synagogue and Empire, and those who sought to understand who shaped Christian theology. Today, in the presence of the empire of Progressive Christianity, the same Jewish, Middle Eastern, and African outcasts who first shaped Christianity are flung further away. I will stand with them.

 

Some people deny that liberals/progressives can be racists. Science — actual, honest to God science, proves otherwise

  1. This doesn’t mean they aren’t Christian or, better, “saved” but that they simply do not fit into orthodox Christianity of the past 2,000 years.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

9 Responses to “Progressive Christianity is…”
  1. Every time I hear,
    Refrain:
    Are you washed in the blood,
    In the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?
    Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
    Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

    First, I cringe.
    Second, I think that is sick.
    Third, I think of the KKK in their white hoods.

    So I don’t think Progressives need to fear too much about being too “white”. Fundies have set the bar pretty high.

    • Gary, you are definitely correct connect the KKK to this conversation. Christian fundamentalism in the south is directly related to the fall of the Confederacy. This has been demonstrated by several recent studies that show that fundamentalism is part of the Confederate Diaspora

  2. Wow, don’t know if to take this seriously, or just as trolling…

    Liberal != progressive.

    One of the “science” links goes to a rant against Bill Maher, who is neither liberal nor progressive — more in the civil libertarian mode, he just appears “liberal” in a bicameral political system where one of the parties has went entirely off the deep end, into war on science, fundamentalism, theocracy, plutocracy (though the other party is plutocrat-friendly too, in a kindler, gentler manner).

    Finally, how hilarious, the broadside here would put MLK, the greatest 20C liberal theologian, in the crosshairs, painting him as racist.

  3. I have a stack of books containing writings from MLK and you’re conflating — MLK defended liberal allies (when a good bit of the civil rights movement resented liberal involvement), his theology was almost completely rooted in progressive/liberal thinkers (see The Preacher King: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Word That Moved America — his sermons and speeches were lifted almost entirely from liberal/progressive theologians, fused with African-America preachers). And in his last 3 years, he went from liberal – progressive/radical.

    Moderate (silent) MLK decried != liberals who were instrumental in working side by side with SCLC.

    Perhaps I’m missing the context in the carryover that prompted this post. But you seem to be affixed to labels.

    • Not really – I’m trying to avoid labels but trying to get to a system (post/liberal) identified in the points above. Liberalism is a system v liberals.

      Maybe you’ve missed these parts.

  4. Keith Caldwell says

    Glory be to the Father
    and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
    As it was int the beginning, It now and ever shall be.
    World without end. Amen! Amen!
    Christians are those that follow Christ
    Our Lord set the standard when He said follow me. Who will be blessed? The beatitudes are found in Matthew 5:3-12. Did Christ abolish the law? See Matthew 5: 17-20. Did Jesus set a standard? See what He told the rich young ruler, Matthew 19:21-23. Did Jesus cross ethnic barriers? Read about the Samaritan Woman in John 4:4-38. The Son of God was with God in the beginning, John 1:1
    In my opinion this is Christianity to progress would be to change and Christianity is never changing; Therefore progressive Christianity is an oxymoron that can not exist. God’s love was with us in the beginning, still is and will never change. How could man change this?

  5. While I respect your opinion I question whether you have engaged beyond this one individual. At some point the magnificent love of Jesus makes your points without relevance. Labels have the danger of causing us to miss the grace of the resurrection shared in Christ.

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