Women In Spirit and Flesh
The New F-Word
Some of my Christian training told me there was only one answer to these questions. It focused on whether I was "in" or "out." While I was encouraged to share my faith with others, they had to believe like us in order to be welcome. Because of my identity and embodiment, I know how it feels to be "out." If this was "Christian," I didn't want it.
It soon became clear that what made me progressive was not what I did with God in the world; rather it was what I believed about them. Just when it seemed that the word "Christian" no longer applied to me, I found the 8 points of The Center for Progressive Christianity. Among others, this list described progressive Christians as those of us who approach God through the life and teachings of Jesus, but recognize the faithfulness of other people and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways our true for us. We find more grace in the search for meaning than in absolute certainty, in the questions than in the answers. There is a commitment to forming community dedicated to striving for peace and justice among all of God's creation, and then inviting all people to participate in this community without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable.
"Progressive Christianity" gave me my core beliefs about Jesus with the justice of my black Baptist and AME Christian heritages, while allowing for more theological difference, interreligious understanding, and doctrinal mystery. It didn't require me to have a "them" in order to be an "us." Like the f-word, it connotes raising consciousness, questioning power, breaking free from either/or thinking, embodied spirituality, equity that does not require same-ness, and the constant cry out against injustice. "Progressive" allowed me to stop whispering "Christian"—just like the adjectives "black" and "womanist" made many women feel more included in feminism.
Just recently, I learned that progressive Christianity was the new f-word. It became clear when Sojourners, a progressive Christian social justice organization, rejected the advertisement of Believe Out Loud, a collective that helps Protestant communities to become more welcoming to gays and lesbians. The varied responses indicated that Christians calling themselves "progressive" were not on the same page about what is meant by justice politics or if those politics superseded different theological positions.
I know that progressive Christianity is the new f-word for some Christians who don't want all its associations. Some Christians don't want its politics. I suspect that most Christians don't want its beliefs. But I want it all. I want to be linked with the p-word of Christianity. I want people to know that I am not afraid of being connected to the people and the ways that they follow Jesus, welcome all, live with difference, and seek justice for all in their politics and faiths.
Monica A. Coleman is Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions and Co-Director for Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. An ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Coleman has earned degrees at Harvard University, Vanderbilt University and Claremont Graduate University. She blogs about faith and depression at Beautiful Mind Blog