Living authentically with who you are is a risky thing to do, but I believe it’s the most direct path to peace. When we vacillate between a version of ourselves that is true and a version that is not true, we continue in a cycle that leaves us feeling more lonely than when we started living that way.
I know many of you are in this position because I read your emails every day. One of the most common emails I receive states to the effect, “I’m secretly a progressive but if I’m honest about it, I’ll lose my friends and probably lose my job”. These emails are hard to receive, because I know how true this is. However, I wanted to address this as someone who is further along in the process, and who can now look back and see that “coming out progressive” was actually the path to peace for me. In a future piece I’ll talk about some of the risks (and how you can mitigate them) but for today I want to share why I– and why so many others like me– are actually glad that we came out and embraced authenticity by no longer hiding the fact that we’re actually Progressive Christians.
Here are the top 10 reasons:
1. I’m no longer the person in the room with the strangest views.
The downfall of secretly being a progressive is that you’re always aware that you’re the person in the room with the strangest or most liberal views. The longer this goes on the more isolated you feel from always being the one person who appears to be straying from the pack. This is a situation that creates a deep sense of loneliness, and ultimately depression. However, once crossing over into a progressive form of Christianity, chances are high that you won’t even be close to the person on the team with the strangest or most liberal views (seriously, have you met all of us?). Since coming out progressive, I no longer feel so alone or like I’m the only person who doesn’t belong.
2. I don’t have to vote for the Republican candidate for president simply because they’re a Republican.
Seriously, we don’t care who you vote for. Ross Perot or Ralph Nader? Have at it– it’s your vote. As a conservative evangelical, voting for any candidate that wasn’t pre-approved by the group was a major party foul. Now that I’m completely open about being a progressive, I’ll vote for whoever I want and don’t have to worry about tribal leaders pushing me to the margins for not following the unwritten rules of membership.
3. Having the freedom to openly re-explore and rediscover my faith is exhilarating.
In the previous paradigm, there was no such freedom– the tribe only permitted exploring one’s faith within preset parameters with a long list of questions remaining closed for discussion. Breaking with this norm, results in being ostracized and having your faith called into question (Exhibit A: Rob Bell). We were always warned what questioning would lead to, but you know what? They were wrong. I’ve learned that Jesus is a big boy and can handle my tough questions and that the process of rediscovery has actually been life giving. Today I feel more passionate about my faith that I ever did before.
4. I’ve been welcomed by a community that doesn’t insist I become a clone of them.
This is perhaps my favorite part of being openly progressive: the other progressives don’t care that I’m not exactly like them because they aren’t exactly like each other. I’ve never met two progressive Christians who were identical and everyone seems to not only accept this reality, but embrace it. Yes, we like to talk about theology and ideas– sometimes quite passionately– but no one cares that you’re not exactly like the rest of the group, because no one is exactly like the rest of the group.
5. I now know the new friends I make won’t one day walk away because they find out I’m progressive.
This speaks to an issue that I plan to write about in the near future: the price of coming out progressive. Trust me; you’ll lose friends. However, the people who I become friends with now? They all know I’m progressive when they become friends with me, so I no longer have to live in fear that they’ll see an article come across their news feed on Facebook and realize who I really am. The new friends I’m making simply like me for me, which make for safer friendships.
6. I no longer have to find creative theological arguments for why I’m excluding people.
In my old belief system, there seemed to always be a heavy focus on drawing lines between who was in and who was out– something that never sat well with me. I was never able to figure out how we were able to justify the exclusion of so many people- LGBT, women, and even men who didn’t fit the exact mold of a ‘leader’. Being openly progressive has allowed me to rediscover the Jesus who told his followers to “go out into the streets and find all the excluded people you can, and bring them back here to my party”. Today I’m able to let my focus be geared towards creating ways to include, not justifying who I am excluding.
7. I’ve learned how diverse the body of Christ is, and I’m actually free to express how much I appreciate that.
Diversity of theological thought within the group was always seen as a threat to the group. This is why so many churches and traditions have extensive, 28 page “Statements of Faith” that new members have to sign. Having all beliefs laid out in a black and white manner helps to reduce the chances that someone might think on their own and cause “trouble” for the group. As a progressive, I’ve learned that diverse theological opinions aren’t a threat at all, but that there’s a lot I can learn from listening to others who think differently than I.
8. I’m free to follow the teachings of Jesus wherever that takes me.
Perhaps the craziest realization of my paradigm shift was that as a conservative evangelical I actually wasn’t free to completely follow Jesus. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. Following Jesus meant loyalty to community norms instead of living radically to shake up the culture– the latter being what Jesus actually invites us to do. Think you’re actually free to follow Jesus in your conservative setting? Just try teaching people nonviolent love of enemies– one of the core messages of Jesus– and see where that gets you. Trying to teach Christians to actually follow Jesus was nothing but trouble making for me, but now I’m free to follow wherever his teachings lead, and the rest of the group doesn’t care.
9. I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not.
I hate being fake– there’s so much freedom in authenticity. However, until I was ready to be open about being a progressive Christian, I forced myself into a double life where half the time I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t in order to keep the peace, and keep my life in order. Living this way for a season is a matter of self preservation, but eventually it leads to a form of death because it only increases a sense of outsiderness and loneliness. Today I am free, because I am done pretending and done hiding. I am who I am, I’m happy with who I am as a Christian, and people are free to walk away if they need to– because I’d rather live in freedom.
10. I’m comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life.
Once I stopped trying to dance the line and still fit in with my old tribe, I realized that I was happy for the first time in years. Yes, ‘coming out’ came with some painful losses, but in the end I realized that doing so resulted in me feeling comfortable in my own skin. While some of the losses are still painful, I’m learning the comfort and peace that comes with being true to who I am is actually worth it. Scripture says “as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” and I am discovering that “everyone” also includes living at peace with my own self. Today, I am at peace with myself.
Yes, there are some risks in “coming out progressive”, but all things considered, I think living authentically is always the most direct path to peace. I pray that all of you who feel isolated and alone because you’re not currently in a place to embrace this openness will eventually find a path to live at peace with your own self.
I’ll save a seat for you and be here when you’re ready.(For further dialogue– why are you glad that you came out as a Progressive Christian? If you haven’t, what’s holding you back?)