Stand in the place where you are

I read a blog by one of my colleagues at Patheos yesterday that got me to thinking about the “fundamentals” of progressive Christianity.

In progressive Christianity it seems we have a hard time claiming “fundamentals” or capital T truth so we end up looking like a bunch of wishy-washy, anything goes goobers.  Well it is more complicated than that since it hard to claim absolutes since we accept that Truth is elusive and contextual.   While living our Gift in these mortal coils we can not, with absolute certainty, know The One Who Is Outside Human Understanding – our minds simply can not grasp that which is outside time and space and yet in all time and all space.   EVERY attempt to know is merely an attempt, even those attempts that have been codified in thousands of years of doctrine.  Doctrine is especially questionable since every last jot is from the hand of humans (mostly men at that) and so subject to our human fallibility.  I think the key is stand firm at our center while allowing our boundaries to be permeable.

With that said I still believe there are fundamentals that I am learning to claim without apology.  While we may differ on a few, it’s my hunch that some of these fundamentals just might draw us together.

Jesus, God with us, Love embodied, is my center.

Nothing, nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Everyone, everyone, everyone is welcome at God’s table.

The bible is a Godly inspired volume of books that articulate one diverse community’s longing for relationship with God.  It is a complicated collection of poetry, parables and history that point to higher truths we are called to discern anew in every place and age.

As we come to understand the truly radical way we are loved we are called to respond to that Grace, sharing it with others by:

Working to eradicate poverty

Clearing mammon out of our hearts, our temples, and our governments

Standing up to the InJustice system that feeds off of and into poverty and ignorance

Advocating for affordable and competent healthcare for all

Speaking up with those whose voices are systematically drowned out by those with more power, and yes privilege

Lifting up human sexuality as a gift from God to be lived into fully and faithfully

Demanding human rights (not special rights) for every soul under the sun

Cleaning up the mess we have made and are making of Creation

Calling for the beating of swords into ploughshares everywhere, everywhere, everywhere


What other “fundamentals” of progressive Christianity would you claim?  Where are you willing to stand firm?


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

190 responses to “Stand in the place where you are”

  1. One last thing, God loves us all regardless of whatever our sexual preferences are. However, it should be said that the Scriptures are very clear about homosexuality being a sin, but so is fornication and other types of immorality that straights do as well. Sin is sin regardless. We all, regardless of orientation, are supposed to “flee fornication” and shun immorality. We’re all called to chastity. If people are seeking the Kingdom first, then we know this and avoid all the other claptrap out there be it conservative or liberal, right?

  2. Well, if you ask me, Christianity should not be attached to any additional political stuff such as liberal, conservative or ‘progressive.’ Maybe one should be asking themselves “who is a Christian” at his or her most basic? My answer would be a Christian is one (regardless of whether they’re Catholic, Protestant or Eastern Orthodox) who believes with all their heart in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and who hears His word and obeys it. The one who strives to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself” and who is working daily on repentances and theosis (union with God.) Personally, I think we all need to get back to the basics such as what it says in the Beattitudes (Matthew 5) All the other stuff is just politicking and superflous opinions.

  3. I have thought a lot about this recently, there is much I really dig about progressive christianity. But for me the resurrection is to important to give up. I visited two UCC churches by me in St. Louis and both pastor didn’t believe in a resurrection. Now, I am willing to listen to what form the resurrection took and what it means for us and followers. Maybe this is a hang up from my earlier evangelical days, but everything else I can groove with, I especially liked your view of the Bible. But I just can’t seem to roll with views of the resurrection that reduce it down to a mental exercise.

    • Pastor Susannah at Kirkwood UCC, my pastor at my church, still very much believes in the resurrection. Not everyone in the church does but the point is that we are all welcome to join the journey of understanding where in come churches doubt is simply not tolerated. Don’t give up on progressives because you have not found exactly the right home for your beliefs 🙂

      • Without the resurrection there is no Christianity so anyone who does not believe in a literal resurrection is most definitely not a Christian. And I do not say that lightly or often.

  4. But do you not see how ‘progressive’ Christianity does just change with the times? Before 1930, all major Christian denominations believed contraception to be immoral. Now, only the Catholic Church still holds to that. Every denomination believed homosexuality to be immoral just twenty or so years ago. As our culture comes to accept these things, so to does the progressive movement. My question is, what are you progressing from? Was not Jesus the final say? Did he not come to bring about the final covenant with man? Are you suggesting that for 2000 years Christianity had a whole bunch of stuff wrong, and now, thanks to our culture, we can see how wrong we were? Did Jesus do such a poor job that what he really wanted us to know is only now being discovered?
    I am sorry, my tone seems to be getting a little heated. I do not mean to be rude or resentful. You have a very beautiful soul, and you are only preaching the things you do because you have a genuine love for others and for God. But there are objective Truths! We can know what God wants for us. Otherwise, we would sin and not have any idea! Or we would avoid things that God wanted us to enjoy. We are so much more than giving into the culture. We must stand firm in our beliefs.

    • I understand and appreciate your passion so am not worried about your tone 🙂

      I don’t see it so much as progressing away from something as progressing toward Someone. Religion is a human creation, not God’s. Jesus did not come to start a new religion but to set us all free. I see every step of progress as not rejecting 2000 years of Christianity but steps building on what brings us closer to God and shedding that which separates us from God, learning to listen more carefully to God with the ears of our heart rather than listening to the words of humans. No matter how good or “holy” a human is we all only see through the glass darkly.

    • Andrew hit the nail on the head: Jesus’ expressed views on contraception and homosexuality are the standard, we should stick with those. For 2000 years straight, we, the church, have had an impeccable track record of representing Christ to the world . . . to deny that is tantamount to heresy (incidentally, sometimes justifyably punishishable by death, just as Christ taught us “let you who is without sin throw a bunch of rocks at this chick”). I’m looking at you, Ms. Knight.

      • Indeed we are to follow the word Jesus spoke (not Paul, not anyone since Jesus) about contraception or homosexuality.

        The church does not have an impeccable track record. There are things that many forms of the church have done right and there are horrible things that many different forms of the church have done wrong. The church nor her people are infallible – only God is.

        • And Jesus valued life above all else and affirmed heterosexual marriage as God’s design. Simple .

        • I really appreciate your feedback. It is good to be able to elaborate more on debates and to see the other one’s side. I see you have responded to a lot of comments, which shows your passion for what you are talking about. Thank you for your time.
          Now then, back to the debate! You actually do believe in human infallibility, albeit through divine guidance. The Bible was written by men. Those men were absolutely being guided by the Holy Spirit, so the word is indeed from God, but it was put to paper by men. This shows that God can use a person to transmit his will infallibly.
          Also, we know that the Bible as it is now was formed in 396 ad, close to 400 years after Christ’s ascension into heaven. We also know that the Church was already being well formed by then. So, how did they know God’s will? The answer is Sacred Tradition. (P.S. If I haven’t given it away by now, I am Catholic.) The apostles went from nation to nation, creating disciples and spreading the Word of God and the story of the resurrection. I can only imagine how much they preached during that time, and how much more that would be that could be contained in the New Testament. The apostles had received the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) and Christ had said he would be with them always, so we can assume they were not running around teaching heresies. The point I am making is that there was so much that these men, who spent three years learning directly with Jesus, have passed down to us that we lose if we claim sola scriptura. Indeed, as a Protestant, you could argue that the Bible was not fully formed until the 1500s (when the Apocrypha was rejected by Martin Luther (too many references to things he did not approve of)). And in that case, why not reject even more of the Bible? For over a 1000 years, the Bible was fully accepted by every Christian to the inerrant Word of God. Then Martin Luther basically said, “Well, yeah, it is inerrant. Except for these parts. Those are not.” Wow, he had a lot of authority to be able to say that.
          Ok, that was long winded. I realized as I was going on that it more became an apologetic for the Catholic Church, but so be it I suppose. My claim throughout this is that Jesus has not left us, and he fully desires us to know him. He has made known his commandments and does not want us to stray from them. He taught his disciples for three years, and they passed it on, and that knowledge has for 2000 years resided within the Catholic Church (please note, that this does not mean that other denominations do not have knowledge or truth, only that the fullness of it exists within the Catholic Church, the one which was built upon Saint Peter.)

          • Andrew,

            I appreciate the opportunity to continue the dialogue. I do have to disagree with you about one central point you make. You said that I do believe in human infallibility and linked that to my belief in scripture. As it turns out that is not entirely accurate. I actually believe that, though divinely inspired, once it got into the hands of men the socio-cultural lenses through which they received the inspiration was in fact that dark class of which Paul himself writes. I do not believe in the literal-factual, free from human motives, infallibility of scripture. I do though believe it is all very true. It is a true story of people trying to understand their relationship with God. It is a human response to God and as a human creation is subject to human desires and motives. Nonetheless, I do believe it is truth that is deeper than literal-factual truth – as Borg puts it “more-than-literal, more-than-factual.”

            I do agree that Christ is with us but I would articulate that (as a UCCer) that God is Still Speaking – that truth is not locked into the books of the Bible and only the books of the bible or the doctrine of any one church.

            Let’s keep talking 🙂

  5. Thank you for posting this. I have been exploring something beyond evangelicalism for about 6 months now and most of what i have found form bloggers, thinkers, wanna be theologians is what they DONT believe in or what they DONT like about the “established” Church. These so called “emergent leaders” rarely state what they DO believe in. Refreshing to find your post today.

  6. I find it quite ironic that American cultural elites (upper middle class, educated, white Americans) should disparage the Scriptures in the name of defending progressive values when in fact most of those Scriptures were written by suffering, disposessed Asian minorities and poor. When they were being persecuted, imprisoned and executed these Scriptures were their claim upon and exertion of the power of God in the face of oppression and in the reality of their own powerlessness. In my experience disparaging the Bible is the quintessential advertising of one’s own ignorance.

    The disclaiming of absolute knowledge of God is similarly ignorant. The colossal offense of the gospel in the first century was the claim by uneducated, female slaves that they knew God in Jesus Christ intimately and fully (though not comprehensively), while the educated male, Roman elites did not know jack squat. Read 1 Cor 1.

    The disclaiming of absolute knowledge of God begins with an unbiblical presupposition, namely that God is too great to be known. Actually that presupposition results in the claim that the Bible is the writings of humans merely and that God is incapable of making God’s self known (contrary to Matt. 11.25-27; John 1.18). This presupposition has two happy results for those who do not want to be bothered by the True God: one, you do not have to labor to learn to read and understand the Bible, and two, you can say whatever you want about God without accountability to the Truth. Christianity can become whatever you make it.

    Discipleship is about knowing the only True God in Jesus Christ (John 17.3) It is all about knowing. Read John and 1 John and the writings of Paul and you cannot miss it. Why knowing? Because when you know what you know you can afford to take risks. Speculation does not result in sacrifice. Because I know, I spent 18 years in inner city ministry where scores of people were killed within six blocks of the church I served. I found few speculators and theological progressives among the poor Christian minorities on those mean streets. They needed to know a God who would act on their behalf and they did not speculate theosophically like the secure, comfortable, distant, suburban white elites.

    Regarding the empowerment of women, Paul treated women as his equal in ministry. Read Kirsten Stendahl’s 50 year old monograph written while he was at Yale which disentangles Paul’s prohibitions in 1 Tim and 1 Cor. We rightfully ordain women because of Paul, not in spite of Paul.

    Regarding the validity of the gospels, the quality of the narratives and the characteristics of their details either attest their to their validity or they make the gospel writers into literary geniuses so superior that the quality of their fiction presages anything in the development of world literature for the next sixteen centuries. I was a lit major. I know something whereof I speak.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The Bible is nothing but the book upon which the Church stands. This is its essential nature, or it is nothing.” (Introduction, Creation and Fall) “When man (sic) proceeds against the concrete Word of God with the weapon of a principle, with an idea of God,…he becomes God’s master, he has left the path of obedience, he has withdrawn from God’s addressing him. ” (op.sit., p. 68)

    • “I was a lit major. I know something whereof I speak” is a great stand-alone line, that I’ve never interjected into a conversation before. So many golden missed opportunities! I’m going to start alternating it with my usual “Trust me, I’m a scientist.”

      • Josie, I am fine with your ridiculing me.

        My faith has taken me into jail, onto terminal AIDS wards during the AIDS panic and into funeral homes to share the mercy of Jesus with estranged gay men who had repeatedly attempted suicide or had robbed banks or had been exiled by hateful families or who were dying of Kaposi’s Sarcoma.

        If your understanding of Christianity is taking you to those places, then we have more in common than you know.

  7. There are many ways to believe and love the concepts we call God. There are many ways to love our fellow man. There are many ways to express our love and tolerance for others through our empathy and treatment of others. There are many ways to get lost in the meanings of words and phrases while avoiding real commitment to love of God, our neighbors, and ourselves in how we treat others.

    The Bible is a wonderful collection of writings developed over many years. It, however, is not holy. It was written by men (and women?) who were inspired by the strength of their beliefs and commitments, not by God directly. There are many other books written through the ages that could well be scriptures about God; other writings deal with the issues of love and forgiveness too. It’s not the details that are so important; it’s the principles of living.

    Our perceptions of God have changed from a superior being that Abraham could talk to directly, to an angry god of conflict and war, to a God so distantly involved that we must invoke his name via his son. We believe his son was a living, breathing man, but there is no record. Even the writings about Him could well be the amalgamations of other myths and stories of other rabbis into a “virtual” being. These ideas threaten those who require literal fundamentals, but they just reinforce the principles and understanding of the most progressive Christians. We don’t have to accept magic to understand the evolution of this earth. We have to accept that there are spiritual elements of which we cannot perceive or understand, yet we know them by evidence.

    Let’s not make it difficult.

  8. I hope you don’t mind a little push-back, Kimberly. I disagree with your statement that (T)ruth is elusive and contextual. I have bet my life that Jesus Christ is Truth—always and everywhere. Maybe I can’t know Him completely, but I know Him to the extent that He has chosen to reveal Himself to me, and my knowing Him is real. In some ways it’s not any different from my knowing you; all my attempts to know you are doomed to failure except that you drop the walls and allow yourself to be known, and I could only know you as much as you are willing to be known. I like what you said about doctrine, but I think we have to hold that in tension with the history of some of the doctrinal statements, e.g. the Nicene Creed. Yeah, it’s an attempt to describe the Indescribable, but it has stood the test of time for the church.

    I’m going to have to think about this some more, but I think I want to push you on three of our essentials:

    Advocating for affordable and competent healthcare for all
    — Rather than advocating, I wonder if the church shouldn’t be doing affordable and competent health care

    Lifting up human sexuality as a gift from God to be lived into fully and faithfully
    — I struggle with this one, for myself I am suspicious that it has more to do with our American fascination and obsession with sexuality …..

    Demanding human rights (not special rights) for every soul under the sun
    — does this include pre-born souls?

    Thanks for posting this!


    • Jake,

      I don’t mind push-back at all, especially when spoken with faithful yet kind integrity like you have offered here. I agree with you that there are universal (T)ruths which we can know and I do believe that Jesus is Truth revealed. Where I am a tad wary is every jot of doctrine that has come after the resurrection. Even our Holy Text is filled with contextual truths that were written, redacted and codified by fallible men. Being a recovering Baptist (much like alcoholism, it is something that is never fully out of your system) who rediscovered our Christian faith in an Episcopal and went to a Methodist seminary but is truly post-denominational, I believe that creeds are lovely ways to try our derdest to articulate our understanding of our relationship with That Which Can Not Be Understood.

      As for your push on three essentials…I think these are fantastic questions and I actually think about these in similar ways at times. Let me see if I can get at them a bit.

      Yes! I believe the church should be doing a LOT more in human services. I also know that is very complicated because some churches will require proselytizing as part of their programs and I do not believe that assenting to a set of spiritual assertions should stand between a man and his cancer treatment. I also am pretty sure that many churches are desperately hurting financially and are in no way prepared to take on such an immense burden. When I talk about affordable and competent heath care for all, I am thinking of how the some taxes I pay could be redirected from a military spending (for one) to more and better human services. YES I know the gov’t is corrupt and inept at running many services – but you have to admit, churches are not spotless when it comes to fiduciary or systematic management.

      Yes! First, I appreciate you framing this comment as a struggle rather than a certitude. America is freakishly focused on sex and I do not believe that all expressions of sexuality are healthy or life giving. We’ve been a mightily repressed lot for a long time and the constant clamor of “sex is evil” coming from some segments has warped our understanding and practices. European relationships with their sexuality are far less obsessive and destructive because they have long since gotten over the whole forbidden fruit nonsense. I do believe that homosexuality and heterosexuality are both gifts from God and can be lived out in Christian ways. I do not think that either of those MUST be lived out in celibacy for it to be Christian.

      All souls means all souls. I, me, Kimberly am not in favor of abortion. I have a daughter who grew in my own body and felt blessed by ever moment of her co-presence. I DO NOT believe abortion should be illegal either. I do not believe the government has the right to place the life of the unborn above the life of the mother. I do not believe the government has the right to force a raped woman to give birth to the product of her violation. I do not believe that girls who carry the seed of incest should be forced to carry such to term. I do not believe that all consensual sex that results in a pregnancy should result in a child being born. I DO NOT believe in abortion as post-coitus birth control. What I do believe in is reducing the need for abortions through compassionate and intelligent care for women and families (and that included affordable and competent healthcare). I believe the church can go a long way to contribute to this if they will refocus energy and money away from marches and antiabortion campaigns toward holistic approached to sexuality and life. Abstinence only education does not work and can contribute to abortion rates when girls are so ashamed and scared that they would rather have an abortion than be shamed and shunned by their community. No, I do not believe we just tell kids that anything goes, have at it. I do believe we talk about sex with them in ways that honor their drive and teaches them to honor their bodies and the bodies of others, and yes that does include waiting. But not just waiting – it also includes birth control. I believe that before churches can delve into healthcare they might want to revisit affordable and competent childcare centers for working mothers. As a mother who had the choice, privilege and honor to stay home the first five years of my daughter’s life, I am aware that not every woman would or could choose such a path, nor should she be compelled to. Removing barriers to adoption (for mixed and same-sex couples) would be a balm in the Gilead of children without homes.

      I really hesitate to use the phrase “consistant ethic of life” but I think that is what I am talking about. But we CAN NOT do this by banning legal abortions. We can do that by creating a society in which all born life can thrive. If we value justice for all souls we must advocate for justice at all levels of life and that means (just to name a few):
      ceasing unjust wars (I am a Bonhoeffer gal so I know there are some cases of Just Wars, I also know we ain’t paid for one in a while).
      actively working for labor rights that puts people before profits
      repealing the status of corporations as people
      addressing the penal system that feeds off of poverty and squashed life like a vampire
      ceasing the death penalty in America (and my wife is gonna freak when she reads that one – she’s a cop in the City of Atlanta (17 years on) and this is one thing we can NEVER discuss – it stirs up too much rancor.)
      defending public education

      Whew, this is getting long and there is so much to say on this topic. What others have to say to your thoughtfully articulated comments?

  9. “Nothing, nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God.” except our choice to be separate. He always loves; we just don’t always receive real well. Thank goodness, God keeps loving anyway.

    Thank you for your beautiful reminder of our core.

  10. We are called to community: we can only follow Jesus by walking together.

    And a corrollary to one of your fundamentals – love is the most powerful force in all of creation because since God is love then it is also true that love is God.

  11. I’d add the rhetoric of loving one another. I think that is important. You’ve listed many of the ways we do it, but like truth, love is contextual, and there are certainly other ways to do it. But love is constant.

    And I’d add a reverence for Scripture and theology that takes it seriously, but not literally, as the response of God’s people to God’s action in their lives in every generation, and which is open to revelation outside of the canon.

    • You are so right Julie! I was actually editing and adding the scriptural piece as you were commenting 🙂