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I detect the progressive Christian movement is struggling. There used to be a sense of excitement and unity with the emergence of the Emergent movement, but for a variety of reasons I fear it has lost its cohesion and therefore its effectiveness. Many would consider me a progressive Christian– I am on the progressive Christian channel on the Patheos network. But even though I think about this a great deal, I feel slightly reluctant to contribute to the discussion because I’m basically a nobody. I carry no card or clout to address this issue because, well, I feel I’m like the class clown that inappropriately interrupts a serious lecture with silly comments. I mean, who am I? A cartoonist!
However, I’m daring to go ahead and say something. I have three points of observation and recommendation that I hope might help us to move forward.
- Diversity instead of division: Would you say that division in the progressive movement is evident? There seems to be a lot of infighting. The flareups ripple through the internet frequently and they are discouraging. Many imagine that being on the same team requires everyone to have the same skills, the same sentiments and the same style. Many believe that unity means agreement and compatibility on all things. Rather, I suggest that love is what binds us, not agreement. In fact, the strength of the progressive movement is its diversity! I would resist unification. I believe a coalition would erode its power. Rather than fighting the battle traditionally in clumps, I recommend the superior effectiveness of guerilla warfare. I believe the progressive movement is essentially a prophetic movement and, like the biblical prophets, it would neutralize its advantage if it was absorbed into an efficiently running machine. Prophets always lived on the fringes, the margins, the deserts. They were mostly loners but with similar voices. Their mission wasn’t to just tweak the present order but to transform it in radical ways. I believe the vast diversity of voices throughout the world gathered around a few agreements is all that is needed to affect enormous change in the church and in the world.
- Cooperation instead of competition: The progressive Christian market is limited. There is a lot of competition to get the largest share. Traffic, books, speaking, shares, likes, follows, mentions… the struggle to grow these is enormous. I know because I am in that business. Yes, business! I am on all the social channels, run a blog, sell books, art and services, and I have a membership site. This is how I earn my living. The temptation to enter the competition is real. But, I don’t want to be in competition with others. I have teased other bloggers that I’m coming after them, but it’s all in good fun. When it comes down to it, I really don’t care how much traffic nakedpastor gets. What I do care about is my own integrity, creativity and productivity. I do hope, secondarily, that I will contribute value to the discussion because I think it is important and I enjoy it. Because when it all boils down we want the same thing– to know and live the truth. For this reason I think it is critical that we not protect each other’s errors (even if we are from the same publishing house), but that we kindly but honestly critique each other. When we are criticized for being racist or sexist or mean or erroneous or immoral or whatever, rather than get defensive we should take these criticisms seriously. On the one hand these seem incidental, but on the other hand they are central because what we want in the end is an ethical society with justice and equality for all. If I’m called to account for a sexist statement, I should not view this as a distraction from my main theological task but as a vital indicator that I haven’t quite yet grasped the whole truth and integrated it into my life and that this is somehow inhibiting me from teaching the truth suitably. And, alas, this is central! So let’s encourage as well as critique each other because in the end we want the same thing– to think and live right.
- Joyful instead of joyless: I always think of the Joker in The Dark Knight, “Why so serious?” Yes, why so serious? The sadness and seriousness and grave earnestness is depressing! I know there are serious things happening in the world and in the church. I’m sobered by news of people being used, misused and abused, of women being denied equal rights and freedoms, of people of various sexualities being discriminated against, of foolish and damaging theology being taught in the churches. I engage in critiquing these every single day. This is what I do. I hear of something sobering, I draw a sober cartoon and write a sober post and get sobering reactions. It is sometimes a very joyless affair. But Karl Barth said, “The theologian who labors without joy is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this field.” We must agree with this because we believe in the inherent goodness of people, that the church is worth fighting for and with, and that even though theology is a serious matter, we humbly acknowledge that we are at play in the fields of the Lord and are really only making informed and intelligent guesses. We are exploring ways to only ask the right questions. And as for me, I want to keep this hopeful and fun because I believe we are going to win.
I humbly submit my three simple suggestions. I personally do hope they help us all move forward diversified, cooperative and joyful.