how the progressive Christian movement can move forward

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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  • R Vogel

    David, I don’t know you accept through this blog (although I think it would be a hoot meet you in person) so I hope I am not speaking out of turn, but from what I have read I would put you more in the jester column than clown. The literary jester whose quips and remarks speak necessary criticism and wise insight. I really appreciate your perspective. if people took themselves slightly less seriously, and had a little more fun we might avoid some of the division you are talking about here.

  • Thanks. I have been called that before.

  • I like your thoughts here. I think some of the “we want”, “we believe” and “we agree” statements might not ring true with all Christians, but I do think you make some good arguments.

  • klhayes

    Good points David. This has been touched on in TLS and I think that sometimes there is a tendency to move from one fundamentalist camp to another, just switching world views. We end up using the same tactics we wanted to get away from.

  • Joseph O Polanco

    You express a very popular view. What, then, do you make of the following?

    “Be on the watch for the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves.” -Matthew 7:15

    “Everyone who pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God. The one who does remain in this teaching is the one who has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him.” -2 John 1:9,10

    “Now the works of the flesh are plainly seen, and they are [] hostility, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, dissensions, divisions, sects, [] and things like these. I am forewarning you about these things, the same way I already warned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom.” -Galatians 5:19-21 (Brackets mine.)

  • Mark

    Bob? You don’t look like yourself. Was that you on the sidelines?

  • Jonenred

    you can’t support child murder and be a Christian.

  • you can’t support child murder and be a Christian.

    Why not?

    Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones. ~Psalm 137:9

    “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction
    of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned;
    yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.” ~Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

  • Jonenred

    Cherry picking one Psalm does not make your case. What ‘millions’ is Jefferson talking about exactly? I know that Godless atheists killed 100 million in the 20 century alone. Today child murder is legal is the US, to the tune of ~3500 babies per day.

  • What ‘millions’ is Jefferson talking about exactly?

    Ever pick up a history book?

    “I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved — the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!” ~John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson

  • Jonenred

    that’s still doesn’t compare to the destruction Godless atheism has done.
    Child murder, here and now -today. Made legal by liberals and the party of death.

  • the destruction Godless atheism

    Since when did traditional Christianity suddenly turn into “Godless atheism?”

    Perhaps you’ve just proven that Jefferson was correct in his opinion that traditional Christianity is a “masked atheism.”

    “To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, God, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no God, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But a heresy it certainly is.” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, August 15, 1820

  • Dear abortion troll, If you want to reduce abortion, then would you be in favor of:

    1. Eliminating religious schools which are abortion hotbeds?
    Religious schools result in more abortions, but absence of religion lowers abortion rate

    2. Passing out what has been proven to reduce abortion rates.

    If not, why you opposed to effective solutions?

  • Gary

    Your polar extremes of thought clearly make any meaningful discussion with you impossible.

  • Sven2547

    Abraham is considered a role model in Christianity because he attempted to murder his son (at God’s command).

  • Mark

    I used to believe that way, too. But now I think maybe not. During Abraham’s time, infant sacrifice was a common religious practice. Maybe the heart of the Isaac non-sacrifice was to show that this God was different. (Of course, there were the later divinely-ordered genocides…)

  • Y. A. Warren

    Where are you obtaining your statistics. Illegal abortions weren’t often counted.

    Why is it wrong to eliminate a zygote, but not to freeze millions of them for purposes of procreation of designer babies?

    You can’t be a dead human if you were never actually alive, as in not a parasite of the mother’s body, unable to live on your own. People have appendages removed on a regular basis.

    Howe can anyone justify the killing of millions in war while marching to save babies that they don’t intend to support from cradle-to-grave, as do people who are actual responsible parents. Religions are not adopting the unwanted babies; they are leaving most of their support to the unwilling and unwitting taxpayer.

  • making abortion

    You are the one making abortion statistics worse. If you’d like to drastically reduce abortion, stop being like you are now. No, really.

    “So why are abortion rates so low in Western
    Europe? The Lancet study answers that one too. It backs up numerous other studies which show that the best way to reduce abortion rates is to provide easy access to contraception. If religious groups were really interested in reducing abortion, they would be out there handing out condoms!

    “In other words, these religious groups are hypocrites, and dangerous ones at that – they are campaigning to increase abortion rates and maternal death rates…” ~Tomas Rees

    Linking to left wing publications

    Not hardly, pilgrim. The Lancet isn’t an ideological leftist publication, its a medical journal.

    How many babies have you killed?

    From the Lancet article’s conclusions above, you may want to read what a fellow Jesus had to say about the Mote and Beam.

    But you’re not interested in what he has to say, because your goal is not to reduce abortion, but to control females. Jesus dealt with your control-freak ilk once.

  • Mark

    Deuteronomy 2:34 “At that time we took all his (Sihon’s) towns and completely destroyed them—men, women and children. We left no survivors.” Deuteronomy 3:6 “We completely destroyed them (Og’s kingdom), as we had done with Sihon king of Heshbon, destroying every city—men, women and children.”

    Are you also aware that Judaism, the root of Christianity, does not consider abortion to be murder? My understanding is, if the fetus is not viable, for them it is not murder.

    And there have been millions of Jews tortured and murdered by Christians at the behest of the Christian leaders of the time, up to and including the Pope, as retribution for killing Jesus. This because the New Testament writers were too afraid of the Romans to point the finger directly at them (crucifixion is a Roman execution method, not Jewish), so the Jews were made scapegoats, and have been paying the price for the past 2000 years.

    Believe what you want for yourself, but please do not be so arrogant as to believe you can tell the rest of us what the rules are for being a Christian.

  • Mark

    Made legal by the Supreme Court. The Republicans had little to do with it.

  • Mark

    In my experience, most “right to lifers” are really “forced birthers.” Most don’t care about health care, food, or education for those babies they demand be born. Make the woman give birth, then denigrate her for not being able to raise herself out of the poverty she finds herself – and her child – in.

  • Jonenred

    yea, handing out condoms will help.

    ” medical journal” lol. these are quacks….lets kill humans…sure. look up the original Hippocratic oath.

    I noticed everybody who supports abortion has already been born.


  • Mark

    When you have nothing worthwhile to add to the conversation, just revert to personal attacks. Is that your normal strategy? Work well for you in general?

  • Jonenred

    you attacked first. remember I don’t care about healthcare, food and education for children… sorry

  • > yea, handing out condoms will help.

    Indeed, access to contraception does. Now we discover your real agenda: you want to control every aspect people’s sex lives. Your stand on abortion is merely a pretext.

    > ” medical journal” lol. these are quacks

    Because they disprove your position with science? I’m sure the cardinals called Galileo Galilei the same.

    > supports abortion

    That’s you, with your policies that are proven to increase abortion. I’d like to reduce it.

  • Jonenred

    People are not dogs, they can control their sexual impulses. Sex belongs in marriage.

    if it wasn’t for Catholics, you’d be praying towards mecca 5 times a day.

  • Gary

    “Sex belongs in marriage”

    This is a personal opinion.

  • > they can control their sexual impulses

    And if they don’t do as you say, you want to control them.

    > you’d be praying towards mecca 5 times a day

    I thought you wanted to talk about today. Let me know when you want to discuss abortion again, and I will instruct you.

    If you want to keep your gun rights, conservatives must put on their thinking caps and do one thing: stop the war on women. It’s unwinnable. It’s losing elections nationwide. Controlling women’s sexual behavior as you did in the past is something you will never get again. It’s gone. Let it go.

    If women didn’t have to worry about some politician wanting to control their sexual lives, do you know how easy it would be for conservatives to win? Or would you rather keep losing the governorship of Virginia to a single issue?

  • Jonenred

    The ‘war on women’ meme is phoney.

    I don’t think Conservatives will ever get back in power again. Like the fall of the Roman empire, the US is not far from it. You kick Jesus out, Satan moves in.

    In fact, I may not vote again. Why bother. Let Caesar have what is his.

  • > The ‘war on women’ meme is phoney.

    No, it’s not. You want to control women’s sexual behavior, using abortion as a pretext. Women know it, and vote Democrat, even if they have to hold their nose doing it.

    > the fall of the Roman empire

    As Christianity took over.

    > You kick Jesus out

    Your historical comparison to Rome’s decline fails.

    > Satan moves in.

    Jefferson was right.

    “I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians.” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Richard Price, January, 8, 1789

  • Jonenred

    “As Christianity took over.”

    That’s a distortion and not why Rome fell.

    Who gives a shit about Jefferson. I follow Jesus.

  • > “As Christianity took over.” That’s a distortion

    And the Vatican in the Roman Empire’s capital city is what? Hindu?

    > and not why Rome fell.

    Didn’t say it did. I just proved your historical analysis incorrect by identifying a contradiction.

    Rome fell for the reason all civilizations fail: The Rule of Diminishing Returns.

    “More complex societies are more costly to maintain than simpler ones, requiring greater support levels per capita. As societies increase in complexity, more networks are created among individuals, more hierarchical controls are created to regulate these networks, more information is processed, there is more centralization of information flow, there is increasing need to support specialists not directly involved in resource production, and the like. All this complexity is dependent upon energy flow at a scale vastly greater than that characterizing small groups of self-sufficient foragers or agriculturalists. The result is that as a society evolves toward greater complexity, the support costs on each individual will also rise, so that the population as a whole must allocate increasing portions of its energy budget to maintaining organizational institutions. This is an immutable fact of societal evolution, and is not mitigated by type of energy source.”

    ~Joseph Tainter’s (1988) The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge University Press, p. 91.

    > Who gives a shit about Jefferson. I follow Jesus.

    Rather, you follow Paul’s pagan dying-rising solar deity corruption of Jesus.

    “Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Corypheus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.” ~Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson’s Works, Vol. ii., p. 217)

    “To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Rush, May 21, 1803

  • Jonenred

    I’m not sure if I agree about that theory about Rome, maybe…Have a nice night Brian.

  • > I’m not sure if I agree about that theory about Rome

    That’s alright. But to give you something more to chew on, and since you’re concerned about the sexual aspect of moral behavior, you may be interested in analyzing the sexual parallels of the following study with the behavioral sink our society has become:

    “A large proportion of the population became bisexual, then increasingly homosexual, and finally asexual. There was a breakdown in maternal behavior. Mothers stopped caring for their young…”

    Plumbing the ‘Behavioral Sink’: Medical Historian Examines NIMH Experiments in Crowding. (2008) National Institute of Health Record. Vol. LX, No. 15.

    Crowded animals go berserk. I feel a little crazy if I’m in town for the day.

    That study is one of the reasons I heartily agree with Jefferson about “blue states” when he wrote:

    “When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Martha Jefferson Randolph, December 23, 1790

    “I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man. True, they nourish some of the elegant arts, but the useful ones can thrive elsewhere, and less perfection in the others, with more health, virtue and freedom, would be my choice.” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800

    “The mobs of great cities add just so much to support of pure government as sores do to the strength of the human body.” ~Thomas Jefferson

  • Gary

    Well no…I’m pretty sure what you are following has very little to do with “Jesus”.

  • Thanks for this excellent article. Since I’m new to this blog I don’t know how you may have used “progressive” at other times. But from just this article, I’m wondering if you make any distinction between progressive, as often expressed in aspects or “offshoots” of Evangelicalism, as I’d categorize Emerging/ent folks and progressive as expressed in aspects or “offshoots” of older-style “liberalism”.

    In my own experience as a long-time Evangelical and now a Progressive in the more “mainline” sense (though not a “classic” liberal by any means), the latter group tends to be more wide-open about the Bible and even who Jesus was/is. Thus some of the “Evangelical progressives” may not even feel we other progressives are even truly Christians. They may feel our theological differences make it difficult to cooperate with on much that is “spiritual” rather than “practical” like feeding the poor or such. How do you see this issue in your exposure probably to both these “worlds”?

  • Well said, David. Speaking as an outsider, I think diversity, cooperation, and joy are probably the best aspects of Christianity when it is working as it should. I would like to see rationality added to the list, but that’s a tough one for Christians.