Theological and Political: An Interview with Jarrod Cochran

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Editor's Note: This article is part of the symposium, "What Is Progressive Christianity?" presented by the newly launched Patheos Progressive Christian Portal and in partnership with the Wild Goose Festival (June 23-26). Like us on Facebook to receive today's best commentary on Progressive Christianity.

The Reverend Jarrod Cochran is a writer, a speaker, and activist for peace, justice, and social change within the context of the church and society. He is co-founder of the Progressive Christian Alliance, an organization founded in 2008 in response to many of the heated controversies occurring in traditional churches, including the inclusion of gays and lesbians in communities of faith.

As we began planning our Symposium on Progressive Christianity at Patheos a few months ago, we came up with a number of questions that seemed essential to the conversation we'd be hosting. In a recent interview, Jarrod graciously agreed to respond to our questions, including a Progressive's understanding of scripture, authority, obedience, Church, and what it means to be a "welcoming community."

Is "Progressive" a theological posture first or a political posture first?

While I see "Progressive" as more of a theological posture, I can understand how it can be viewed as firstly political stance. Progressive Christianity seeks to take the teachings and example of Jesus of Nazareth seriously and whenever you do that, you find yourself taking stances and making actions that are very political in nature.

Our position of inviting all to the table of grace, of active peacemaking (for me, nonviolent resistance), of asking serious questions of those in authority, of practicing active forgiveness from even the most heinous acts (just to name a short few)—these all come from what we have seen from either Jesus' teachings or actions and they all carry a great weight and make a statement in the political arena. The fine line is to make sure that whatever stance we take is based on Jesus' understanding of God's love, justice, and inclusion. The last thing this country—or the world, for that matter—needs is a Progressive-styled version of the Religious Right.

This combination is nothing new, however. We see Jesus' message being theological in nature while at the same time being highly political. Despite what some of my brothers and sisters in more conservative circles might claim, you don't get executed by Rome for merely sharing a different theology.

What is Progressivism's primary source of authority?

While I cannot speak for every progressive Christian, I know for me it is the words and example of Jesus. One of the things I like to tell people is that the words and actions of Jesus are paramount—the rest of scripture is sacred commentary. Now that might sound snarky or arrogant to some, but I think we have to truly ask ourselves who we follow. Most Christians, if we're honest, follow Paul over Jesus. In Christianity—especially Protestantism—we have tended to make Paul of Tarsus our authority when it comes to theology and praxis.

As a progressive Christian, I value the writings of Paul very highly (those that we can view as actually be written by Paul; not the latter reactionary writers who used Paul's name to push through their own chauvinistic and regressive agendas); but as a follower of Jesus, I have to look at the writings of Paul through the lens of Jesus' teachings. Paul, as well as the other writers of the New Testament, were followers of Jesus, just like you and me, and must be viewed as such. If their writings line up with Jesus' teachings and example of God's grace, inclusion, and justice, then follow it; if what they wrote does not measure up to those standards, shake the dust off of your sandals, and move on.