The Inevitability of the Rise of Progressive Christianity

The Inevitability of the Rise of Progressive Christianity September 19, 2011

It is inevitable that liberal/progressive Christians will be the majority of Christians in America. We feel the waters of that sea change already swelling everywhere around us. Today’s conservative evangelical Christians who are rallying against “postmodern relativism,” “revisionist secular theology,” “a naturalistic doctrine of God,” or however else they might label the theology of the left, are like yesteryear’s horse-and-buggy owners rallying against them dangnabit newfangled automobiles.

And the reason for the inevitability of the rise of progressive Christianity is as obvious as a dead horse in your living room.

In the old days, it was easy for the vast majority of Christians to believe that Jews, Muslims and homosexuals are going to hell. And why was it so emotionally comfortable for so many Christians to assert that? Because they didn’t know any Jews, Muslim or homosexuals. No Jewish, Muslim or families headed by a gay couple owned a nearby farm, ran a booth at the county fair, joined the local PTA. To the vast majority of American Christians, a Jewish or Muslim person was as exotic as a angler fish:


And gay people, conceptually and certainly practically, didn’t even exist.

As far as most Americans were concerned, white was right, all roads were straight, Jesus was on His throne, and happy days were afoot.

That was yesterday.

Today most Christians have in their lives, and deeply care for, at least one person who is no closer to being a Protestant Christian than I am to being a Berber. Today everyone is related to, or neighbors, co-workers or schoolmates with, someone who is gay, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Mormon, Quaker, Wiccan, Native American, Shinto, Baha’i, Rastafarian, Cao Dai, Tenrikyo, agnostic, atheist, or any and every combination thereof.

We used to be homogenous. Now we’re all … calicoed-up.

It’s a great deal more troubling to condemn to hell someone for whom you have affection than it is an abstract member of an abstract group. In my own life, I grew up in a white suburban neighborhood in the 1960’s, wherein I knew exactly zero Indian people who were Hindu. Today there are three young men who are Hindu living in the condo right next door to me. Those chaps and I have become friends. Well, if inherent in my personal theology was the conviction that my kind and good-natured Hindu friends were necessarily doomed to hell, I would have literally no choice but to seriously reassess my theology. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t.

It’s natural to assume that theology is static, permanent, unchanging. It’s anything but, though. What is true is that theology follows sociology. If it didn’t, today Americans would still keep slaves and women wouldn’t be allowed to vote.

The world is rapidly changing. And as surely as one day follows the next, Christian theology, as it always has, will change right along with it. As our world (thanks, Internet!) grows smaller, our Christianity will grow larger, broader, more inclusive.

Last month the Public Religion Research Institute found that forty-four percent of young evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 29 support gay marriage. It also found that 52 percent of all Catholics—despite the explicit teachings of the Catholic church—favor same-sex marriage.

Polls consistently now show that in America support for gay marriage is no longer the minority opinion.

This past May, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly said this in an interview with WORLD magazine:

We’re losing on [the issue of homosexuality], especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. …. We’ve probably lost that. I don’t want to be extremist here, but I think we need to start calculating where we are in the culture.

When the president of Focus on the Family basically gives up on the gay issue, you know things have changed.

The religious right can rail, scream, and protest all it wants that (to quote diehard Christian conservative Albert Mohler) “Liberalism just does not work.” For all I know, Mohler may be perfect right about that.

But one thing’s for sure: our children and grandchildren will find out.

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  • Great post. I’ve recently come to realize this too. On the issue of gay marriage, the big question we are soon to face is not whether it should be permitted, but rather how the church could have been so wrong for so long. For centuries the church taught the subjugation and oppression of women–something the vast majority of us now know to be both morally and theologically wrong. I believe we are soon to come to that same conclusion regarding our treatment of the LGBT community.

  • Perfectly said, Bill. I agree with you utterly.

  • And as the movements at which the church played a part to end slavery, to bring better a better mindset to the views of women and equality, and to work to treat more people groups equally, so too will the church play a part here. We have the examples from before that things don’t happen over night, that there are those that will strongly resist the changes that benefit them as well as those who seek it, and that it may get ugly along the way. Yet in every case before, it was worth it. It is worth it this time as well.

    To me the gospel of Christ revolves completely around the so called Golden rule, or that great command. To love the God who adores us so as completely as we can, and to demonstrate his love for us by sharing the aspects of that love with other in the same measure we want it bestowed on us. (yeah I wordied it up a bit)

    This sea-change shift in Christianity, is, I believe, powered by those who believe that as well. I am delighted to be a witness and participant.

  • Christy

    Lovely, sd. I agree. Sadly, the Church has been on both sides of most justice issues throughout history as humanity has struggled to achieve greater equality. The question always is, on which side of justice will we align ourselves. As the poll numbers indicate, we have reached a tipping point; and, thankfully, fewer and fewer will find themselves standing together, until they are alone, on the wrong side of justice.

  • Interesting article – reminds me of a book I’m reading that talks a lot about these issues from the opposite perspective. The truth can stand up to scrutiny so I’d recommend reading it and it is always good to explore all sides as you form opinions and look at trends. Thanks for your thoughts – I find them challenging and it makes me think more on this and other issues. Here is the book:

    Total Truth by Nancy Pearcy

  • I’m seeing a more moderate strain of evangelicalism, but I think “liberal” or “progressive” (in the way we might describe some mainstream denominations) is a ways out there.

  • It’s no surprise then, that most of the Christian nations in Europe have a strong and prospering Social Democratic party of one kind or another. Christian and conservative ideology are mutually incompatible.

  • Let’s all hope you’re right. My only concern is that fundamentalists seem to me to have more kids and then pass their hate/fear/whatever on to the next generation. So that way the conservative Christian side grows, and the younger generation doesn’t always reject their parents’ beliefs. I know lots of people my age (26) who still think being gay is wrong.

    I, personally, am willing to have sex as much as possible to populate our country with more liberal Christians. Just doing my part.

    By the way, yay for UU’s

  • I don’t think Christianity is incompatible with any economic/political system where the rules are fairly enforced (obvious exceptions for aggressively murderous regimes or systems that ban any organized religion). What we’re seeing in the US today is an oligarchy that uses certain groups to do their dirty work for ’em: By definition this is not a system where the rules are fairly enforced.

  • gretchen

    Great Article. I have a FB friend who is 1/2 Native American, 1/2 African American. He was talking about why people call the “good ol’ days” the “good ol’ days” because it wasn’t for his family.

    Being a white girl, with a rich history of suffragettes and “Christian Left” (if there was such a thing back then), I told my FB friend that if my family who fought for women’s suffrage, believed that China was not all communist, and that blacks belonged in the same church building as whites, and got punished for it along with them, then yes, that was the “good ol’ days” because we didn’t have to fight for that like they did.

    This is our fight now. To show the tolerance that Jesus had, ‘cuz in the end, this is what it all comes back to.

  • jodi

    What you are describing is how I changed. I came to know people on an intimate level. People that appeared very different from me…but in the end….not so much.

  • Skip Johnston

    I grew up in a liberal West Coast mainline church in the 60’s and 70’s. A few years ago, I moved to the buckle of the Bible belt. Occasionally, I go to services at a local evangelical church. I like the sermons. These folk consider themselves solidly conservative, definitely NOT fundamentalist. They gloat over my “conversion”.

    “Not at all,” I have to tell them. “Y’all are listening to the same sermons I heard 40 years ago.”

  • Churches and Governments have agendas; people have lives and loved ones. As the conservative churches continue to bleed membership, they will either reassess, realign and restructure in order to preserve their capital investment and continue their profit margin (sorry, I’m not a big fan of religion as a corporate interest) or they will become so marginal as to have no consequence whatsoever.

    Blake mentioned the high procreation rates of some of the conservative evangelicals – automatically bringing to mind the Quiverfull movement and its proponents. I think it is safe to assume that even as indoctrinated as their children may be, as many of us have experienced personally, faith changes over time and a percentage of their offspring will likely not remain in the faith, or at least experience some transition of their beliefs that more closely reflects their culture.

    John is right. Change is inevitable and Christianity, like all other things in this world, will change as well. Its not a matter of “if” – just “when.”

  • Erin D.


  • I respectfully disagree. The conservative churches may be gradually losing membership, but ‘mainline’ churches will be gone in a few decades. The UCC has lost 50% of its membership in its 54-year existence, it has seen one single year of positive growth. Have a look at the National Council of Churches annual yearbook – the statistics show that mainline churches are quite simply on the way out. I had a class with several prominent religious historians at Harvard – among them Charles Taylor and David Hempton – and I asked them their take on the future of mainline Christianity. “Dead or dying” was the unanimous reply.

    I also submit to you that there’s no such thing as a liberal or progressive Christian, but rather than clutter the comments section with a lengthy proof I refer the curious reader to my own blog, which can be found by clicking my name here. Cheers.

  • Could someone quantify for me in perhaps a bullet point fashion what “liberal Christianity” is and where it differs from, say, orthodox / historical Chrsitianity?

  • Apart from having a different subset of social & political convictions, I can’t really distinguish the two. I like ‘liberal’ Christians a bit more than ‘conservative’ Christians simply because we share common ideals (gender, racial, and marriage equality, etc) and they’re a little nicer than their ‘conservative’ counterparts. But that doesn’t demonstrate any kind of quantitative difference between the two.

  • Diana A.


  • Mike Bruno

    Very good post John. I may visit more often.

    I would add to the argument, though, that another pressure that (in my estimation) has to be the march of science to explain things properly where traditional theology once was the sole authority. Creation, humanity, cosmology, morality, health and more all have vastly more satisfactory [evidence based] answers as a result of science. I have long felt that ‘liberal’ theology is just traditional theology with the stupid/wrong stuff discarded. The more that is discarded, the more ‘liberal’ one necessarily becomes.

  • Wouldn’t that mean, then, that the most liberal person is one who has discarded theology altogether?

  • Mike Bruno

    As you are probably aware; for some time now, the ‘religiously unaffiliated’ has been the fasted growing body. So maybe what we see is just a general shift of the whole population (and the US is behind most industrialized nations). As opposed to switching from ‘conservative’ theology to ‘liberal’ theology (a false dichotomy), the traditionalists are leaning toward liberalism and the liberals are leaning toward deism/atheism. …just shifting the bell curve.

  • I agree. Especially if you consider demographic data on the current generation, the religious ‘left’ are fast becoming non-religious or atheist, and the conservatives more progressive. But ultimately, the clear trend is toward the decline of belief as a whole.

  • Christy

    It’s more of spectrum, I think, Brian, from left to right, with lots of shades in between where individuals and denominations fall on a continuum.


    * Divinely inspired vs. God-breathed: the literal words of God as a living document

    * Fallible vs. Infallible

    * To be taken seriously vs. To be taken literally

    * Subject to interpretation and scholarship vs. A simple, plain reading will do

    * Meant to inform our lives vs. Meant to dictate our lives

    * Contains great truths vs. Is absolute, ultimate, capital T Truth

    * Is but one of many ways God is revealed to us vs. Other than Jesus, is the only way God is revealed to us

    * God is still speaking vs. God is no longer revealing God’s self to us.


    * Focusses on his compassion and his teachings vs. His sinlessness

    * Focusses on his life vs. Focusses on his death

    The Christian Life

    * Journey oriented vs. Destination focussed

    * Other-focussed (self-less service, nurturing relationships and how we interact with our fellow man) vs. Self-focussed (church attendance, personal prayer, bible-reading)

    * Community worship valued by both

    * Values asking questions. vs. Values offering answers.

    * Sees doubt as a willingness to self-reflect and grow spiritually vs. Sees doubt as subversive to ingrained beliefs and convictions

    * Tolerates uncertainty and mystery and paradox vs. Values certainty

    * Values orthopraxy (small deeds done in great love) vs. Orthodoxy (adherence to approved creeds)

    * About a relationship with God and community vs. Following a set of rules

    * Concerned with the inside of the cup vs. Concerned with the outside of the cup

    The Spread of the Gospel

    * Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words vs. Pass out tracts, invite people to church, knock on doors for soul-winning, witnessing, street preaching, prosthelytizing and conversion

    *Acting like Jesus vs. Telling people about Jesus

    * Focusses on the means vs. Focusses on the ends

    * They will know we are Christians by our love vs. They will know we are Christians because we told them how to get saved


    *Loving, long-suffering Parent vs. Stern Judge

    The Miracle of Easter

    *The miracle of the transforming power of unconditional love that is willing to lay down his life for his friends, that turns the other cheek, that forgives 7 x 70, that loves his neighbor and his enemy as himself and when realized has the power to turn us (repent) and the world upside down for good vs. Substitutional atonement requiring a blood sacrifice and the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead


    Realizing and knowing and deeply understanding we are loved and forgiven already by and with a Divine love that sets us free from a self-centered empty life to a life of fullness following Jesus through love and compassionate service to others. Being in relationship with God and in service to others is reward enough. vs. Believing the right things about Jesus, asking for forgiveness for past sins, asking Jesus to come into our heart and be our personal saviour, rescuing us from a life of sin and hell in the afterlife and promising a heavenly reward to come.

    I’m sure others have a different perspective and there are those who will disagree with me from both sides. This is by no means complete nor comprehensive, but I need to stop for now. This is simply my view from having been on both sides of the spectrum.

  • Here’s how I’ve done it:

  • Connie

    I pray constantly that you are right Bill. I hope that the “right” is being more rabid because they fell the earth trembling with change. Please God! I’m so very tired of all the hate.

  • Mike Bruno

    That would be the logical end.

  • Mike Bruno

    That’s one of the politically incorrect things to discuss. The uneducated have more babies. The bible-belt correlates [geographically] with education underachievement and high fertility. Some Muslim sects in Europe have a *stated goal* of breeding into the majority. How does one address such a thing? This article suggests education:

  • …and I’m fine with that.

  • Likewise.

  • Christy,

    I notice (or perhaps missed) any mention of the absolute value of religious truth. I.e., how does the ‘liberal’ Christian interpret Christ’s assertion that he was ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ in contrast to other competing claims from different religions? Is the Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim flat out wrong for believing in the truth of her tradition? Does ‘salvation’ occur outside of Christianity, or does Christian doctrine contain the exclusive truth?

  • Christy.

    Interesting list here, because I see myself falling on both sides of the “vs.”. I do find your comparison of Easter and Salvation quite eye-opening.

    Thanks for your response, I suppose I’m a little of both.

  • Jeff

    Today’s liberal Christianity is tomorrows conservative Christianity. 100 years ago Christianity was nothing like it is today, and so on. The church has always been in flux, or shall I say evolving.

  • Diana A.

    I love this!

  • Diana A.

    Me too!

  • bob

    That’s good news for America (unless we morph into a theocratic police state first). but worldwide a different variety is growing.

  • Here’s hoping we learn how to love and accept people the way God does. I can only imagine this unrepentant hatred and moralizing breaks His heart.

    Also, dude, the tag line “trying God’s patience since 1958” is brilliant.

  • Very nicely done Christy. I liked it!

  • Donald Rappe


  • Donald Rappe


  • Donald Rappe

    Damned system.

  • Donald Rappe

    I would respectfully disagree with this interpretation of theology. While it might have arisen from some man, women or child asking the scientific question “Who were the first men and women?” The ancient story tellers never thought that “the knowledge of good and evil” was a fruit that grew on a tree or that snakes were once beasts of the field that talked. The important content of the stories is something that doesn’t peel away and the task of theology is to state these truths in a less poetic and more epistemologically modern way.

  • Dallas Jenkins

    John, you know I love you, but you’ve become prone to straw-man and ad hominem arguments when it comes to evaluating the Christian right. Every time you describe the whats and whys of Christian right viewpoints, I think to myself, “I’m a Christian right-winger (although I’m pro-legalization of drugs/prostitution/gambling), as is my family and nearly everyone I grew up with, as are many of my friends, and less than 1% of them think the way John describes us.”

    Christians believed secular Jews and gays are going to hell because we didn’t know any? Our beliefs were tied to our friendships or lack thereof? That’s just simply untrue. “White is right?” My goodness, man, the “Christian Republicans are racist” act is so tired and offensive and so below you.

    My family and I grew up in a 50% Jewish neighborhood. Nearly every single one of my best friends growing up was Jewish. Three of my best friends (two of which stood in my wedding) are gay. My extreme evangelical right-wing extended family has adopted half a dozen minority children and nearly all of us have at one time attended a church pastored by a black man.

    Yes, it is possible to believe all of the following: Jesus’s words that the way to heaven was through him were true; Paul’s writings and subsequent translations that “man-bedding” was a sin were true; calling a gay union and a straight union the same thing is as silly as giving a gay man and a straight man the same adjective; affirmative action is insulting and harmful; AND, homosexuals and Jews are no worse than Christians as human beings and are deserving of love; whites and blacks are equal.

    You may be right that the rise of Christian liberalism is inevitable. Heck, you may be right in your views on homosexuality and hell and all that. And of course you’re right that the Christian Right opposes gay marriage and believes in hell; but there’s no reason to assign motive or historical analysis to these views, especially when your speculations are incorrect.

  • Donald Rappe

    Theology must be conservative enough to grasp the changeless truths in a message and liberal enough to express them in such a way that the listeners can understand them. Traditionally these are called the kerygmatic and apologetic aspects of theology. It is a question of balance. Omit the liberal and you get a hard theology which hits the listeners head like a stone. It is useless for instruction. Omit the conservative and you get the wishy washy “whatever floats your boat” theology, also useless for instruction.

  • Donald Rappe

    What a wonderful list of bullet points Christy. Clearly you are not listing alternatives, but endpoints of a sliding scale, as you indicated. That is why Brian and I find ourselves on both sides. But I cannot agree with the statement built into the question that there is more than one “kind” of Christianity. This is more a matter of definition than of fact. I try to participate in the historical evangelical catholic orthodox Christianity. I try to understand it with a liberal conservative protestant theology.

  • Diana A.

    And yet, this is how conservative Christianity comes across to a lot of us…and it’s been happening for a lot longer than John has been blogging…in fact, it’s been happening for a lot longer than John has been a Christian.

    I almost walked away from Christianity when I was in my twenties (10-20 years ago) precisely because of the fundamentalist Christian attitude that the only way to be a good Christian was to take the Bible literally–especially when it comes to wives submitting unto their husbands and viewing Gay people as sinners. If I’m a Christian today (and some would argue that I’m not), it’s no thanks to the Conservative/Fundamentalist wing of Christianity.

  • Donald Rappe

    With regard to the future, the Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord!

    “Behold! I am with you always, even to the end of the world!”

    “Simon answered and said ‘Thou art the Christ.’ Jesus replied ‘Thou Simon shall be called Peter and upon this rock I will build my church’.”

    Keep the faith, babies!

  • DR

    Dallas you and your friends might be the exception to the rule. You might be totally misunderstood but with all due respect, your prioritization on “You’ve just got us all so wrong” is part of the problem you’re experiencing.

    Each time I see conservative Christians criticized in any kind of collective way, you and others don’t examine the *whys* behind that. You’re not doing much of anything together to stop the damage that comes from those who identify themselves as Conservative Christians. I don’t see a lot of mainstream conservative Christians protesting Fred Phelps, I see a lot of Liberal Christians doing that. I see a lot of gay and lesbian women organizing to do that.

    Each time someone who is part of the GLBT community has said “this is what my experience is like of conservative Christianity”, I’ve not once seen a Conservative Christian apologize on *behalf of* those people – in your name – in the name of the Jesus that conservative Christians are trying to evangelize? All I see is “well that’s not me – I’m one of the good guys. Stop putting us all in the same group, not all Christians are like that.”

    Most if not all of the energy I’ve seen Conservative Christians do on this forum, in the media, on the blogs, in the press – is defend yourself instead of actually starting to take some responsibility for the damage that is being done from our camp, even if you – your friends – your family – didn’t do it. It’s really your choice to do that but as you do? You kind of confirm the belief that a lot of us have, that you’re more invested in making sure you look good and that everyone understands *you*.

    Start fixing the mess that earns Conservative Christians the bad rap in the first place, start being the FIRST people that volunteer with the Trevor Project so gay kids know that you’re there for them. Because I’ll tell you something – I’ve volunteered with them, I know those people. There aren’t a lot of Conservative Christians around. And pointing that out isn’t attacking you, it’s just stating the truth.

  • DR

    affirmative action is insulting and harmful; >>>

    According to whom? Who experiences it as insulting and harmful?

  • Dallas: My hope is that you read this too quickly; if not I pretty wholly failed to be clear. I wasn’t talking about your generation, or even mine. By evoking the horse-and-buggy days, by referencing things like county fairs, farms and corner hardware stores–by saying things like “in the old days”—I thought to communicate that I was talking about what is essentially now a bygone era: back in the days when, for instance, no one thought twice about having to identify the church to which they belonged when applying for a bank or home lone.

    In the writing of these things one has 800 or so words to cover a lot of ground; you’re constrained to paint in pretty broad strokes. So I say things–as I did in this piece–like, “As far as most Americans knew,” and “Today most people have in their lives,” in order to at least make it clear that I understand that I’m hardly taking everyone into account.

    And I didn’t say anything at all about Christian republicans being racist. You’re right: saying that would be below me. I’m dense, but not so dense I’d write anything that stupid.

    And you’re mistaken about there being no reason to assign motive or historical analysis to one’s religious views. It’s always wise to do exactly that. Otherwise, you’re just blindly following.

  • Donald Rappe

    I think Christy did touch on your topic, especially the section on scripture. I’ve been accused of being liberal, so I’ll answer your questions (briefly) in order.

    1.) The Johanine Jesus does assert he is (not was) the way, truth and life not to contrast with other competing claims, but to explain who and what he is. He is the Logos, one with God from the beginning. No matter the religion of

    one who goes to the Father. he goes through the way, truth and life which is Jesus.

    2.) No. From the assertion that all religions but mine are false, it would immediately follow that all religions are false.

    3.) Jesus, the Light, shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot swallow it up! Whoever follows the way, seeks the truth and thirsts for the life will find him and he will take them to the Father. Assuming, as is proper, that “Christianity” refers to a species of religionists, then clearly salvation occurs “outside” of Christianity.

    4.) There is nothing exclusive about the truth of Christian teaching. When it appears to be exclusive, it is false teaching.

    I( checked your blog to see why you think “liberal Christianity” is impossible. You draw your conclusion from the presumption that the symbol “God” as used in Judaism, Christianity and Islam has no real referent, but is purely an illusion. This is the point of disagreement, and it is more general than just liberal Christianity. It tends to contradict all those who sense the power of things unseen. It’s a good thing that Gilbert and James Clerk Maxwell, those pious Christians who developed electromagnetic field theory, didn’t think as you do!

  • denver

    Thank you for this. You wrote it on a day that I wrote a three page letter that made me cry and may end up ending a friendship with a dear old friend who has the uncanny ability to so wholly compartmentalize her feelings about people like me (gay people) versus her friendship with me, that she can’t see how her saying that she thinks being gay is a sinful choice, a lifestyle, and wrong could hurt me. Her knowing a gay person (since we were twelve, and we’re in our thirties now) hasn’t made her question her theology in the slightest. And she thinks it’s “suddenly” offending me, since I’ve been biting my tongue all these years.

    I know that logically most people think twice when they know someone that they are passing judgment on, but she hasn’t. Not once. And it kills me.

    This was a nice reminder that there are people out there who actually care about the people that they supposedly care about. Made me smile. Thanks, John.

    To the person that said they had gay people in their wedding party, but still think that gay sex is a sin, you’re doing exactly what my friend does to me. “I know someone who is gay and I don’t ostracize them, but I still think their being is a sin and I vote against their equality” is like saying “I know someone who is a racial minority and I don’t ostracize them, but I think whites are better and I would never allow my children to marry someone of another race and think we should go back to interracial marriage being illegal” – just because you can be civil doesn’t make you not homophobic or racist. A duck is a duck. I’ll bet your “best friends” are biting their tongues too, and hurting inside, just as I am due to my friend.

  • Wow, Denver. Thanks for sharing this. Very powerful. I’d like to see the letter you wrote your friend; I’ll bet it’s something to read. I’m sorry you had to write it. I hope she hears it.

  • DR

    Denver, as someone who used to be your friend? Sometimes the only thing that pierces the complete self-absorption and privilege your friend is enveloped in is loss. One of my dearest friends essentially wrote me off, saying “I can’t trust someone who compartmentalizes things in ways that assure you that your hands are clean on both sides. Your theology works so you get to be “right” with God, but you insist that you can have that and that I shouldn’t feel hurt about it so your hands are clean with me. The real world doesn’t work that way and frankly, neither does God. You lack integrity and this is something that I believe is bad at your core.”

    I was shell-shocked. Furious! But then on the other end was silence. He was just gone. And then I started waking up.

    I’m so sorry that your loss, your suffering is what has to wake all the rest of us up to the dissonance and the lack of integrity within ourselves.

  • DR

    Are you suggesting that theology and science/reason are mutually exclusive?

  • DR

    I love this.

  • I think calling it liberal Christianity is a major communication problem, especially in the US. Firstly, political liberalism is so demonised that even Christians who have read J.S. Mill can even grasp what that means, and theological liberalism seems to connote the caricature of JS Spong types who don’t seem to believe in a concept of God that the previous 2000 years of Christians would even recognise.

    Progressive might have been a better term, or there may be others. Either way, what you are talking about dying for want of any genuine ethic of Jesus-centred love is fundamentalism and insecure evangelicalism. I am not an evangelical, but I do know many streams of evangelicalism that have are paleo-orthodox (in believing in the Trinity and many of the creeds) that are especially and robustly committed to social justice, gay equality and the preferential option for the poor.

    I am an Australian, and our conservative party is called the Liberal Party, so I know how fluid the use of “liberal” can be in political discourse. But I also know that so many American Christians just start foaming at the mouth at the mention of the term that I think you might have used a better descriptive to attach to the message of Jesus that didn’t have so much cultural baggage.

    There are, in fact, many avowedly “liberal” Christian churches across the western world with so little conviction, and so many qualifications, in their beliefs that they can barely manage to create a desire to worship this God they serve, let alone create a desire to want to display her radical self-giving love and acceptance.

    Otherwise, great article.

  • Whoa, DR. That is VERY powerful. Wow. What a testimony.

  • Religiously unaffiliated also might be categorized or subcategorized as “spiritual but not religious.”

  • I actually kept flopping between using “liberal” and “progressive.” I ultimately chose “liberal,” for reasons I won’t bore you with. But, today, when that same piece was published on Believe Out Loud’s website, we went with the word “progressive” in the title. (In fact, I think I’ll go change the title, here, right now, to “progressive.” So. There you have it!

  • Jack

    My high school history teacher once said, “Today’s liberal is tomorrow’s conservative.”

    \Today everyone is related to, shares a neighborhood with, works with, or goes to school with someone who is gay, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Mormon, Unitarian Universalism, Wiccan, Native American, Shinto, Baha’i, Rastafarian, Cao Dai, Tenrikyo, agnostic, atheist, or any combination thereof.\

    John, why didn’t you mention Orthodox in this melange?

  • Jason, John answered that question in John’s way here:

    I will answer only for myself, not as a representative of “liberal Christianity” because this answer also falls on a spectrum.

    For me: Yes, “salvation” can and does occur outside Christianity. Christianity and Christian doctrine do not contain the exclusive truth. (I realize this sounds like heresy to many Christians. Bear with me.) Consider this: Even as a young child, the fundamentalist Baptist church of my upbringing and the affiliated Baptist school I attended admitted this. They might not today. But when pressed, they admitted, at least to children, that people who had never heard the name of Jesus, (ancient or native peoples, for example) who never heard the gospel message, who had no way of knowing who Jesus Christ was, could still know God. God could still reveal God’s self to them in God’s own way, perhaps most notably through nature, or as an experience. God always provides a way: this is one lesson in the story of the Binding of Isaac.

    At the United Church of Christ, where we currently attend, the church’s belief statement says this: “We follow the way of Jesus while recognizing other pathways to the Divine.” Notably, our congregation is multi-denominational with a spirituality leaning, acknowledging mystical influences while valuing and nurturing the individuality of the spiritual journey.

    Yet today, I see the Southern Baptist Convention developing a committee “to address the critical need of taking the gospel to unreached native people groups…..before it’s too late.” These are uncontacted tribes. This breaks my heart and, to me, represents the ego of Religion at its worst.

    For me: Other traditions are informative and enlightening to the Christian tradition, and, when you strip away the dogma and the ritual, at their core – on the level of the spirit of things – they are not only complimentary, but compatible. Exclusivity is born out of ego (prideful arrogance, sin). Humility is venerated by all of the world religions as is the Golden Rule or compassion. When other traditions are viewed from this angle you can see how they all point to the same path – The Way. When we add in ego (the shadow self, the Atman) and dogma and doctrine and ritual – it blocks the view.

    J: “Is the Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim flat out wrong for believing in the truth of her tradition?”

    No. Marcus Borg, a liberal theologian and Jesus scholar describes it thusly: A Christian is one who lives their life in relationship with God within the framework of the Christian tradition, who finds the decisive revelation of God in Jesus. A Jew is one who lives their life in relationship with God within the framework of the Jewish tradition, who finds the decisive revelation of God in the Torah. Muslims find the decisive revelation of God in the Qur’an….etc.

    The wide way and the narrow way that Jesus spoke of, if one is willing and able to see it, are compatible with human psychology as explained by the likes of Jung as it relates to ego and compassion and The Way of Taoism and the noble eightfold path of Buddhism and the Golden Rule of the three Abrahamic faiths, and the essence of Hinduism, and the tale of the two wolves in Native American spirituality….what differs is our understanding and our willingness to see.

    Confucius knew what the Buddha knew what Socrates knew: when it comes to ultimate truth – the ineffable, the Divine, the More, Ch’i, Brahman, the Almighty, the One in whom we live and breathe and move and have our being – to write it down, we can be certain it will be misinterpreted and misunderstood and to describe it to another in words, will necessarily limit it. Spiritual truths are experienced and understood as insights, epiphanies, ecstasies, A-has, enlightenment, conversion, foundational experiences, deep understandings. They are innately personal and subjective and ineffable. Religious truths are created by and enforced and taught by people. They are innately objective and measurable and human……IMHO.

  • Dirk


    I suspect America will first have to descend into just that theocratic, fascist police state before any real change occurs.

    There is a fairly easy test to determine whether a gen-u-whine evangelical ‘Christian’ really cares about gays, lesbians and the transgender or not.

    When one of them starts up their ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ nonsense, ask them why they feel compelled to make life for us so hard.

    They’ll invariably answer that we are going to hell unless we repent by accepting their Jeebus into our hearts.

    Ask them if they really think they will bring one single, solitary person to embrace their religious beliefs through their approach (or be really nasty and ask how many they have ‘saved’ through their approach).

    John may be right, in the longer view. Right at the moment, though, the US is very much likely to elect a president next year who wants homosexuality re-criminalised, denies climate change, believes the earth is only a few thousand years old and has promised to force schools to teach creationism as fact.

  • Jack, because the predominant group is presumed present. It is a known. A given. And John is contrasting it with the understood (but unsaid) comparison to the past; “Today [as compared to in the past] everyone is related to….”

    This is also something known as privilege. It is understood to exist, except by many within the privileged group who don’t acknowledge or see or understand their privilege in society.

    I learned this the hard way when I was in college. Coming from a small town in a 97% white Christian community I was desperately naive. I had the privilege of befriending and rooming with a Jewish girl from Florida. Once, she told me a story about going to a wedding, when I blurted out: “Was it a Jewish wedding or a normal one.” She gave me a look, and I recognized my error. It was an important lesson to learn early in my life: to look with eyes that are able to see beyond my own point of view.

    What do you think your high school teacher meant?

  • Jack: Because I thought it would be fun to leave one out, so that people could discover which I had, and then point it out to me. Like “Where’s Waldo?”– but with religious denominations.

  • Diana A.

    Are you referring to Orthodox Christianity? See, I’m not sure that Orthodox Christians stick out in our culture the way some of the groups named above do. Am I wrong about this? To my knowledge, I’ve only known one (Greek) Orthodox Christian and nothing she said or did seemed terribly different from any other Christian.

  • Yes. Have you read UCC pastor Lillian Daniel’s opinion on the SBNR set? She’s not very kind.

  • I’m wrestling with a cold including a 102F fever, so my response will be brief. I’m just going to ask how you would distinguish – or if you would – the different paths to the divine. It’s easy when we stick to the major religions…but what Scientologists? The Heaven’s Gate cult? Muslims who believe women should not read or travel unaccompanied in public? Are ALL self-professed paths to the divine equally valid, and if not how do you determine who’s in and who’s out?

  • Diana A.

    Too funny!

  • Oh and lest I be accused of being brusque, please accept my ‘thank you’ for taking the time to respond. I have read Borg and I was a UCC’er for 23 years, but it’s nice to read your take on both.

  • Christy

    Yep. I saw it. Nope. She’s not. Also a spectrum of the SBNR from easy excuse to skip church to deeply connected to others who share a similar understanding and a gnosis of the Divine.

  • Any religious understanding or interpretation of scripture that is used to oppress, exploit, impoverish, denigrate, humiliate, or dehumanize others or breeds violence or hatred is illegitimate.

    See the Charter for Compassion:

    Hope you are feeling better soon.

  • textjunkie

    Oh let’s see: Slavery, the divine right of kings, whether women have souls–there’s a lot of things that Christianity was unambiguous about at one point, then had dissension, and now has swung to the other side of the argument completely. In the case of whether torture is ever justified, and whether you need a Y chromosome to be a priest, we’re still in the dissension phase (unbelievable to me, but there it is). I just wish we could get to that “other side of the argument” phase on a number of different issues (besides the OBVIOUS one of gay marriage, there’s still a remnant of folks fighting the war over Divine Providence–if you believe right, God blesses you; if you believe wrong, God punishes you; thus hurricanes and natural disasters etc. are God’s punishment… You’d think we were done with that logical fallacy the same way we dropped the divine right of kings, but not quite yet…)

  • I agree, in principle, because we share a similar ideology. But it’s arbitrary and nebulous. A pro-life Christian is certain that abortion is a form of violence and denigration of human life. The UCC Christian (at least in general) supports reproductive liberty because they perceive it oppressive to deny women the the right to terminate a pregnancy. You see where I’m going with this, of course. Extreme examples like human sacrifice and abuse in religion are easy to dismiss, but what about the majority of Christians who view homosexuality as sinful? What about genuine disagreements over capital punishment or assisted suicide? Not so easy to categorize.

  • I would suggest that, yes. Unless, of course, you’re talking about ‘theologies’ without supernaturalism, i.e. some forms of process theology, Gordon D. Kaufman’s constructive theology, or Tillichian ‘ground of being’ theology.

  • Even if John’s right about the ‘swing of the pendulum’ in America, the gradual acceptance of same-sex marriage here is a token victory at best. Catholics make up some 60% of believers in America and they show no sign of allowing women to be priests – a clear expression of prejudice. Ditto for Mormons, Jehovah’s witnesses, and Southern Baptists. In fact, I’d need to gather some data for a more confident estimate but it’s probably safe to say the total number of Christians in denominations that allow female leadership must be around 10% (assuming n = the total number of self-identifying Christians in America). Expand your analysis to include the world and the state of justice in Christianity declines dramatically. Let’s not forget that homosexuality is a capital offense in some places, and armies of god maim and kill children with machetes (referring to the Lord’s Resistance Army).

  • I have a healthy appreciation for nuance….but I catch your drift.

  • There is surely plenty of work to be done in the name of justice within the Church and society at large. I see a difference in the female clergy issue, though, in so much as the denominations that prohibit it only do so within the confines of their sect, not across the board. Whereas, marriage equality is a national issue, not a denominational one. For those within their denomination they have the right to set the rules by which their membership willing agrees to play. However, they do not have the right to set the rules for the whole of society. Therein lies the difference between Freedom of Religion vs. Freedom from Religion.

    I would not be the first to jump up and suggest that religion as a whole might be an entirely different animal had women enjoyed equal participation in scriptural interpretation, scholarship, and church leadership down through the age and no one felt so threatened by that as to find it necessary to wipe out the egalitarian -minded along the way.

  • denver

    It’s all ranty and disjointed, which is why I’m sitting on it for a couple of days (and I told her I was) because I am debating between sending it as is because it is truth or trying to make it more coherent. But I’m not censoring it. If you really want to read me rant for three pages, I could email it to you. 😉

  • denver

    Thank you for sharing that, DR. Powerful, and personal, and humble. It’s good to have hope that maybe what I think is going to be her reaction won’t be. I fully expect her to feel like she is “sacrificing a friendship for Jesus” or some such concept that makes her the injured party and a martyr. She’s one of those Christians with a victim complex. It’s all a conspiracy to take her rights away and war on Christmas, don’tcha know.

  • Erin D.

    That’s when we must find solace in the bigger understanding we have of God. It’s hard to let go of the earthly desire to be proven right, to get that apology, to see that look of shame on a righteous person’s face. But most often, we will not get that satisfaction. So it must be enough to know that we *are* following God’s path, and shed the need for validation from misguided people. It’s a true lesson in humility…frustrating at times but valuable. Best of luck to you, Denver. You are in my prayers.

  • Erin D.

    “Yin yang” theology…I love this too.

  • cat rennolds

    “For the Lord He maketh the rain rain down

    On the just and the unjust fella

    But the unjust fella is nice and dry

    For he’s stolen the just’s umbrella.”

    Ogden Nash.

  • cat rennolds

    Orthodox what?;) I know some incredibly orthodox Wiccans.

  • cat rennolds

    oh you so did not:) Poser.

  • cat rennolds

    I hope this isn’t too late to be useful, but;

    When someone has defined (or has been taught to define) their own value, their own validity, their own worthiness as a human being by a given set of religious beliefs, and they don’t think they have any value outside that frame, asking them to change is asking them to risk personal annihilation. “You want me to sin TOO? By validating you? If I change this belief, God won’t love ME anymore, either, and that’s, well, Hell. ”

    There has to be some personal security that comes from somewhere besides that rigid belief system for someone to be able to risk even thinking anything else. As my sister-in-law says, “I have to believe in Jesus so I won’t go to hell.”

    share your pain and your anger, but with love. ask Spirit to guide your hand. let go of the relationship if you must, trust yourself, but feel how it would be if you had to be trapped in that cage.

  • cat rennolds

    Nothing went faster than light, either, until yesterday.

  • cat rennolds

    If birth control is the intelligent, educated solution to overpopulation, we’re going to continue to be outnumbered indefinitely. I did my bit.

    Speaking from a purely Darwinistic standpoint, if the intelligent and educated have MORE babies, then a higher percentage of the population will be intelligent and educated…..who will also tend to be more effective at spreading MEMES. there will be more of US to educate more of THEM. after that, it’s all US, if we expand to include instead of outcompete.

    What other group is deliberately trying to will itself out of physical existence by attrition?

  • Allie

    However, it’s easy to push yourself right out of the upper class by having more children than you can afford, and easy to push your children out of it by having more children than you can afford to educate. It doesn’t just go one way – not only do the poor and uneducated have more kids, those who have more kids end up poorer and less educated. There’s something to be said for having the number of kids you can afford.

    Plus, it’s a little less painful (and by extension less cruel) than watching your kids suffer, do without, and struggle.

  • Allie

    Hmm. I think in the long-term you’re right. But it may be a very long term, and the short-term looks bleak.

    At the present time, liberal denominations are losing people and conservative ones are gaining. The only denominations consistently gaining are ultra-conservative independent megachurches. That’s just the facts.

    Also, it’s not exactly true that people in the past didn’t know others of different faiths and they do today. I live in Memphis, and 100 years ago, every department store and most groceries in this town were owned by a Jewish family. Those department stores are gone now, and the grocery stores have all been bought out by chains. I went to high school with lots of Jewish kids. One of my best friends was Jewish, and I dated her Jewish cousin in high school. Today – I’m trying to think – I don’t have any close Jewish friends. My mom has one. This isn’t intentional on my part, it’s just that none of the people I cross paths with happen to be Jewish. When I was in high school, my doctor was Hindu, and in college I had a Muslim professor. Today the only Muslims or Hindus I know run ethnic restaurants. My dad used to work with Sikhs – I don’t even remember the last time I saw a Sikh! It’s still easy never to encounter people who are different, and honestly, these people were around, and plentiful, 40 years ago.

    Besides, ignorance is persistent. I have a friend who is Lutheran. Lutherans aren’t the most numerous denomination in Memphis, but there are plenty of Lutheran churches, including one that’s been here 150 years, and it’s a mainstream Christian denomination, not exotic. My friend, when she is asked about her religion, regularly gets asked, “Do Lutherans worship Lucifer?” or “That’s a black church, isn’t it? Because they follow the words of Martin Luther King jr.?”

    In the face of that, I think it’s premature to announce that the details of other religions have become common knowledge.

  • Allie

    You’d think the whole book of Job plus Jesus saying that God sends sun and rain on the just and the unjust alike, not to mention the wicked flourishing like the green bay tree, would put an end to that argument! But you’re never going to see the end of it, because it’s not rooted in the Bible – it’s deep-seated wishful thinking that we can control our own fates by our actions.

  • cat rennolds

    true. but one must also consider what standard to use in judging what you can afford. I don’t need a lot of the things that some of my wealthier friends and relatives consider essential, and in fact I’ve seen and still see too many middle and upper middle class kids who take their advantages for granted and expect to be rescued and catered to.

    Suffering and struggle are not necessarily cruel. Challenge means commitment and a much deeper education. I’m not talking malnutrition, but we don’t have cable, for example. Eating out once a month is a big treat. It’s not that I couldn’t; it’s that other things are more important.

    My 2 older kids are going to school on their brains, and knew from the start that if they were going to go, that was how they were going to have to do it. Intelligence and education are not enough by themselves. We need a reality base for the education to sit on.

  • Allie

    Well… maybe in the country as a whole, Republicans aren’t racist. But here in Memphis if someone is a Republican you can pretty much expect them to be racist as well. Some are open about it, but most you have to scratch the surface just a little bit. It works like this: “I hate affirmative action, welfare, and all social programs for the poor, but I’m not racist.” “Oh really? Why do you hate those things?” “I just hate pants-on-the-ground inner city people with their gold teeth taking my money and having babies.” “Ohhhh I see, you’re right, that’s not racist at all.”

  • Mule Chewing Briars

    I’m an Orthodox Christian. If anything, we’re far more conservative than the Roman Catholics. I can say with more certainty than I can about anything else that the Orthodox Church will not ordain women nor will it countenance sacramental same-sex unions any time before the heat death of the universe.

    We’re old school. We have a saint who died in 1022 who is called Saint Symeon The New Theologian. The Orthodox Church is deeply ascetic. You won’t get much support from us whining about sexual wholeness when our Church forbids even straight married sex 45% of the year. {That’s why we never had to outlaw contraception. We keep the traditional Christian fasts the way they’re supposed to be kept.}

  • Hi John,

    I would be interested in any stats indicating a shift towards attendances of more Liberal churches. On the contrary, the charismatic/evangelicals seem to be riding high with the banner of “onward christian soldiers”.

    Equating the increasing acceptance of GLBT should not be used as the only guidepost as the issue should never have been made a theological debate in the first place of who we love. It is how we love and respecting the humanity and the basic rights/respect of each other that defines Christianity.

    I believe instead that the Liberal/Progressives need to make themselves viable as the wedge issue of GLBT rights slowly becomes a non issue.

    God bless from the island of Singapore where there seem only but a handful of progressives. After all, this is the HQ of the Global Anglican South.

    As homosexuality is still illegal, I better not say too much.

  • Christy

    I just choked on my toast! =) Thanks, Cat.

  • I agree, John’s tagline IS brilliant. I’ve been thinking that since I found this blog a few weeks ago and am glad to see someone else make that assertion. I think it reminds me of my parents, who truly love me so unconditionally and how many times I’ve tried their patience, knowing that they will still love me no matter what. It’s kind of perfect, since that’s how God is, too.

  • Jeannie

    I re-read this article today just to encourage myself. I had a discussion of one of my pastors this week. Keep in mind they are considered one of the more progressive congregations in my town. We talked about my not believing in Hell. We talked about my having huge questions about my faith..about my being strongly in favor of marriage equality…etc., etct., He affirmed that I had the right to think that way and that many Christians did, (This was a far cry from the churches I grew up in who would have rebuked me and told I was probably beyond redemption) but let the obvious that he hoped I would come to my senses unsaid. I am moving closer and closer to Unitarianism just to keep my sanity.

    Here’s a question for any of you Unitarians who may see this. I visted a Unitarian congregation once and really like it, but I was freaked out because it wasn’t a “Christian” cogregation (yeah, I know I am still deprogramming myself). Did any of you have that response? How did you deal with it?

  • Jill

    Hi Jeanie, first off can I say–WowWowWow, what a great article John, and what a great space to connect with others about it!

    Ok– I am not Unitarian, but probably more closely aligned with their basic tenets than I know. I’m just not into denominations and categories on a personal level (I had a fundamental/cult background–yuck).

    I most definitely had a HARD time allowing myself to believe there are things such as faith, morals, blessings, and God available in such places as…ANY other church but the one I knew as a young girl! For me, that’s what early indoctrination did– it scrubbed out any concept of holiness other than “the Church”.

    It was a journey for me to open my heart to other faiths, but so worth the effort. I allowed my Indian counselor into my heart (and darkest secrets) and she was one of my biggest blessings of my life! I allowed myself to become friends with tarot readers, astrologists, atheists, Buddhists, (you get the jist), and they enriched my life more than I can tell you in this short space!

    I learned the inside and out of compassion, empathy, generosity through my non-Christian connections– funny enough, all stuff Jesus was into! And that’s where the miracle, the magic happened. There’s love everywhere, in everything and everybody if you’re open to see it there. God is Love. Trust that God’s love is bigger than all the restrictions and boxes we humans want to restrain it in. Who knows, you might find a big dose of God’s love in a Unitarian congregation, in this blogspace, wherever you land. 🙂 Good luck!

  • Jill

    If I may honor and echo DR and denver’s comments above, may I say that I too have lost friends because of my “wordly” and non-Christian choices, such as questioning doctrine, speaking up as a woman, having non-Christian friends, etc, etc. Yes the losses hurt, and hurt… Some of them were stand-in family members (fragmented homelife) for me.

    When I turned away from my fundy cult, I turned away from the only family I knew. (This is the place for the violins… 🙂

    But just like the website of the same name, It gets better. Hopefully 8-9 months later as I write this, things have gotten better for you both on this front.

    As for me, I love myself these days, and I value my needs enough to draw into my inner circle only those who can handle respecting and valuing me equally. Not for what labels the world wants to wrap around me like packaging, but for me. I had to own a inner space of ‘earn my trust and I’ll love you to bits’, or ‘disrespect me by not accepting me, and I have to walk away’.

    I hope that inner peace helps you (all of us) bring resolution to broken relationships that didn’t have the stamina to last.

  • Who is writing the wine that will sustain this next generation of Progressive Christians?

  • Wait. Is this a trick question?

  • Elizabeth

    LOL, for real.

  • I think that if God’s invisible qtuliaies are made clear through his creation (Rom 1:20) and all people are created in the image of God (Gen 1:26), then it stands to reason that people should have an innate sense of right and wrong. While some people choose to ignore it, and others (like your humanist friends) do not attribute it to God, we all have a moral compass inside us, and we all know that honesty is right and lying is wrong.I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would plainly state that it’s OK to lie. But if you pushed them on their answer, most folks would have situations where they felt they were justified in not being completely honest. I’m sure the person who lied to you didn’t really feel like they were lying. In their mind they were just keeping the peace by playing a little loosely with the truth.So I guess what I’m trying to say is that Christians don’t have the corner on the honesty market, and non-Christians shouldn’t be justified in their immoral behavior just because they don’t know Jesus.Does that make any sense?

  • Stephen

    We need a Libertarian, Anti-Statist Christianity or bust. Work out your Progressive Christian ideas in a Free Society, free of coercion, violence and the threat of violence. The strongest feeling a Christian should feel relative to the State is ambiguity, not our kingdom after all. Nowhere in the Gospels does a statement by Jesus begin, now there ought to be a law. Today’s Christian Churches seem to have become pastored by the equivalent of the Pharisees. I guess that is what Jesus died for, to bring us a new and better class of Christian Pharisees the old ones just weren’t good enough.

  • I loved this post, John! Your writing is honest, yet grace-filled and hopeful.

    After reading a number of comments, I want to chime in to add something to the conversation. As a former “progressive”/”liberal”/”Hell-bound” pastor, I was actually told by other pastors in the area that I was “leading my congregation to eternal damnation” and that they were “actively praying for the destruction of my church”. This was after I had set up a booth at the local Gay Pride festival, in order to simply hear people’s stories and pray with them. No, I did not pray that that they would leave their homosexual lifestyle. In fact, I forbid the people from my church community to bring bibles or to point out sin in any way. For that one day, they had to set aside personal beliefs on the issue and simply pray. While most of the other churches in my city had people at the park entrance condemning “sin”, the participants in the event came to our booth first, immediately after running that horrible, evangelical gauntlet. Needless to say, I was not popular.

    When we look at stats about church attendance, we must be cautious. I tend to agree with John, that we are trending, radically quickly toward more post-Christian, postmodern expressions of faith. When these culture shifts occur, however, there is always an inevitable fortress mentality adopted by the old guard. They attend church services with a new vigor and passion. They get louder about protecting their carefully-constructed fundamentalist realities. Christian restaurants, bookstores, clubs, and anything else one might imagine spring up everywhere. They are seeking to recapture and solidify the old world, where they can return to never having to interact with anyone who might challenge their values, prejudices, and ideals. Why? Because it is all a house of cards. It is weak. If one card (tenet) fails, even the most benign of the stack, the whole thing comes down. It is scary for these people. So, we see growth in extremist churches, as people run to what is known and safe. These are not bad people. These are scared people who lack faith.

    In terms of church attendance, we must also consider the fact that progressive Christians do not place a high value on church attendance. God, for most of us who think this way, is not localized in a brick and mortar, physical place. God is omnipresent, allowing for continual connection and a consistent state of worship. We are more comfortable with a fuzzy and gray world. It isn’t as simple as finding an overarching “Truth” and complying through deductive processes. We are more analogical. Is a gay man a sinner? Yes. But no more so than I. If I find myself comfortable in my belief system, I know something is wrong. I find truth in everything. I take what is true, and reject the frivolous. Yet, even as I accept truth, I hold it with an open hand, allowing me to flex and grow in my understanding of truth. In all of that, it is no longer a sin to skip the obligation of a church service on a Sunday morning. That being said, we need to find new expressions of faith for community, based on co-learning and growth, rather than obligation and tithing. Sitting under a tree alone with God is great, but there is value in connecting with God together. If we want to override the very loud, defensive fundamentalist voices, we need more connection and unity among progressives. Then the stats will truly reflect the trends.

  • Its happening, he is right-Liberal Churches are growing at a rapid pace, Reality LA is very progressive yet still stays true to the doctrine. Mosaic, Oasis and In His Presence are well on their way to becoming Mega Churches as their seems to be a re-vival of sorts happening in LA …These churches have record setting growth periods in the most recent years and it looks like they will grow even bigger.-

  • Frank

    Profound comments Bill. Amazing to find someone like you. Such perception, so eloquently written too.

    I must say that I have been struggling with transformation, personal transformations, implicit in what you are saying. I am attending a rural church in what is usually considered a “progressive” denomination, but I feel as if the rug has been jerked out from under my spiritual feet. I feel as if I should be sharing what I know, but the implications are so overwhelming that I hardly know what the agenda should be any more.

    There are the oddities, you know. For example, the oddity of singing the Gloria Patria every Sunday. Well gotta go. Keeping the wife awake.