This Is an Important Moment for Progressive Christians

This Is an Important Moment for Progressive Christians March 26, 2014

In the struggle for who gets to define the gospel in 21st century America — which I happen to think is a good struggle to have — this weekend looks to be important. As happens every year as Easter approached, mainstream media is tuning in to religion in general, and Christianity in particular. And some cultural items have come to the front of the American consciousness.

I won’t call this a “battle,” because it’s not that. It’s a conversation, taking place in the public square, about what kind of vision we have for the gospel. And, believe it or not, it involves more than just gay marriage.

1) Who Will Sponsor World Vision Children?

Tweets today are reporting that World Vision has lost 2,000 sponsors of children since announcing on Monday that they would no longer discriminate against married gay persons in their U.S. hiring policies. Progressive voices like Kristen Howerton are campaigning for others to fill the gap and pick up those children. Having been to Sri Lanka on a WV trip, I can attend to their great work. I sponsor Afra, and I encourage you to sponsor a child:


2) Who Will See Noah?

This morning, I’m going to a press screening of Darren Aronofsky’s movie, Noah. Conservatives have already turned on this movie — some, like Rick Warren, tweeting that he wouldn’t see the movie (then deleting that tweet) — and a wholesale ban on the movie in the Muslim Middle East for breaking the Koranic prohibition on depicting a prophet.

The major objections among conservative evangelicals seem to be that Noah adds to the biblical account (um, just like every biblical epic movie ever), and that Noah uses a biblical story to make commentary on contemporary issues like the environment, climate change, and overpopulation (um, just like every sermon ever).

Book publishers have long wondered if there is a strong enough market among progressive Christians to sell books at the numbers that conservative authors sell. This weekend, movie studio executives are going to be asking the very same question.

3) How Much Freedom Do Women Have Over Their Bodies?

That’s one way to frame the question of whether the federal government can force Hobby Lobby and other corporations to pay for their employees’ access to all forms of contraception. The other way to ask it is, Can corporations have religious freedom?

How a corporation can claim personhood and the rights ensured thereto is still an open question in our society, and one that confounds many of us. “Corporations are people, my friend.” This may seem a distant concern to religious folks, until a corporation says it has religious beliefs.


Surely more issues will bubble up in coming days. To whom the New York Times and your local newspapers turn for quotes and analysis will be interesting. Pay attention to that. And also, let your voice be heard on these issues — in a letter to the editor, on your blog, on Facebook and Twitter, and on the sideline of your kids’ soccer game.

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  • Progressive and conservative Christians have both ignored the major objection coming from people of color. Where is the cultural/racial accuracy in these Hollywood depictions of biblical narratives?

    • They always depict everyone as white, unless they’re villains…

      • I’m curious to see who in this movie is the “villian”. The way I typically read the biblical narrative, God tends to come across as the villian…

        • If you take it literally instead of as a metaphor, God IS the villain.

          • jeffstraka

            Either way you read it, God is a dick.

    • Excellent question! It’s tricky though, right? What race/culture should best be used to depict a mythological story written by an Ancient Near Eastern people group? Is Noah “Jewish”, or is that too anachronistic? On the other hand, whatever Noah is, he’s definitely not “white”, so yeah, Russell Crowe was probably a bad choice. (Then again, Russell Crowe is usually a bad choice for any movie IMHO. But that may just be me.)

      • I can’t think of a movie where he was a good choice…

  • You know, I had been wanting to sponsor a child again through some organization. And then this happened and made it a no brainer. (I signed up through World Vision today and am sponsoring a precious 5 year old in Tanzania, who just turned 5 today!)

  • jeffstraka

    Looks like World Vision is reversing their decision:

  • Ric Shewell

    Tony, I don’t know if box office reaction to Noah is a fair comparison to book sales for progressive Christian authors, if we want to ask if there is a strong enough market among progressive Christians, the answer is clearly “no.”

    Sometimes I forget how monstrously large the far right inerrantists are since I’ve been in the mainline world so long, but today’s announcement of World Visions’ reversal is a clear indication that there is not a big enough base of progressive Christians to fill the vacancies left behind by the far right of our church.

    Do we need the inerrantists to get things done in the world? Do we need the fundamentalists to be on board in order to feed children? Certainly the church can make a bigger impact when we are all on board, but today feels like a defeat. It feels like children were taken hostage for a hiring policy that is becoming more obsolete every day. Taken hostage by Christians.

  • Richard H

    If we are committed to individualism as the basic truth of humans it will be obvious that we ought to reject the claim that corporations are (in at least some sense) persons. If we know something of the claim that the church is the body of Christ (corpus Christi), then perhaps we can entertain the possibility that at least some forms of sociality can legitimately be likened to persons.

  • Jacob L. Wright

    I make a similar point here:

  • randybuist

    thanks for the post. and alreadly looking forward to C21 in 2015.

  • R Vogel

    Tony, I have to eat some crow and apologize to you. I was so turned off by your previous post advocating schism, that I dismissed you. The events of this week make me realize that, if anything, that call for schism didn’t go far enough. The depth of evil that would motivate a mass of people to steal the bread from the mouths of hungry children, ones that they have developed a relationship with, ones that rely on them to hold back the forces of death and hunger, in order to enforce their narrow view of orthodoxy is beyond belief. It spits in the face of Jesus on the cross, in the face of everything he stood for. There can be no unity, no solidarity with that level of evil. I apologize for not understanding the depth of the issues. You had the courage that World Vision clearly lacked. The question is, what will Progressives do now?

    • Stiqman

      You are assuming those World Vision dollars didn’t immediately transfer to support children through another means. Perhaps they even increased. You’re tossing around a face-spitting accusation pretty quickly without data.

  • Animal

    I just had it out with a bunch of fundamentalists yesterday about the movie, “Noah”. According to these harbingers of truth: We are COMMANDED and REQUIRED to hold the producers, writers, and actors of films depicting any aspect of the Word (capital W) to the strictest of standards. It is our duty.

    Another one wrote: Satan will put a twist and spin on anything he can. Even movies about the Bible.

    When will fundies and others of their ilk appreciate culture and learn to celebrate life? I am just thankful that a movie is coming out that may solicit some talk about spiritual matters and get people talking.

    As I wrote in another piece today: I think these recent cultural war events (i.e. Hobby Lobby, World Vision, and criticism of Noah) is quite telling. That evangelical Christianity has been hijacked by dogmatic moralism. It’s high time American evangelicalsim turns their boat around and become relevant to their culture or they will become a mere figment of a bygone era past.

  • R2D3
  • denisemo1

    When it comes to the Noah movie I would very much like to hear what these pooh pooers would say about Ben-Hur or the Ten Commandments. These movies weren’t exactly biblically accurate. I remember all the naysayers crying foul when Jesus of Montreal was released. That movie, if I remember correctly, had a very positive message. Even the Last Temptation of Christ had a message, albeit a critical one (God forbid someone should be critical). I mean, what exactly is their issue besides grandstanding and blowing hot air. Do these people understand that they make no sense.