In the last few years, I have moved out of Evangelical Christianity and have begun to identify as a Progressive Christian. That can be a bit confusing, though. What is a Progressive Christian? There aren't any Grace Progressive Churches or Southern Progressive Convention our there. It's more concrete, though, than just post-evangelical. It means something.
First of all, Progressive Christianity is Christian. It's something of a big-tent label, embracing those with some diverse opinions. Here is one working definition of Progressive Christianity by Roger Wolsey.
Progressive Christianity is an approach to the Christian faith that is influenced by post-liberalism and postmodernism and: proclaims Jesus of Nazareth as Christ, Savior, and Lord; emphasizes the Way and teachings of Jesus, not merely His person; emphasizes God's immanence not merely God's transcendence; leans toward panentheism rather than supernatural theism; emphasizes salvation here and now instead of primarily in heaven later; emphasizes being saved for robust, abundant/eternal life over being saved from hell; emphasizes the social/communal aspects of salvation instead of merely the personal; stresses social justice as integral to Christian discipleship; takes the Bible seriously but not necessarily literally, embracing a more interpretive, metaphorical understanding; emphasizes orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy (right actions over right beliefs); embraces reason as well as paradox and mystery — instead of blind allegiance to rigid doctrines and dogmas; does not consider homosexuality to be sinful; and does not claim that Christianity is the only valid or viable way to connect to God (is non-exclusive).
Progressive Christians are Christians. They believe in the death of Jesus to cover our sin. But, even though I consider myself a Progressive Christian, there are a couple of small things in the statement that I have a little trouble with. I'm not sure if Christianity is the only valid way to connect to God. I believe that in the end, it will have been Jesus' death on the cross that will have saved us, in whatever form God works things out.
How did I get to Progressive Christianity? There are two primary things and a couple of minor things that got me out of Evangelicalism.
Let's start with the small things. First of all is patriarchy, or as it's softer name, complementarianism. Theologians take verses out of their context in the 1st century AD or even out of Old Testament Bronze Age times and try to apply them to 21st century societies to tell us that we will all be happier if men are required to lead and women are required to obey. Never mind that the trajectory of the Biblical teachings are toward more freedom and equality and not less.
Because of complementarianism, there were never going to be women pastoring churches in our denomination or on the elder board. It made no sense that half the congregation would never be able to use their gifts to serve God.
Related to patriarchy/complementarianism is Purity Culture. Many Evangelical churches are teaching their young people some very mixed up ideas about sex. They often don't support comprehensive sex education in the schools, generally preferring that their teens don't get a full education on sexually transmitted infections and full education on contraception. Purity culture activities in the church include studies for boys and girls separately about how to date or "court" in such away that they don't engage in sexual sin (generally anything beyond hand-holding). Girls are given a lot of responsibility for keeping the relationship pure because they are told that they young men are ruled by their hormones. The teens are told that if they abide by all these rules, then when they do get married, they will have a great sex life with no regrets. This is a really problematic set of beliefs to teach to teens and it isn't biblical. I'm glad we didn't get our kids very far into purity culture and the little that they were exposed didn't seem to affect them too much.
The LGBTQ+ issue was a real deal-breaker. When Jesi came out as a lesbian, I was already getting a little uncomfortable with our church's stance on homosexuality. The scripture that I was taught would condemn these people I loved to hell was pretty thin. I read God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines and really had my eyes opened by good biblical scholarship. This was a good thing because Lydia came out as bisexual soon after and then they came out as non-binary. A double whammy on her poor Evangelical parents!
During Lydia's coming out, they decided to become non-religious. They did try to go to an Episcopal Church that they liked, but they only went to church with me and Patrick on holidays. I didn't understand why they felt so uncomfortable at first. I decided to try listening through her ears. Then I heard it. The little jabs about gay people or how gay marriage has to be defeated at the courts. Or when our pastor talked about how he supported the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to give out same sex marriage licenses. Another time, the pastor spoke out against trans people using the bathroom of their designated sex. Now I could see whey Lydia didn't come to church. How painful it had to be for them.
The last straw for me was the election of 2016. I wasn't super-happy with the final two candidates. I was starting to lean very central within the Republican party and really hoped to see John Kasich get the nomination. Well, that was OK, another Republican wouldn't be too bad. Well, except Trump. But, we all knew that he was a man of no morals and no character, so there's no way that he would get the nomination. And then, he did.
And Trump somehow convinced these White Christian Republicans to vote for him. All these people who couldn't even think about looking at Bill Clinton because of his poor character (Character Counts!!) were now willing to overlook bankruptcy, lying, making fun of disabled people, calling others mean names, and then saying misogynistic thing on a hot mike. Yet, Evangelicals stood by their man because Hillary had stood by her man all those years ago.
I couldn't believe Trump could win. I was getting pretty disillusioned by my fellow Evangelicals who were making a case for Trump, but I didn't think he actually had enough support to win. But, that Tuesday night, he managed to pull out enough states to win the election.
All of the sudden, my godly, evangelical friends were singing the praises of Donald Trump, probably the most ungodly man to ever hold the office of presidency. Even worse, was watching Evangelical leaders that I had looked up to for years fawning all over the new president.
The first few months of the Trump presidency were full of lies and deceit, yet the white Evangelicals continued in full-throated praise of their leader. I couldn't take it anymore. If this was Evangelicalism, and apparently this was it in the new incarnation, then I didn't want anything to do with it.
I had already taken lots of steps toward a more liberal/progressive faith. I was reading Sojourners, a progressive Christian magazine, when I got a chance. I was following female pastors on Twitter and Facebook. I was following lots of blogs of post-evangelical, liberal, and progressive writers. Finally, in September of 2018, Patrick and I made our move. We emailed our pastor and explained our change of where we would be worshiping. A few weeks later, we started attending our local Presbyterian (PCUSA) church.
Here are some of the positive things about Progressive Christianity is:
1. As a progressive Christian I can read the Nicene Creed with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven; he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made human. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried. The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. He spoke through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come. Amen.
2. As a Progressive Christian, I focus on both orthodoxy, believing the right things, and orthopraxy, doing the right things.
3. As a Progressive Christian, I embrace the mystery of faith.
4. As a Progressive Christian, I emphasize salvation both in the here and now as well as in the world to come.
5. As a Progressive Christian, I strive to follow all the "red letter words" of Jesus in the Gospels
6. As a Progressive Christian, I invite and welcome into the family of God all of my LGBTQ+ friends and family, knowing that their sexual and gender identity are as much God's gifts as my own identities are.
7. As a Progressive Christian, I take the Bible seriously, learning which texts are to be taken literally and which are to be understood metaphorically.
8. As a Progressive Christian, I'm comfortable that God has given us a world that functions by knowable scientific rules.
I didn't leave Christianity when I left Evangelicalism. I opened my eyes to a wider world of the Christian faith. And still, the faith can be distilled down to the Jesus Creed:
"Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength,
The second is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these."
Love God, love others. It's easy to say, but not always so simple to do. This is the core of life for a Progressive Christian, that is, my life.