A Brief Introduction to Progressive Christianity
By Martin Thielen
[AUTHOR NOTE: I write religion columns for my local newspaper (Herald Citizen) in Cookeville, TN. I recently wrote a brief and simple column introducing progressive Christianity to my conservative (both political and religious) community. Doubter’s Parish readers may find the article interesting.]
The majority religious worldview in Putnam County is, by far, conservative evangelicalism, often called “the religious right.” However, other religious perspectives also exist in our community, including “progressive Christianity.” Although it represents a minority view in our area, progressive Christianity offers spiritual direction and meaning to a lot of people. So, in today’s column, I’d like to tell you a little bit about this group.
Progressive Christians are perfectly comfortable holding faith and science in harmony. For example, they believe God created the world but did so through the process of evolution. Rather than being in conflict, they argue that faith and science can peacefully coexist.
Progressive Christians are more interested in right living than right beliefs. For example, Jesus’s “Great Commandment” (to love God and neighbor) and his “Golden Rule” (to treat others the way you want them to treat you) are more important to them than the fine details of human-made doctrines and creeds.
Although progressive Christians take the Bible seriously, they don’t always take it literally. For them, affirming “biblical inerrancy” would require impossible beliefs including God’s support of slavery, genocide, and oppression of women. Like most Christians throughout most of church history, when progressive Christians do theology, they turn to Scripture—but also to reason, tradition, and experience.
Progressive Christians affirm full inclusion of LGBTQ people into the church, including same-sex couples and gay clergy. They point out that while the Bible says little about homosexuality (Jesus never mentions it), Scripture says much about love, grace, kindness, inclusion, and justice. They also note that the Bible was written during a time when people had no concept of sexual orientation.
Progressive Christians care deeply about social issues. For example, most of them support commonsense gun safety laws. They advocate full equality for women at home, work, and church—including the right to serve as clergy. In the spirit of Jesus the healer, they seek to expand health care to as many people as possible. They think America should warmly welcome immigrants, as Scripture clearly teaches. They believe racism is deeply embedded in society and that Christians should do everything in our power to eradicate it. Although they affirm individual rights, they also believe in the common good, so they encourage widespread adoption of vaccinations and other safety precautions in the face of pandemics. And they acknowledge the destructive reality of human-made climate change and seek to mitigate its worst consequences.
Progressive Christians also believe strongly in the separation of church and state. Therefore, it deeply concerns them when churches engage in partisan politics and support specific political candidates (from either party) in the name of God.
Much more could be said. But in short, progressive Christians understand faith differently from most conservative evangelicals. Obviously, progressive Christianity will never be the majority view in our deeply conservative Southern community. But their minority views have merit and should be understood and considered by all people of good will.
You can certainly disagree with progressive Christianity. Most religious residents of Putnam County do. But you don’t need to be afraid of them or feel anger toward them. Like you, they love their country and community. And, like you, they are trying their best to follow the spirit, example, and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Martin Thielen, a retired United Methodist minister, is the creator and author of www.DoubtersParish.com.