This is a post critiquing progressive Christianity.
First off, I don’t consistently label myself as a progressive Christian (mostly because this means different things to different people). While there is diversity within this group, most Progressive Christians would affirm evolution, the humanity of the Bible, they would be LGBTQ inclusive, and would tend not to see Christianity as exclusive. There is a lot more that could be said, but this is a very brief summary that would describe the majority.
Second, it is a critique from within. In other words, it is a critique coming from inside – not to show it is wrong, but to point out what I see as a weakness. It is a critique to share what I believe is most lacking within.
Progressive Christianity rightly embraces science, critical biblical scholarship, the intellect, and accepts truth wherever it is found.
My biggest critique?
Progressive Christianity has a tendency to play the same game as conservative Christianity – i.e. it is all about being right, correct, and can be a mere exercise of the mind. As Richard Rohr writes, “it is the same game on the other side of the playing field.”
As one who would best fit within the progressive camp, I think they have a political correctness and an orientation toward social justice, esp. concerning the poor, oppressed, and marginalized, that is often lacking in more conservative groups. Interesting that much of the Biblical narrative is a prophetic critique concerning those who mistake the means for the end – the religious acts (e.g. sacrifices, fasts, prayers, services) for the point. This is never the end point, but only meant to help us to become more compassionate toward others esp. and those on the margins.
As I have journeyed from a more conservative tradition I have found that sometimes (not always) there is still something lacking in many progressive places. Progressives can be passionate for social justice and fight against systemic evil (things conservatives often neglect), yet it is their approach that often doesn’t sit well with me.
Richard Rohr states, “I’ve seen far too many activists who are not the answer. Their head answer is largely correct but the energy, the style, and the soul are not. So if they bring about the so-called revolution they are working for, I don’t want to be a part of it (especially if they’re in charge).”
This speaks to my experience of some within progressive Christianity. If I’m honest, this has also been true of myself on more than one occasion. Progressives can sometimes have the same harshness, egocentricity, antagonistic attitude that comes from the other side.
What then is the answer?
I don’t pretend to have the answer, but something that I am finding extremely important personally is spiritual maturity. A maturity where the ego is no longer in control, and there is little need to defend one’s position – this is no easy thing! (This is also not the same as passivity!)
“Jesus and the great spiritual teachers primarily emphasized transformation of consciousness and soul.” – Richard Rohr.
In other words, both conservatives and progressives are tempted to work from the outside in. If we only legislate our beliefs then it would be better. If we only expose how ignorant the “other side” is then they will see. If they are just more informed then they would understand.
Actually, seeing is more of a spiritual process that begins from within.
Both conservatives and progressives are often playing the same game.
It’s all about right beliefs.
Conservatives focus on individual salvation, and on having correct doctrine, and progressives focus on knowledge, information or reason – as if this is what brings about enlightenment!
Neither correct doctrine, nor mere knowledge or information will really transform a person. Either side can be harsh, judgmental, egocentric, and arrogant.
What is needed is healthy spirituality, something Rohr says comes more by subtraction than addition. It’s not about more; more Bible, more correct doctrine, more truth, more information, more science, more church, more Christians. All these things can be helpful, but they do not, in and of themselves, create mature, healthy people. It’s about surrender, release, and liberation – primarily from our own egos.
What does this look like?
I think that an enlightened person does not need to constantly defend their beliefs, doctrines, or worldview. Of course they will still believe certain things, but they will hold these beliefs in a very different way – they will hold them lightly. Their ego is not in control. They will work for what they believe in, but don’t feel the need to exclude others, or judge others based upon their beliefs. They will not feel superior, more intelligent, or more correct. They see that God is working in all religions, in all people, in all places. They see life as a gift and it is theirs to simply enjoy. They live in the present moment or the now.
Being conservative or progressive isn’t the point. In fact, it can be a practice in missing the point entirely.
What’s the point?
The point isn’t addition (more), but subtraction (less ego)!