If This Is What It Means To Be A Progressive, I’m Out

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I am deeply proud and honored that there are many who would call me “progressive” and include me in their fellowship.

Those that know my heart and are familiar with my writings understand me to be an outspoken voice standing in fierce solidarity with those bullied, marginalized, discriminated against, and condemned by significant segments of conservative Christianity and privileged society as a whole. I have been highly critical of conservative Evangelicalism and a passionate advocate for the LGBTQ community.

Having been, years ago, an anti-LGBTQ, racist, conservative, Evangelical pastor myself, the radical change of mind and heart I experienced in regard to these and many other issues came solely from revelations of divine Truth. I have no skin in the game, only that first and foremost, as a lover of the Gospel of God’s pure Grace through Jesus Christ, I am also fervently convinced that all humanity is beautifully and wonderfully made, affirmed, and euphorically delighted in by our Creator. Grace is the great equalizer—none of us better, only different—all of us, divine.

As a Grace-guy, I find myself resisting and even cringing at both conservative and progressive entities whose seemingly chief desire is to assimilate me into their ideological Borg—discerning my value and worth and their interest and affiliation with me based primarily on my willingness to conform to their scrolls of codes and creeds, blindly echoing their every sentiment to the exclusion of my own.

Grace makes me a free thinker, believer, soul, and human being. I fit in no box, nor can any label affixed upon me, perfectly stick. I am unique, beautifully complicated, and wholly divine—Grace has made me so. I will protect the sacred diversity that is me and seek out a unity and community that is founded on a love, not of what we share, but on so much of what we don’t.

Thankfully, among “progressives,” I often find such a place. So many of us are beautifully inclusive and humbly hospitable to those who harbor differing beliefs. We fully understand what it’s like to be a toy on Misfit Island and to be on the receiving end of condemnation’s fiery darts. With boldness and bravery, our ethos stands for so much of what Jesus extended His arms. To be sure, I am a proud “progressive.”

Yet, at times, it seems there are nuances among certain segments of the “progressive” movement that solicit in me concern and even a desire to create some distance. With an unsettled spirit, I wonder if there will come a day when these questionable observations are found to be truly indicative of where things are going and what will be required to be a real-deal “progressive,” knowing that if this is who I must become in order to carry the banner—then sadly, I’m going to have to bow out.

For example, if I have to become a Smug, Pretentious, Elitist—respectfully, I’m out.

Is there a good bit of ignorance within our culture today? You bet. Are there people who are determined to misunderstand even the clearest of common sense and truth? Yes, and amen. Are there those who blatantly refuse to examine important issues from perspectives outside their own? Absolutely. Are there conservative Christians I want to punch in throat? Damn straight I do.

However, is everyone who disagrees with me a stupid, ignorant, uneducated redneck? Absolutely not. Am I somehow better than them because I have come to believe certain things and adopt certain views? Never, no way.

I find nothing “progressive” about holding onto ones beliefs so tightly that we become an ideologically constipated, self-righteous jerk in the process—creating exclusive clubs of like-minded people who conveniently house a double-standard of tolerance.

We can’t expect those with whom we disagree to truly listen and consider our message from the high tower of a self-aggrandized, ego-ladened enlightenment or closed-knit, hifalutin communities. When Jesus was given all power and authority—the sum of all enlightenment and progress, His first action wasn’t to smugly declare how astute and empowered He is and how juvenile and impotent are all others. No, his first action was to humbly serve, and that—washing feet, even of those who would deny, disagree, and betray Him and His cause.

There are serious levels of ignorance, evil, and systematic deception that must be boldly and aggressively corrected in our culture, but only a default attitude of humility and true inclusiveness will create the needed posture.

If I have to become an Impulsive, Ill-informed Alarmist—respectfully, I’m out.

We have serious problems in this world, many stemming from conservative, religious circles—particularly Christian. There are real people dying, being abused, discriminated against, marginalized, and even taking their own lives at the hands of religiously-driven hate. For our cities, states, country, and people everywhere, these are terrible realities and constant threats that must cause us alarm and solicit our assertive action.

Yet, in my mind, this urgency is all the more reason I must resolve that my words be credible, and my positions and actions be accurately informed. In the heat of battle, it’s easy to cast aside restraint and settle for unfortunate instances of misguided collateral damage in the wake of our rage. This is almost unavoidable in our social media-driven culture where the truth, is at times, hard to ascertain.

However, if my default position has to become one where I swing at every pitch that comes across the plate, swallow every “breaking news” report, buy into every Facebook post—crying foul and screaming “fire” with every perceived action of the enemy, then with all due respect, I’m out.

Grace teaches me to never bury my head in the sand nor ever believe that silence is always a virtue. Indeed, sometimes the sky is truly falling and someone needs to shout it from the rooftops, even taking up arms for the fight. Many times I have been that very person, saying the tough things that need to be said, and risking much in doing so.

But Grace also teaches me not to strike at everything that moves. If I have to take a default position where any piece of information that casts a negative shadow upon those with whom I disagree is automatically assumed to be true in whole or part, out of lust for more of that which can further justify my positions and my plight, then with all due respect, I’m out.

I get it, for so many of us, myself included, our radar screens are set on high alert, and rightly so. These are dangerous times and there are sure amounts of defensiveness needed to be taken, paranoia to be had, rage to be expressed, and rants to be written. Nothing reddened the face and swelled the neck veins of Jesus more than religiously-spirited, bigoted and discriminating people who withheld Grace and sowed seeds of injustice and violence.

But that doesn’t change my responsibility to see good where I can see good, give the benefit of the doubt where I can grant it, cast off fear where it’s safe to do so, wait for the facts where waiting is what’s needed, proclaim innocence where there is innocence, and render benign that is which is benign—especially where in doing so corrects my perceptions and even disarms my rage.

If I am going to be taken advantage of, abused, or discarded, I’d personally rather it be while living a life from a default posture of believing in the best than a life imprisoned by always assuming the worst. Never is there a more important time to believe in hope and love then when we are tempted to conclude that worshiping fear would be better.  And never is there a more poignant way to spit in the face of our enemies then when we are still yet determined to believe in the good when our enemies would have us to be consumed by the bad.

If I have to become a Pro-Choice Militant—respectfully, I’m out.

There is perhaps no more complex issue of debate in all of our culture today than abortion.

I understand the fragile and polarizing nuances of this issue and continue to vigorously study them out from the perspectives of both sides—biblically, scientifically, and psychologically. I totally respect all people of all viewpoints who know where they stand regarding this sensitive topic, and do so boldly.

Yet, if being a “progressive” means that I can’t settle, at least for a season, in an area of grey and have serious inhibitions about prematurely pitching tent in any one camp regarding such a multi-layered and important issue, then with all due respect, I’m out—lest I find myself succumbing to an all new form of fundamentalism masked in “progressive” veneer, where I’ve simply jumped from the narrow-minded ovens of conservative, Evangelical Christianity into a whole new kind of legalistically-spirited frying pan.

On one side, I can’t silence the voices nor bleach the images of real mothers crying in my office wishing they had never been granted the choice to abort their child—for them, the guilt and regret is life destroying. Nor, on the other side, can I silence the pain of real mothers who have been raped or forced into ultimate situations of life and death, and fathom the retraction, in those moments, of their right to chose.

In the same way that love, is love, is love, at times I wonder if maybe also—life, is life, is life. Right now, it’s all fading to grey, and if that can’t be o.k., with all due respect, I’m out. For if it’s not the issue of abortion today, it will be another complicated issue tomorrow of which, for a season, I may be uncertain or undecided.

If I have to become an Ideological Slave—respectfully, I’m out.

Having traveled around the block a few times, I have determined that I’m just not going to be owned by anyone or anything. I’m not going to be dragged around like a dog on a leash by the ideological expectations of others, no matter how noble.

If being a “progressive” means I have to surgically hate all the right people, disagree with all the right things, and oppose all the right viewpoints—carefully making sure to color within all the “progressive” lines, then with all due respect, I’m out.

If it means, for the sole purpose of keeping informed by their posts populating my timeline, I can’t “like” the Facebook page of a person or entity with whom I or another disagrees without being threatened the loss of “progressive” support, friendship, or association—respectfully, I’m out.

Spiritually speaking, God’s revelation throughout history and over the span of our individual lives is a progressive one—God is continually revealing more and more truth through our awakening to more and more Truth. This requires me to be open and never leaning upon my own understandings to the exclusion of my willingness to consider things anew.

I’m a human being on a journey for crying out loud—not a “progressive” project where the primary goal is to conform and carbonite me into a set of beliefs, positions, and behaviors. That is regressive, not progressive—an act of the Empire, not the Rebellion.

There is a complexity to each of us on our paths to encounter God, ourselves, and the world—seeking to arrive at the Truth of it all. If being a “progressive” does not allow for people to be where they are at, wander along this path of enlightenment, and still find, at some level, inclusive community among us at all points along the way, then with all due respect, I’m out.

If the fruits of being a “progressive” is in the creating of peasants, cloned to simply serve an Empire under a spiffy new name, I’m out.

If I have to become a Hyper-Offended Watchdog—respectfully, I’m out.

I have no reservation nor restraint in declaring from the mountain tops that nothing is more offensive to the person and cause of Jesus Christ than conservative, Evangelical Christianity and the violent, discriminatory, bigoted actions and attitudes of many of its adherents.

In the same way, as a communicator and writer, I firmly believe nothing is perhaps more important than the words and terms we use, requiring our educated carefulness and intentionality while giving priority to how our vocabulary is received and internalized by the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. The common phrase, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me” is a sure lie from the pits of hell and a convenient copout for the privileged. Words carry with them the power of life and death, and far too many, with intention or not, use them in ways that hurt, abuse, destroy, belittle, demean, and demonize the very people and things God loves and affirms so dearly. This is a severe, epidemic in our culture and world as a whole, and many are dying from the mere weaponizing of words.

Yet, if my default posture when navigating what can be a very ignorant, discriminating, hateful, and careless world, must become one devoid of common sense while focusing every creative fiber of my mental being in the seeking out and connecting of discriminatory, racist, privileged, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, and condemning dots where there are none in reality or intent to connect, then respectfully, I’m out.

There is far more than enough in our world for which to take necessary and appropriate offense without having to fabricate or make much out of what is truly benign or all together nonexistent.

I know I will always be a Grace-guy and most certainly a “progressive” in heart who passionately wants to be a contributing member of this important movement, but if these are the kinds of things I must become to keep the keys to the kingdom, then with all due respect, I’m out.

Grace is brave, be brave.

25 Comments

  1. Keep walking out the Gospel of freedom and diversity, my friend. Good words!

  2. After coming out of a very similar background to yours I found there was a tendency to look down on those still in the evangelical charismatic circle, but that is no better than who I was. I am trying to find that balance or state of equilibrium to where I’m OK with people where they are at. Not needing to convert by rather hold a conversation. To inclusively move forward, to love, to lift up, to serve, or just be there silently in support..

    To see people as people

  3. Such a powerfully but balanced post. Really love what you have to say. Thank you for putting it so very well.

  4. I really appreciate your position. It will be a difficult position to navigate in the coming months, but I am grateful that there are others who are rejecting the black and white narrative of progressive and conservative and embracing grace. It seems to me this is the only way towards real healing. Thanks for your post!

  5. Thanks, Chris, for fixing this comment option which was previously unavailable via iPhone/iPad.

    God has indeed created our world in beautifully nuanced colors, including endless shades of gray. And as a liberal gay Christian, nothing infuriates me more than those who myopically insist upon seeing only black and white. Really, I do understand that it’s a cultural thing … many folks tend to stick with those comfortable positions taught to them as kids by those they respect. And because that monochromatic mindset usually includes utter contempt for anything resembling alternate viewpoints or totally new information, they’re essentially doomed to remain not stupid, but ignorant of both God’s and man’s good creative intentions. For this reason I really do respect the life choices of evangelical hardliners and have absolutely no interest in attempting to change them. I only wish they could similarly respect me and mine.

  6. I do not share your evangelical background, nor am I entirely Christian, but your words are truth. I am slowly coming to believe in many faiths. When we come to see God, it is by necessity through our own filters. God made it thus. So while the essence of what we see is the same, its color, shape and size will be different. We must be respectful of others, otherwise we will find ourselves harming God in the name of ourselves, instead of changing others in the name of God.

  7. I appreciate all of your posts and always learn something from them.

    Although I admit that I have my personal beliefs in some areas, there are also some areas that I think are very gray. You mentioned abortion. This is a tough one for me and I gladly leave that in God’s hands to judge. I am a former domestic violence/sexual assault counselor and I understand why some women made the choice for abortion. But deep down I believe all life is precious. I have struggled with this issue for years, but I’ve come to the conclusion that because we are ALL sinners, IF abortion is indeed a sin, who am I to say that God would never forgive them at some point in their life? I’m just glad I haven’t been in the position to have to make such a personal, agonizing decision–and it’s because of this that I will never take sides in this particular issue. I can only pray for those who have to make such a hard decision and ask God to lead them. When I begin to have personal feelings on this or other issues, I remind myself of something Jesus said–“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

    I thank you for reminding us that there are many issues that are gray–this sad election brought out the worst in so many. We humans sometimes need a reminder that God is judge and not us. And He alone knows what’s in our hearts no matter the issue we’re discussing.

  8. Powerful article telling it like it is!

  9. Holy irony Batman! In his rant against the holier-than-thou progressive Christians, the author stakes out his holiest-of-all position. He’s too purely loving, open-minded, progressive and Christlike to associate with flawed sinners like the rest of us. Well, isn’t that special.

    You know what? Go back to the self-righteous Right. You’ll fit in much better there. Those folks are also convinced they’re better than everyone else.

    • Russell, I don’t think he was saying anything about not associating with other progressives, simply warning against “fundamentalism” which occurs in every political and religious camp. By your response (which feels an awful lot like what I would write in a low emotional moment after reading something that felt like an attack on the very core of my character) it seems that you may (forgive my presumption, especially if I am wrong) have been badly hurt, probably by conservatives, and the idea that progressives may also have some wrong ideas feels like him saying “those people who hurt you are right after all”. He is not, and they are not. The wrongs of the right are certainly worse than the wrongs of the left; that is why we are here. But cautioning against several worrisome trends in our own camp is a necessary part of the long and hard journey to become better. Striving to become better is not hubris, it is necessary. Trying to be more loving, more open-minded – to position oneself at the holiest of all possible sets of beliefs – is not a bad thing. Not possible to actually achieve, but a good thing to strive for. I am so sorry that you were hurt. Those people, those beliefs, were not right.

      To Chris, thank you. As you can tell, I am very familiar with the feelings of rage and hurt that drive one to type out an angry, sarcastic response to an article that has really hit home. The ones that hurt me, and make me feel attacked and as if I shouldn’t even be alive, come from the Hyper-Offended Watchdogs and other leftist “fundies” that you address in this article. Those on the right are too alien to my beliefs for their views to hurt even a little bit, but those on the left, where, like you, I sort-of belong – they are like sticks and stones aimed straight at my heart. To see someone who says “they are not always, altogether, right” is like taking a deep breath of air, having space to believe that maybe I am worthy of being, of taking up space in the world, after all.

  10. Thank you for your challenge to my life directly. I share your background and found Light through fellow Christians who gave me room to breathe and listen and learn. It took years, and will continue forever. I have so much to learn, especially the Way of Grace. Thank you for articulating Grace so well. I aspire to live with Grace, and battle my own mindset daily to apprehend it. Sadly, I still dabble in “righteous rage”, and am disappointed at what I say and write from time to time. Grace must continue to work in me and through me. Blessings to you in the journey. May the Light of Grace ever change us all into who we shall become fully someday.

  11. You can live the life you want to live with grace and love. You can settle into the grey area and find contentment there. You can wrestle with the same issues and continue in your pursuit of truth as you do now.

    You can do all of this without God. The idea of God is unnecessary and unreasonable. Humanism provides a lot of what you seek without the baggage. We may not see eye to eye but thanks for your tolerance, openness, and honesty.

  12. What you ask for is something both very difficult and very necessary: To maintain moral and intellectual honesty even when under fire. As you say, words carry weight of life and death and in several cases they have broken us beyond recognition. And of course there are actions that have broken us. No wonder some of us are impossibly combative, prepared to receive yet another deadly wound and react in consequence. However, we have to actively keep our head on our shoulders, lest we would end harming a friend because of a misunderstanding. Thank you for your words and the reminder they bring.

  13. This is so good…..you have captured many very good points, many that are difficult for me to articulate. Thank you Chris.

  14. Laura Madsen

    May 5, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    Thanks for turning over some tables, Chris. I want to do that right now, but I’m curious in this moment – this moment of weariness and anger – fascinated by how God is showing up. That the Methodist Church’s only way forward seems to be in teaching our Methodists to seek direct encounter with Christ and to find humility in this ominous time. To encourage the ‘black-and-white’ thinkers to surrender, to remind everyone that God is in charge here. He’s showing up, asking us to stop and trust…and then just may part the sea. It took reading a lot of Benedictine and Franciscan writers for me to understand that there is sacred in this mess. But I’m going to spend my time looking for it, whilst making my calls, creating my posters, and learning everything I can about the true needs of the marginalized and reaching out
    . Let’s love them, and love the dogs at our ankles – just, please, don’t be one of them.

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