Progressive Christianity

by Neil Rickert

My main intention, in this post, is to link to two recent posts that seem worth reading. Both posts were on the “Progressive Christian” channel at Patheos.

The first of those posts is by James McGrath:

When growing up as a young Christian, I saw Jesus as taking liberal and progressive positions. And James pretty much agrees with this. It always seems strange to me that most American Christians are so conservative. They could not have gotten that conservatism from reading the Gospels. Even the early church practiced a form of Christian communism. There are still modern progressive Christians, with Martin Luther King having been just one example. Yet most American Christians seem very conservative and seem hostile to the liberal ideas that Jesus taught us.

The link blog post goes into some of the history of this. Or, as the summary by James McGrath puts it:

TL; DR: The core of Christianity was progressive from its beginning, and today’s progressives continue that tradition.

The Establishment Clause

The second post I want to highlight, is by Fred Clark:

That title is weird. The post is really about the establishment clause of the first amendment to the US. Constitution, and about why it is so important.

Some people seem to think that there is a tension between the establishment clause (often described as separation of church and state), and the freedom of religion clause. Recent supreme court decisions have use the freedom of religion clause to override some decisions based on the establishment clause.

Fred argues, correctly in my opinion, that there is no tension. The establishment clause is an integral part of freedom of religion. If the state can impose religious requirements, then that imposition is against freedom of religion.

I was still in Australia, and a member of an evangelical church, when the Engel v. Vitali supreme court ruling came down. I saw that ruling as good for Christianity. This was the ruling which said that schools cannot hold prayers in public schools. It is a ruling that is much criticized by American Evangelicals, who describe it as banning prayer in school. But it does no such thing. It bans prayer conducted by the school (or teacher). Any prayer should be voluntary, from the heart of the student, and not compelled. And it is entirely consistent with the teachings of Jesus, as in Matt 6:6.

As Fred says, in his post:

That gobbledygook about “tension” has become the standard boilerplate language people who know better stick into discussions of the First Amendment as a conciliatory “both sides” gesture. But it’s nonsense. The only “tension” between the two religion clauses comes from the fact that anyone who wants to weaken either will wind up destroying both sides.

I’m recommending that you read both posts.


2 Comments to “Progressive Christianity”

  1. I’ve been reading Slacktivist for….well, quite a few years I think, and I like his take on things (and I love his deconstruction of the Left Behind series). However, I’m not sure I agree with him here. Canada and Western European countries don’t have anything like an establishment clause, and yet it is mostly in the US that politicians actively attempt to force religion into public policy. As a practical matter, it seems that we arguably have as much or more religious freedom than the US. (I agree that anti-establishment and freedom are not in tension, I’m only pointing out that we can have religious freedom without codifying it in that particular form).
    As for school prayer: young Christian me thought it was stupid, and was glad when Canada banned it on a Charter challenge (c.1996), for pretty much the reasons you give. A very long time ago I blogged about it:

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  2. One key objective of Progressivism is to eliminate God from the politics and education.

    Therefore, “Progressive Christianity” is an oxymoron since without God there can be no Christianity.

    Similarly, a “Progressive Jesus” is also an oxymoron since Jesus is the Son of God.

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