Maybe We Need a Better Word than “Progressive…”
Something in me snapped when I read the Nashville Statement last fall. Like many other “progressive Christians,” Article 10 knocked the wind out of me—explicitly stating that my full affirmation of LBGTQ+ people essentially excludes me from the Christian faith.
Of course, I had already been accused of not being a “real Christian” for my acceptance of queer folks. But to see it codified in this way in a statement signed by many of the most prominent voices in Evangelical Christianity—it was just too much. I had finally reached the tipping point. I officially said goodbye to Evangelical Christianity.
Since publicly stating my departure from the Evangelical strain of Christianity, I have experienced a sense of liberation from no longer feeling responsible for dialoguing with fundamentalists. I’ve ceased to feel the need to temper my indignation with a moderate posture in an attempt to build bridges. That ship has sailed.
Over the last several months, I have had no qualms about expressing my outrage over the manner in which fundamentalists in the Christian faith demonize, degrade, marginalize, and exclude certain groups of people. In doing so, I have encountered some people who suggest that I’m being “just as fundamentalist” by not accepting more conservative views.
This is the sentiment Christian moderate Jonathan Merritt expressed recently on Twitter:
I don’t know. Am I being “fundamentalist” for disregarding the voices of people who want to deny basic rights to women and queer people? Maybe. But if so, I really don’t care. Here’s the thing. Maybe I need a better word than “progressive.” I am not a “Democrat.” I am not a “liberal.” I am not a “progressive.” I am (or am trying to be) an advocate for the marginalized.
I am not interested in free speech for all; I am interested in giving a voice to those who have been silenced. I am not interested in equality for all; I am interested in reparations for those who have been denied justice. I am not interested in liberty for all; I am interested in liberation for the oppressed.
Just like Jesus was.
Have you read the beatitudes? Jesus didn’t say, “blessed is everyone” or “blessed are the rich and the poor.” He said, “blessed are the poor” and “woe to the rich.” He suggested that what the rich had accumulated would be stripped away from them and given to the poor. Those who had the power would have it ripped from their hands and given to the powerless.
Jesus wasn’t a moderate, y’all.
Jesus took sides.
Let’s Call It “Liberative Christianity”
I wrote a piece a few months back attempting to articulate the many ways in which people claim the the identity of “progressive Christian.” If I’m going to be honest, my motivation for writing the article was (at least in part) sheer defensiveness. I have been identifying as a progressive Christian for a while now, and I didn’t want the people who I thought to be aberrations distorting the identity for me and others.
As the months have passed, though, I’ve started to wonder if I might actually be the exception. More and more, I’m noticing outspoken voices from “progressive Christian” circles calling for a “both sides” approach to social issues. Many of the people from the toxic community written about here identify as “progressive Christians.” Jonathan Merritt, referenced in the tweet above, identifies as a progressive Christian. Moreover, Merritt even goes as far as to claim that people who take a hard stance on social issues (such as being against the exclusion of LGBTQ+ people) aren’t true liberals.
Here’s what I’ve noticed with people who approach social issues like Merritt does. “Liberal” is defined in terms of freedom of thought and intellectual inquiry. For these people, the freedom to voice their opinions and engage in debate outweighs all else. Obviously, I’m a big fan of intellectual inquiry. But when I use the term “liberal,” that’s not what I mean. I’m not arguing for my right to speak freely; I’m arguing for the right of others to exist.
The problem with “progressive” as an identifier is that it often limits the scope of progress to the people who are already in power. Straight, white, male liberals feel they should be more free than they already are…and that’s what they mean by “progress.” While they may include marginalized groups under their umbrella, they only do so with the stipulation that they get to set the terms for what progress means.
People who have been historically disenfranchised are not interested in sharing a latte with you at Starbucks while you engage aloofly in an intellectually stimulating conversation about their right to be in the conversation at all. I know you’re extremely indignant when they label your views as “hate speech.” I know you think they’re infringing on your rights. But what you fail to realize is that these aren’t just abstract philosophical issues to them; their lives are on the line.
People aren’t offended by hate speech because they “disagree” with it; they’re offended because it’s psychologically traumatizing to them.
So, all of that is to say this: I’m not so sure I can hang on to the identity of “progressive Christian.” The more I interact with other people who claim it, the more I realize how blindingly white it is. So, I’m proposing a different term for those of us who are driven less by “free speech” and more by freeing people. Instead of calling ourselves “progressive Christians” or “liberals,” let’s call ourselves “Liberative Christians.”
I’m not saying that I don’t believe in free speech. For me, it’s a question of emphasis. To the extent that we hold various forms of privilege in society (white, male, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical, etc.), let’s stop pacing the emphasis on our right to be free and instead place the emphasis on our responsibility to free others.
For those of us who claim to be Christians of any kind, we must ask ourselves what fundamentally drives us about the faith? When I look at Jesus, I don’t really see much of a call for “free speech” or healthy, intellectual debate in his mission. But you know what I do see? Setting the captives free and liberating the oppressed.
But aren’t you being oppressed when people criticize you for saying things that marginalize, demonize, and terrorize them? I’ll leave you with he brilliant words of Simon De Beauvoir. Think about this, and get back to me when you’re ready to shed some of your privilege…
“A freedom which is interested only in denying freedom must be denied…I am oppressed if I am thrown into prison, but not if I am kept from throwing my neighbor into prison.”