I've been having a written conversation recently with a progressive Christian and it has been like a breath of fresh air. Or the clouds parting... or the fog lifting perhaps. As any regular reader knows, I am not a Christian. I was raised Christian, but it never "took". It all seemed alien to me and I didn't like the music at all - even as a child. Or the loud preacher getting all red in the face. I strongly believe in God, but don't agree as many Christians do that one must be the member af any man-made religion to be truly connected to God. The past few years I've been seeking out Christianity a bit to learn more - talking to people here and there, and reading. But the Christianity that kept being revealed to me by those I discussed it with never felt right. It felt rigid and confining like a shoe that's too tight... so uncomfortable - and the opposite from what I perceive God and spirituality to be. And, several times that I've been open with Christians, I've been hit over the head with dogma and judgment, and some of the most profound and meaningful experiences in my life were discounted and condemned by them. So I recoiled and wandered off, wondering why it felt so unwelcoming, so chilly. It didn't feel warm, inclusive and loving. It didn't feel like the God I know. It felt arrogant, staid, close-minded and "right". It felt suffocating.
But suddenly out of nowhere a progressive Christian appeared and I have seen a little light! There are Christians who are not so rigid and conservative - who seem to see things in ways that appear more Godly and just and kind. I knew these Christians existed, but I'd never run in to one. Here is what this new acquaintance wrote recently, when I asked a few questions:
"Yes, there are progressive Christians and for the most part they are called Episcopalians. We ordained a gay bishop recently who has been the subject of a great deal of controversy, and many other clergy are openly gay. Most Episcopalians are pro-choice on abortion and pro-social justice and pro civil rights. Unlike the Roman church, we have women as priests and bishops. Unlike Rome, our priests and bishops can marry. Many are environmentalists.
Of course, we are criticized profusely by conservative evangelicals who accuse us of not following the Bible, or at least their interpretation of it. Here is why conservatives are wrong... Yes, the Bible is the word of God, but it was God's word to a certain group of people at a certain place in a certain point in history. It is actually a collection of books written over several thousand years by hundreds of people. It is really a compendium of oral tradition, and much of its authorship is unknown or anonymous. It was never meant to be something set in stone for time and all eternity. Such a view contradicts the nature of God; we never know fully who God is, and as we discover more about our universe, we discover more about God all the time. I see God as ever revealing, not someone revealed a long time ago who never changed. God continues to speak to us in our age in a different way than God spoke to those in former times. For example, in 2000 BC there was a high infant death rate and there was a need to populate the earth, so God said, "go forth and multiply." Now, however, our planet will soon reach its capacity as to the number of people it can support, so God gives us a different message. In ancient times, there was no scientific information on homosexuality, we now know it is genetic. Some people just have a problem adjusting to a changing world.
The Evangelical Conservatives are quite dogmatic and judgmental, but Jesus most assuredly was not. He ate dinner with tax collectors and prostitutes and consorted with just about everyone who was no one in the days in which he lived. Jesus was a revolutionary, not a pillar of the establishment of his day. Jesus' continuing message was that judgment belongs to God alone and not to us. Jesus preached forgiveness of sins, not punishment. Jesus' message was to love each other, not to follow a set of rules. The message is repeated over and over again. The key is to study Jesus with an open mind, without conservative overlay and filtration. Christians do have a bad reputation because of some people who misinterpret His message."
After reading what he wrote, I decided to take a look at progressive Christians and came across this from Liberalis:
What is a Liberal Christian?
Sometimes liberals are thought to be Christians who have backslidden; people who don't have enough faith, or are too "in the world." Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Liberal Christians are committed believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, who have thoroughly studied the scriptures and traditions of the Church, and have examined their faith in the light of reason and experience. They believe in:
Diversity:Perhaps the defining characteristic of liberal Christians is that they are comfortable with ambiguity and diversity. They realize that life is a complex spiritual journey, and that each person on that journey is confronted with unexpected revelations and unique experiences. Liberal Christians therefore welcome a variety of approaches to understanding God, and are open to new ways of talking about the divine. Religious questions are seen as complex, and answers only tentative. Certain that "now we see through a glass, darkly" (1 Cor. 13:12), liberals are cautious about making dogmatic statements or claiming to have a monopoly on the truth. They see the search for truth as an ongoing task rather that one that has already been completed.
A Non-Literal View of Scripture:Conservative Christians are often content to answer religious questions by appealing to the absolute authority of Scripture. Liberal Christians, on the other hand, find such an approach to be flawed. Many see the Bible as a witness to revelation, or generally inspired, rather than completely inspired in all its parts. Just as Jesus was fully human and wholly divine, so one must also see the Bible as a product of both human and divine influences. Indeed, liberal Christians are quick to point out that the falleness and imperfection of its human authors gives the Bible an imperfect quality and authority.
Liberals view scripture through a critical lens, and are not afraid to challenge traditional assumptions and interpretations. They rely heavily on higher criticism of the Bible, which looks into the origin and composition of the biblical texts, revealing a great deal about the human aspect of Scripture. Modern philosophical, biological and cosmological theories that are well supported by evidence, and reflect the true nature of the world around us can also shape the way liberals interpret Scripture. Traditional Christian doctrines, such as the Virgin Birth, the Atonement, the Trinity, the deity of Christ and the Resurrection are sometimes given new interpretations by liberals.
Perhaps moreso than evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, liberal Christians see the teachings of Jesus as having a central place. Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience are each given equal footing in determining Christian faith.
An Intimate, Personal View of God:Imminent and personal images of God in Scripture are attractive to liberals. For some, this takes on the form of a belief in pantheism (Everything-in-God-ism). Liberals also see little distinction between the natural and the supernatural, and therefore do not look for "miracles" to confirm the existence of God. Instead, they feel that faith in God allows one to see the Spirit moving in the everyday stuff of life.
Universal Salvation:The concept of personal salvation is not typically stressed by liberal Christians. Accordingly, traditional images of heaven, hell and the End Times are not given much weight in their theologies. When salvation is discussed, liberals are more apt to stress its "this worldly" aspects, and appeal to a universalist interpretation of Scripture when confronted with questions of eternal punishment and rewards.
For many liberal Christians, social justice is a central concern, and the transformation of society, rather than that of the individual, is more typically stressed. Equality for racial minorities, women, homosexuals and the economically disadvantaged is seen as an essential part of the Gospel message. A concern for the environment, and other typically liberal social issues, also find a great deal of support among liberal Christians."
Then, I found this blurb interesting:
"Let me begin by encouraging all liberals to rediscover their religious roots. Especially all you Bleeding Heart Liberals. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the origin of this term, "bleeding heart liberal" was first printed by a journalist in the 1930s, and was (and still is) typically used to describe anyone who is overly sympathetic to the plight of impoverished and downtrodden people. The "bleeding heart" part of the epithet alludes to a symbol used in Christian imagery and iconography, where a heart wrapped in a crown of thorns is depicted bleeding in the chest of Mary or Jesus. Thus, a bleeding heart liberal is someone whose concern for the poor rivals that of Jesus and Mary."
So, being called a bleeding heart liberal is not a bad thing. But then, I never thought it was.
And maybe there is a place for me in Christianity afterall.
Next post: some thoughts on a couple of controversial issues.
"One's own religion is after all a matter between oneself and one's Maker and no one else's."
- Mohandas Ghandi