Quiet, elusive, pensive, insular, the progressive Christian‘s habitat is the same as all other of its species. They live in and around conservative Christians as well as Atheists and subscribers to other religions. They camouflage well in any sort of setting, one of their traits is entertaining and discussing other points of view, making their own beliefs difficult to observe. Some think that since a definite and unified belief system is hard to pin down between progressive Christians, there must not be a belief system intact. Here on Good Friday, I am going to tell you about some of those beliefs because progressive Christians’ beliefs are as genuine and legitimate as anyone else’s belief system.
A progressive Christian is someone who is inspired spiritually and morally by Jesus.That is probably the closest you can get to a unifying belief system, from that point on, you cannot talk about beliefs in the plural tense. Since I am familiar with many progressive Christians, I can give some examples of their beliefs.
A progressive Christian may or may not literally believe in many of the key miracles that more traditional Christians use as a sort of Christian litmus test like the virgin birth, water to wine, the loaves and the fishes, rising from the dead. They don’t necessarily think that they are flat out fabrications either, but that a literary device or embellishment to a story was used to emphasize the spirit of a moment. Of course, some progressive Christians do believe in some or all of these miracles – it’s up to them and they don’t need to explain it to anyone unless they’d like to. That’s the attitude at a progressive Christian church.
For some in a progressive Christian church, sacraments like baptism and communion are still very much a part of their religious life. For others, they can celebrate or abstain from a ceremony freely whether or not it is important in their own spiritual beliefs.
At many of the United Churches of Christ, the motto is “God is Still Speaking…”, which means that that congregation is not so tied up in the past that they can’t be inspired in the present, by the present. This attitude allows for significant spiritual events to keep happening, not just look to those that happened a couple thousand years ago. Since tradition is one of the top conservative values, this attitude of adapting to modern day circumstances would certainly mean a more progressive church. Of course there are many denominations that may fit in the progressive Christian “open and affirming” mindset.
Easter is, of course, a significant holiday for anyone who associates themselves with Christian beliefs. The Easter story is an exciting story with lots of implications – apparent when considering the widespread reenactment of the story even in modern entertainment media. A more traditional Christian may wonder, what then, does the Easter story mean to a Christian that doesn’t even believe that Jesus rose from the dead?
Many nuances of the story offer morsels to ponder for anyone, secular or religious. Some progressives resent the emphasis put on Jesus’ death. They feel that the work during his life should be his legacy, but the cross – the symbol of his demise – is the Christian icon. Crucifixion was a brutal tactic used to scare the rest of the population into acquiescing to Roman rule, so why are we holding it up as a symbol of the ultimate in love? Easter is sometimes tricky for progressive Christians. Many of them would say they are followers of Christ and don’t know or care if others believe that that means they are a Christian. Turning Christianity into an organization meant inviting religion and all of its hierarchies, rules, judgements, and requirements – this is what many progressives reject. It is too easy to find humans abusing the power they grant themselves in the name of Christianity.
Easter is a time of renewal, spring, rebirth. Whether or not you believe in the actual body of Jesus walking around talking to people after he was killed does not change this, nor does it have to change how you feel about Jesus if you believe someone made up the life-after-death story. Progressive Christians don’t blame Jesus for what people have written about Him. I’ve heard several inspiring messages at Easter time, but one of the most inspiring focused more on Jesus’ friends than on the man himself. The message was about how Jesus was trying to prepare his friends for his death, how Jesus didn’t want the focus to be on him, but the work they had been doing together. As humans it is easier to find a leader, a messiah, and wish for that person to make everything better for us, but even in the case of Jesus, he couldn’t do it all and was, after all, human.
The message is this: We are who we’ve been waiting for. Now is the time, this is the place, care about your neighbor – even those across the world. We are all connected and if we use the good stuff we’ve got, we can make a difference for all. Take care of each other, and share what you’ve got.
That’s what at least one progressive Christian thinks.