Sunday, September 6, 2009

Progressive Christianity?

Readers might be confused by the use of the term “progressive” in the title of this blog, and might question what it means to be a “progressive Christian.” I am confident that many will initially be convinced that the term is simply an oxymoron. Others might question why the term “progressive” is necessary and whether the title shouldn’t simple be the “Christianity and the Law Blog”—period. Still others will instinctively understand the decision to add the term “progressive.” For those who do not, an explanation will be helpful.

Technically, the term “Christian” simply means “a person who believes in Jesus Christ; adherent of Christianity” or “a person who exemplifies in his or her life the teachings of Christ.” However, in the United States in the early twenty-first century, the term has become burdened by connotations that are not necessarily accurate for everyone who believes in the divinity of Jesus and attempts to follow his teachings. I have heard many non-Christians describe “Christians” as a homogenous group that is politically conservative, anti-Darwinist, old-fashioned, homophobic, and/or preachy and disrespectful of other faiths. Sadly, many non-Christians even view terrorists who bomb abortion clinics or who protest the funerals of soldiers with violent, hate-filled anti-gay slogans as typical examples of Christianity. Less extreme, the “Christian vote” is often cited by media pundits as a cohesive block in the electorate that ensures victories of GOP candidates and/or coordinates the passage of ballot initiatives to enact state constitutional prohibitions against same-sex marriage. Indeed, in some circles the term “Christian” has begun to have certain political connotations; it is now being used by some as a proxy for the term “conservative.”

In truth, there is actually a huge divergence in theology, social values and culture within Christianity. There are Quakers, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, nondenominationalists, African Methodist-Episcopalians, Russian Orthodox, Amish and a host of others. There are mega-churches with thousands of members who meet in stadium-like facilities, mid-size neighborhood churches with a modest sanctuary and a few Sunday School classrooms, as well as very small congregations without a permanent church building who meet in homes or school cafeterias. There are Catholic churches whose parishioners are almost all African American. There are congregations of Methodists who have services only in Spanish, and Baptist churches with services in Vietnamese. There are congregations composed mostly of gay and lesbian members. Some churches are composed of members who are very wealthy; other churches are composed mostly of the homeless. There are adherents of Christianity who support the decriminalization of abortion, and others who do not. Some work hard for the abolition of capital punishment in our country; others believe it is an important governmental tool to deter crime. Although in recent years many have viewed Christians as a cohesive voting block, it should be noted not all adherents of Christianity align themselves with the Republican Party.

Because of the modern political connotations, some American “Christians” have begun to distance themselves from that traditional moniker and are beginning to use the descriptive term “Christ follower” instead. Alas, I didn’t think “Christ Followers and the Law Blog” would roll off the tongue very well. But I did want to clarify that this blog will not be an exploration of the role of a particularly conservative view of Christianity on the legal system and the legal profession. I will leave that to others who are better suited to represent that perspective. Instead, I am more interested in an exploration of the rest of the Christian spectrum, which is often overlooked in the media and in society. For those who are not Christ followers and who have been deceived by the popular misimpression of what a “Christian” is, I would like to help raise awareness of the truly progressive nature of Christianity. For those who are Christ followers, but have felt embarrassed and/or alienated by the popular caricatures of our faith, I hope this blog will be a source of encouragement.

A clarification on the title of this blog. I acknowledge readily that the phrase “Progressive Christianity” is imperfect. Unfortunately, it was the best phrase I could evoke. To be clear, by using this phrase, I am not trying to delineate between Republican Christians and Democratic Christians. That sort of delineation would be too simplistic and frankly it would be irrelevant. Jesus Christ was not a politician. I would certainly never claim that Jesus would have us all join and swear allegiance to one political party or another.

To be clear, I also don’t intend the term “progressive” to be synonymous with “liberal.” In my experience, the term “liberal” also has come to have unfortunate connotations. In many segments of society, that term is now often associated with sexual promiscuity, a disdain for any type of traditional faith values, and an inclination to (over)indulge in legal and/or illicit substances. For better or worse, I have observed that many also associate the term “liberal” with a haughty, even dismissive condescension towards anyone who is viewed to be less enlightened on certain hot-button issues, as well as anyone who is viewed as being less educated in general.

In truth, by using the term “progressive” in the title of this blog, I’m primarily trying to distance my use of the term “Christian” from its own unfortunate, modern political connotations. However, in doing that, I do not in any way reject or condemn any of my sisters or brothers who fall on the more conservative side of the wide spectrum of modern Christianity than I do. In a family, disagreements are bound to happen because we are all uniquely made. Respect and love can prevail; unity does not have to be broken due to disagreements.

Because the concept of a progressive view of Christianity is quite foreign to many, this blog will initially spend a good deal of time developing the concept more before exploring the influence of progressive Christianity on secular laws and the legal profession.

Psalm 139:14 (New International Version)
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Matthew 19:21 (King James Version)
“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”