“It’s hard to be a progressive Christian and still be against abortion, though.”
This was how a Christian friend, whom I greatly admire, responded when I told them about the new Both Lives Matter campaign I was working on that is both adamantly pro-life and pro-women. This campaign seeks to reframe the abortion debate in Northern Ireland (and beyond), we stand for women and unborn children calling for world-leading support, services and better care than abortion. Imagine a society that values all life. It doesn’t sound too difficult to me.
So then, what is ‘progressive Christianity’ and why can’t it seem to lend its voice to issues of contention? ‘Progressive Christianity’ separates itself from the orthodox teachings of scripture by promoting God’s love for all humankind, ‘open-mindedness’ and social justice.
There’s no doubt it makes the Christian faith more appealing to the world. But I have noticed that in its attempts to be all-inclusive and loving, which in itself is great, a key kingdom principle has been abandoned.
Yet the world is crying out for truth. Like Lieutenant Kaffee in A Few Good Men, the world is screaming: “We want the truth!” But in our fear of offending, we Christians choose to appease the world with the “God is Love” rhetoric, rather than also awakening it with His counter-cultural truth. Christ did not shy away from controversy, he wasn’t afraid to tell the truth, and he was certainly not scared to offend.
When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well, for example, he asked about her husband. On replying that she had no husband, Jesus gently – but bluntly – exposed her to truth: “You are right in saying: ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands and the one you now have is not your husband.” (John 4:17-18 ESV).
Perhaps she had never been challenged before. Maybe her friends re-enforced her lifestyle by telling her that marriage was overrated and casual sex was her prerogative. Whatever it was, the truth made her uncomfortable so she tried to shut Jesus up by saying: “I know that Messiah is coming and when he comes he will tell us all things.”
Jesus said to her: “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:26).
Jesus didn’t expose her in order to shame her, on the contrary, it was because of his love for her and his desire to see her live a life fulfilled in him that motivated this uncomfortable exchange. It was his ability to confront her with the truth that ultimately led her to the revelation of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. She ran back to tell the town: “Come see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29).
If we want to draw people closer to Jesus we must embrace the offence of our faith. I’m sick of pandering to popular culture. I’m sick of the blatant refusal among progressive Christians to speak out on any contentious issues, such as abortion, sexual immorality and gender identity. I’m sick of God’s word being distorted in order to fit a so-called progressive theology.
The Bible is not Ribena and we can’t keep diluting it down until it satisfies our individual taste.
If we believe that Christ is the word then we can’t deny that what the scriptures say about morality, ethics and faith is exactly how Jesus lived his life on earth and how we too are to live our life. If we believe that Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever then we can’t deny that his word is transcendent. If our version of Christ-like living doesn’t line up with his word then we are not living a life surrendered to God.
Let’s not become a generation willing to conform rather than transform. Let’s not be a generation that is so obsessed with being accepted by the world that we compromise our God-ordained call to be distinct from the world. “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19 ESV).
If our theology empowers us to simply mirror the world is it truly progressive? Surely when our faith ceases to reflect his kingdom and his values then it has become anything but progressive, in fact, it’s regressive.
If we wish to proclaim a truly progressive faith we must accept the destiny to which Christ has called us, we must not be rendered silent by the fear to offend but must be propelled to declare God’s truth, which is ultimately compelled by love.