Progressive Christians would have shamed Jesus

religion Social Issues Theology / Biblical Studies

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Partly a product of social media, the way we talk about those with whom we disagree has changed a lot.

In particular, at the risk of sounding partisan, here is the way I see those who view themselves as “progressive” (what a terrible name to give yourself) engaging religious conservatism: Instead of talking to people about why they disagree and why they think people of a conservative bent should change their minds or behaviour, they talk about them to the world, and they do so they are not critically engaging them (even if they will tell us that this is what they are doing), instead they are serving the social function of shaming them, not so that they will change their mind, but so that they will be afraid of speaking.

Many progressive Christians, if I have observed things correctly, think that they are the real followers of Jesus (who, we are told, was an inclusive, tolerant, liberal-minded progressive), while religious conservatives are more like the religious hypocrites from whom Jesus distanced himself. Sweeping generalisations are usually wrong if taken as hard and fast rules. This description is true of many religious conservatives, no doubt There are plenty of them, after all. But to a large extent it is self-flattering nonsense. While many progressives like to say that religious conservatives “pick and choose” which commands of Jesus they follow, sometimes it’s helpful to hold up a mirror to this outlook, if only because of its irrepressible self-confidence in being real, authentic, pure-as-the-driven-snow, Jesus-following Christianity, along with its current occupation of a position of social power, something Christians are justified in being suspicious of (let’s remember that it’s not just a worrying combination when it’s manifested in the religious right).

Progressive Christianity, had it existed in the first century, would have found opportunities to shame Jesus himself.

“Jesus wants to see himself as the friend of outcasts. But actually this old-time religionist reinforces the biggest social barrier of them all. His token gestures to women are just that: Gestures. He lets – lets a woman wash his feet. Oh what a privilege! He gives a nice verbal gesture about how her story will be told throughout history. Lovely, a story reinforcing the servitude of a woman to a man. What a novelty! He tells a sex-positive woman who was caught having sex with a married man to go and sin no more. Generously, he doesn’t let people kill her. Sin no more! Not so much as a reference to the man. If Jesus had been a woman and seen the real injustice going on, his first and only reply would have been “where’s the man who used his power to trap this woman?” He doesn’t actively oppress women, so his conservative friends tell us. He doesn’t say the overtly sexist things that other men say. Sorry buddy, but we want the bar to be raised a little higher. He has twelve special followers. Twelve. And no surprise, it’s a boys’ club. How about this for a gesture with real meaning: If we’re equal, let’s see half of the Apostles showing us that you don’t need a penis to hold position. A mere six women. No? What about five? No? Not four? Three? Two? Not even one. Twelve wasted opportunities. The total absence of women in Jesus’ inner circle is very telling. People are going to look to Jesus as an example, and his actions – or lack of action – speak loudly. What a terrible message to give our daughters who might feel led to leadership in Jesus’ church.”

“If Jesus wants us to take him seriously as a champion of inclusiveness, if he wants to prove that being his followers is a safe place for us, he needs to change his tune on marriage and change it right now. We live in a religious culture with a heteronormative view on marriage: You can have it if you love members of the opposite sex, but LGBTI are second class. No love for them. Silence is acquiescence, and Jesus never – not even once – uses his influence to promote change towards a more loving, open, courageously inclusive approach to marriage. But it gets worse. When he is asked about marriage, he only encourages the status quo, quoting from outdated, early iron-age views in Genesis, telling us that in marriage God brings a man and a woman together. To call this a microaggression towards us is an understatement. Why not bring the text up to date and talk instead about two persons of unspecified sex? Why reinforce the hate and exclusion that so many of us face on a daily basis? We want Jesus’s church (if he manages to establish one, given how obviously he’s on the wrong side of history) to be an opportunity, a place where we can carve out a faith for us, not a place where he lays down the law. Celebrate, don’t perpetuate the hate!”

“It’s time for this group of followers – the inner circle of males and the women who are allowed to tag along – to re-think whether or not they want this man’s legacy. You fishermen, tradespeople, merchants who invite Jesus into your homes, have made your decision. I’m ending business with you and calling on everyone I know to do the same. You’re allowed to think thoughts inside your own head, but when you act, inviting and enabling this man and his message of rule-following, exclusion and following this patriarchal God (“Our Father” should be an alarm to us all), you have to accept that there are consequences. We want to make the world a safe place, and that means not enabling you.”

You only love “the Jesus I follow” because he’s not Jesus. He’s you.

Of course progressive Christians don’t actually try to shame Jesus, but only because he’s Jesus. Instead, they re-read him until he sounds like them, and not like Jesus. Had Jesus not said and done those things, if, say, a rival religious leader had done it, the criticisms practically write themselves. “See how Jesus isn’t like those other leaders who don’t have female disciples, unlike our Jesus who treats everyone with dignity. See how other figures pushed an exclusive view of marriage that shames us and leaves us unsafe and unwelcome.” But it’s Jesus, so you can’t say that.

I know, conservatives do it too, disagreeing with aspects of his theology but not allowing themselves to see that they disagree with him (because it’s Jesus) so they re-read him until he sounds like them (the doctrine of hell is a great example of this). But there’s a special irony when the ostensibly real, radical, authentic followers of Jesus do it. You’d hate Jesus if he was anybody else. All the reasons you have for shaming the people you do in fact shame, you have for shaming Jesus.

You only love “the Jesus I follow” because he’s not Jesus. He’s you.

Glenn Peoples

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Giles April 4, 2017, 12:48 pm

    Ho Ho! Spot on! Writing as someone whom Glenn might regard as liberal in some ways (though I share his view of the Bible) this made me laugh. Liberal Christians pride themselves on tolerance but rarely show it to “fundies”. And many have incredibly closed minds. I remember a liberal Religious studies teacher who said the Virgin birth was impossible because it violated science. She admitted that a virgin birth of a female was scientifically possible and that at one time it had been thought not to be but vehemently denied that scientists might change their minds about the possibility of a virgin birth of a male child. Yet, lo and behold, it is now argued that the virgin birth of a male child might be possible. I don’t care, I believe in miracles but the dogmatism of the liberals both religious and political never ceases to amuse me. If your Jesus holds all the same views as a 21st century liberal arts graduate you have probably made him up.

  • Rob April 4, 2017, 3:36 pm

    Well said. Interesting dichotomy of progressives and conservatives. Reminds me why I’m always inclined to take a step back from it all. At the moment, my argument is about Easter. I know, this is an old rant that tends to raise that phantom of legalism. But not really, I say. Every time I find a new assembly or congregation of believers and encounter a tradition of Easter, or Lent, or whatever, my immediate reaction is to run. I mean, what other error have they been corrupted by? Hell? More than likely.

  • Tim Bulkeley April 5, 2017, 7:42 am

    Glenn, is there not also a ‘special irony’ when those who claim to be conservative and so custodians of the true religion that claims Jesus as founder do it?

    I am responding to your remark in closing: ‘But there’s a special irony when the ostensibly real, radical, authentic followers of Jesus do it.’ Isn’t it actually a problem because both sides, and even those who feel themselves stuck in the middle, do it?

  • Glenn April 5, 2017, 10:58 am

    “when those who claim to be conservative and so custodians of the true religion that claims Jesus as founder do it?”

    Tim, I guess I shouldn’t have used the phrase “do it,” because my reference to conservatives was a reference to them doing something a little different from what this blog is about. The talking about and shaming rather than critically engaging, in my view, is more of a problem for progressives.

    I also think the difference is one that I highlighted in this article – that progressives actually do claim to be the real, “better,” authentic followers of Jesus in a way that conservatives don’t claim, as far as I can tell.

  • Tim Bulkeley April 5, 2017, 1:03 pm

    You may well be right that as you describe it this is a besetting sin of ‘progressives’. I have been made more aware of this outside the church following Trump’s win in the USA. How far one estimates it happens in the other direction inside the church depends on one’s experiences. My experience suggests that Christian Conservatives are fairly quick to suggest that anyone less ‘sound’ than themselves is not really and truly a follower of Jesus. Therefore I think it is in different ways and different contexts a problem for both ‘sides’.

  • Sarah Moore April 12, 2017, 8:26 am

    I have absolutely nothing to add except…

    “You only love “the Jesus I follow” because he’s not Jesus. He’s you.”
    Wow. That packs a wallop.
    Great article, Dr. G.
    Pax!

  • James April 13, 2017, 8:13 am

    This was interesting reading. A friend from church posted a video on Facebook celebrating homosexual unions (the love has no labels video). I commented that I was surprised to see her post that (as she posts a lot of Christian things as well), and posted an article from my blog as to why I disagreed:
    http://eternalfresh.blogspot.com/2016/11/christian-and-liberal-perspectives-on.html
    She deleted my comment. Liberal Christians subconsciously know that they have cognitive dissonance, and don’t want it pointed out. I think the problem is defined well on Fr. Ted’s blog:
    https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/frtedtalks/cognitive_dissonance
    I wonder how progressive Christians would react if asked if they really think that if they encountered Jesus He would agree with them. Like, do they really think He would say, “Yeah, the Scriptures are wrong. It’s not an abomination for a man to lie with a man.”?
    As for hell, there is Revelation 14:9-11.

  • Glenn April 13, 2017, 3:33 pm

    “As for hell, there is Revelation 14:9-11.”

    Yes there is. But then there’s the enormous weight of all the biblical evidence on the subject. I wouldn’t bring it into this thread, but there’s some material at this blog and podcast that might be useful, or check out http://www.rethinkinghell.com or http://www.afterlife.co.nz

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