THE BLOG

Progressive Christians Enter the Age of Relevancy

11/14/2012 03:54 pm ET | Updated Jan 14, 2013

It's been a sobering few decades for Christians who work alongside the poor, claim their feminism, respect scientific discovery, care for the earth, and yearn for marriage equality. We felt like the voice of Christianity had been captured by some strange ventriloquist, and it was proclaiming things that often contradicted our faith. We became frustrated with our own irrelevance, as our speech in the public square seemed to be on permanent mute.

And yet, we worked alongside the poor, remembering Mary, the mother of Jesus, a single woman expecting a child. Mary magnificently proclaimed that God had exalted the humble, filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich empty away.

But in the midst of this exaltation, we heard another voice. It was the Heritage Foundation telling us that marriage was the best antidote to child poverty.

It made many Christian stomachs turn as we interpreted the news, "You're poor? Your children are going hungry? Then find a husband, and everything will be just fine. You don't need to fight for nutritious lunches, after-school care and medical insurance, you just need a man."

We claimed our feminism, as we studied, heeding the voices of women in our pulpits. Clergy found great hope in academic theology, which uplifts the liberating notion that "in Jesus Christ, there is no Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free." We have drawn comfort in the fact that Jesus did not scorn the woman with the issue blood, but healed her. We realize that our faith calls us to care about women's health and beckons us to demand an end to violence against women.

We shudder as we hear leaders of the Religious Right talk about "legitimate rape" and fight against birth control being a part of a health plan. Religious Right leaders maligned Sandra Fluke who pleaded on behalf of those who needed birth control pills for medical reasons.

We respect scientific discovery. As many of us read the Bible, we were fascinated with the ancient mind, trying to work out the mysteries of whence we came. We read George Washington Carver's spiritual writings that nurtured our souls while making us hungry for deeper scientific understanding. We applauded discoveries that helped us come into a fuller understanding of our universe.

And yet, our voices seemed to be overtaken by this awkward denial of the age of our universe that takes the beautiful, venerable myths of creation and tries to make them into a flimsy and flawed science textbook.

We cared for the earth. We did not discard the story of creation. But we clung to the beauty of this story that said creation is good, that we are all made in God's image, and that we are to be caretakers of the earth. Because of our faith, we worked for legislation and responsible practice concerning the environment. We grieved over our dependence on petroleum and labored to decrease it. We watched for global warming and listened the groaning of our land.

And so we shuddered when we heard Christians proclaim that Jesus would be coming any moment now, and we should not worry about the long-term affects of our polluting ways.

Many of us work for marriage equality in the hope that our LGBTQ sisters and brothers will be able to enter into a covenant before God. We read the Scriptures and see a complex idea of marriage. In the ancient text polygamy was a norm, women were property and marriages were often arranged for political alliances. In the Song of Solomon, where we find the most erotic passages of Scripture, we hear the direct voice of a "black and beautiful" woman proclaiming, "My beloved thrust his hand in the opening and my inmost being yearned for him." She is not married and yet we read of their sneaking away in the fields and caves, and all the places where pomegranates ripen. We understand that marriage is a covenant that two people enter into, so that their love can be shared. Since God is love, the physical and emotional acts of love are gifts of God. We have known same-gender couples that share that divine gift and hope that they might be able to live in their promises without the fear of discrimination.

And so we scratch our heads when we hear people talking about a "Biblical view of marriage" being between one man and one woman, because we know that the biblical witness has an evolving view of marriage. Many Christians worry that purity pledges and abstinence programs seem to go hand-in-hand with teachings against birth control. The two views have made young women vulnerable in our society.

I could go on. Our Bible mandates that we welcome the stranger, care for the Samaritan and love our neighbor, and that affects our immigration policies. We remember the days of the early church that shared what they had so no one had need, and that makes us concerned about income inequities and our tax system that perpetuates them. We are people who practice confession and forgiveness, and so we were confused by Governor Mitt Romney's insistence that greatness had some correlation to never apologizing. And we are people who long for peace, so we are troubled by a budget that keeps feeding our military industrial complex.

It is clear that our decades of irrelevancy are over now. The last election showed the decline of the Religious Right's power. Not only that, but the mute button is off. We can begin to hear progressive Christian voices, whether they come from those who grew up Evangelical and are now rejecting the views of their youth or they have been working for justice all along. And we can now claim that our work has been hard, but it has not been in vain.