For the past several weeks I have been in deep thought and reflection. I am disappointed and saddened by events in our country. I am saddened by the divides and the hate that so many of our leaders seem to have encouraged and spawned. It is one thing to have an opinion and share it. It is another when those who have a different opinion are demonized. I have been accused of deepening the divide, despite trying hard not to demonize those who may think differently. I have attempted to share my truth as I understand it and participate in the broader conversations, albeit at times passionately. I have tried to listen and to seek understanding. But I cannot help but grieve. As I have reflected deeply and worked with my therapist on all this, I realize the loss of an ideal that has driven me for a long time: that people should and can treat each other with respect, even, and especially, when we disagree.
For years I have self-identified as an Evangelical Progressive Christian, even before I knew others had already been using that term. The way I came to that title and have unpacked it over the years is this: I am open about my experience of God in Jesus, share it when I think it is appropriate (I don’t hide it), continue to experienced God’s presence in me, and seek to continue growing to understand and embody the presence of the Divine in me as much as possible, while also trying to point to and raise awareness of the Divine in others.
“Progressive” is not the same as “liberal.” Progressive is neither liberal nor conservative, and both at the same time (typical post-modern thinking, right?). Take scripture for instance. Our Hebrew and Greek scriptures are absolutely authoritative for me. I am instructed and guided by them—God still speaks through them. But there are layers to how God speaks through them, layers that are still being discovered and many that are being re-discovered in new and exciting (and sometimes frightening) ways. Through the stories and writings of my spiritual ancestors I learn to pay attention to how God is still speaking and acting and engaging today. I learn from their errors in thinking (the earth is more than 7,000 years old, and neither is it at the center of the universe), as well as their wisdom (“God is love”).
In Jesus I learn what it looks like to be faithful to a God that is always faithful to us (When Jesus says “Follow me,” I have come to understand this phrase in a Rabbinical way—Jesus is telling his would-be disciples to mimic him, to learn how to act, speak, and think like him). I learn through him what it means to be human while also living with the presence of the Divine in us (a wonderful heresy called panentheism—simply put, everything is in God and God is in everything). Being progressive means paying attention to where we have been, but still moving forward in our communal journey of discovery and relationships; paying attention to how people have experienced the Divine in order to discern the presence of the Divine now, which helps us discern an intention as we move forward (progressive).
As I am sure many already know, I am deeply disappointed with the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of this amazing country, this mind-boggling democratic experiment that started over 250 years ago. I am deeply disturbed by what I define as his hate-filled and violence-promoting rhetoric—from his announcement to run when he called Mexicans drug dealers and rapists with an incredibly broad and dispassionate brush, to telling crowds to beat up protesters, and so much more. I am disturbed by his arrogance and infantile pettiness. I am disturbed by all the conspiracy theories he shared about voter fraud to save face when he thought he was losing. I am deeply disturbed by his first 100 days plan that will seek to undo so much of the progress we have made to care for and help those who are constantly getting lost in the Wall Street and Washington shuffles for profit.
As a pastor I have come to believe part of my job is comforter, but for the uncomfortable. My other job is agitator for the comfortable, challenger of the status quo when the status quo ignores or further oppresses and martinalized the already oppressed and marginalized. My job is challenge people to truly follow in the Way of Jesus, to promote his prophetic values over and against the profit values of society. Often it is a lonely and even painful call, and I don’t always get it right. But it is a call I have accepted and find myself having to re-affirm and re-accept often.
I am an Evanglical Progressive Christian because I do not believe God was done with us 2,000 years ago. God is still speaking and still calling us forward to new and renewed ways of being. And I hope I can be humble enough to recognize how God may be calling me out of my status quo ways when I need to be discomforted and challenged. Every time it has happened so far, it has been a gift and an opportunity to enlarge the table of God’s kingdom. For that, I am thankful.