Is There a Future for Progressive Christianity in America?

So can a movement like Progressive Christianity live without an institution? Can it thrive when most of the leaders in the movement are either vaguely or only indirectly related to the church? What does this say about the movement as such? Does it matter?

As a sociologist and someone who is sympathetic to the Progressive Christian movement, I think it matters. Does a movement have a future without an institutional foundation? I doubt it. That is, if your leaders are basically celebrities who sell books, but don’t nurture or develop institutional infrastructure, a social movement is doomed to fail.

What the author calls “progressive Christianity” I would call “Godless Christianity”. The fact that genuine Christianity often has, as one of its effects, social improvement, led many to see Christ as a means to that end. For them it doesn’t matter if Christ actually lived or died, his important role is to be a focal point, a shared memory. For progressive Christianity, “conversion” is diluted to just “being nicer”. There is no role for the supernatural, unless it makes someone feel better, like powerful music.

Progressive Christianity sometimes supports good things, but only the good things that are popular at the moment with the popular culture. It has no foundation in the Natural Law or common Christian moral tradition. Thus if the popular culture at the moment supports certain things, such as gay marriage, Progressive Christianity is all for it. In the future if popular culture supports something different or even persecution of gays, Progressives will obey popular culture, following whatever CNN or the NY Times are preaching. They have no fixed dogmas - and that can cut both ways.

Is there a “future” for it? Sure. Mainline denominations are dropping rapidly, because young people see no particular reason to go to churches that simply echo the secular culture. But foundations and government agencies are stepping up “faith based grants” and other supports, seeing progressive churches - and only progressive ones - as an extension of the larger government agenda. In my city, some large Protestant churches - or rather the adjoining Sunday schools and offices - are much busier Monday through Friday than on Sunday. Sunday may be the only day the Sunday school is nearly empty.

I have an acquaintance who is a Progressive Christian. She is a very kind young lady, very passionate about feminism, LGBT rights, and race relations. She is a lovely young women, and I know many people who admire her and her passion for people. Progressive people from all walks of life – Christian, Atheist, Muslim – admire her.

With that being said, I have never, ever seen someone admire her for Christianity, nor have I seen anyone express interest in Christianity or becoming Christian because of her witness. I think, for most people, her Christianity is incidental to why they admire her. They admire her for her passion for social justice, but since secularists have been that particular brand of social justice better for years, it’s pretty clear that Christianity is neither necessary nor sufficient for that passion. To quote the article: “why should [mainstream culture] look to the church for leadership? It doesn’t.”

Of course, Christians of any denomination would tell you that the reason one becomes a Christian isn’t because it’ll make you a more socially aware person; rather, it is to form a relationship with God and worship Him in community. That brings me to my second observation about my acquaintance: she doesn’t appear to be very spiritual. I say appear, because I have no idea what is going on in her personal, spiritual life. For her, spirituality is either an intensely personal experience or an insignificant one (charity would demand I assume the latter). She’ll publicly talk about all manner of controversial issues but the one thing she won’t talk about is God or her religion (unless its to criticize orthodox Christians).

If she is at all representative of progressive Christians, this is incredibly problematic for the future of their cause. Progressive Christianity is doomed because it appears to have nothing to offer. If I’m a young person looking in becoming more ethical then, by the standards of mainstream culture, I should become a Feminist rather than a Progressive Christian. After all, the latter is simply mirroring the former. If I’m looking to develop a relationship with God, then why would I go to the people who never seem to talk about God or acknowledge His presence? Why should I be excited about a progressive theology when most Progressives Christians don’t seem interested? Why, then would they expect any growth?

Moreover, as an outsider looking in, Progressive Christianity seems to embody sky fairy approach to God. It has always seemed that Progressive Christians interpret Scripture and understand God to reflect their desires rather than the other way around. God, then, appears to be something made in our image to comfort us and affirm our decisions rather than a knowable Person who may or may not reflect our own beliefs and and opinions.

Ultimately, Christianity needs saints to grow: people who respond to God’s invitation for a relationship in a radical way and who embody His love for mankind. Look at someone like St. Francis of Assisi: he was profoundly concerned for the welfare of his fellow man while remaining passionate for his relationship with his Creator. Progressive Christians create very nice people but they do not create saints. Unless that changes, Progressive Christianity is doomed.

I agree, just look at what’s happening to our society without God. It’s doomed and seems to be taking our country down with it. Prayers for Mercy, God Bless, Memaw

For a list of “Notable Progressive Christians”, scroll down to the bottom of this Wikipedia link. I spotted a Catholic and a former Catholic. Both have followers.

Goggle popped up with various sites and various names.

Here’s the danger I think in assuming that “Progressives” are simply going with the times and have no definable faith; thus they are doomed to die off. ** I will agree that lack of defining why someone would want to be a Christian is a fatal mistake.** But that applies to all religious groups.

What “Progressives” are doing wrong may just be obvious to those who are more conservative. What “Conservatives” might notice is that their public perception on some of the more divisive issues of the day does not communicate well either why one would be a Christian to the secular public. Indeed many “Progressives” feel like they are fighting the prevailing secular opinion that no Christians support these more divisive issues. I might add some of the Mega Church “Salvation Factories” don’t really do a good job explaining why someone would want to be a life long Christian either.

In the end Christians need to step it up when explaining why one would be a Christian. The Christian cultural dominance of the 50s and 60s is a thing of the past, indeed it is actually a cultural anomaly in American history. We have fallen asleep at the wheel by blaming others and various causes for this. Whether you agree with another Christian’s faith or not; we all are on the same team. Let’s go fight for those who see no use in Christianity, not with those for whom Christ is a central part of their lives already.

I didn’t know there was such a thing as Progressive Christianity. But if there’s a Wikipedia article about it–it must exist. :wink:

I thought the “progressive” was just a generic adjective. Like liberal Catholic or conservative Catholic.

From what I observe of current Catholicism, it is the danger of the generic adjective “progressive” Catholic who works within to reduce or eliminate some annoying teachings. One of the mantras is “There is room for a variety of approaches in our great Church, in our great world.” Unfortunately, some of those various approaches end in a denial of some essential Catholic doctrines. Fortunately, the Catholic Church remains on solid ground.

Umm…are you sure she IS one…?

“Progressive” Christianity is a contradiction in terms, IMHO. Maybe the most charitable thing to say is that it is Christianity-lite. :rolleyes:

Then it’s really not Christianity at all, is it?

This is my own current observation.

As the link in post 1 pointed out –
“And so goes Progressive Christianity—from my perspective it lacks the social infrastructure that creates and sustains a social movement; its leaders are spiritual entrepreneurs rather than institution builders; their following is dispersed and has no motivation to gather together on a regular basis, except perhaps to hear a speech on their favorite writers newest book.
I just don’t see a robust future for this movement at this point.”

It looks like the progressive, emerging church, etc., movement is dead in the water.

But, with capital letters,

Progressive Christianity, in some geographical areas, is now seen as a reform movement within established churches. In my old neighborhood, this was known as the Catholic Big Tent Church where “community” and now the service to others in the imitation of Jesus Christ, were primary. Currently, I see terms like “breaking bread together.” Conveniently, additional primary Catholic teachings have been left at the door or at the flap of the Big Tent.

Two interesting sections from Humani Generis, Pius XII, 1950. I put the last words in bold.

[LEFT]11. Another danger is perceived which is all the more serious because it is more concealed beneath the mask of virtue. There are many who, deploring disagreement among men and intellectual confusion, through an imprudent zeal for souls, are urged by a great and ardent desire to do away with the barrier that divides good and honest men; these advocate an “eirenism” according to which, by setting aside the questions which divide men, they aim not only at joining forces to repel the attacks of atheism, but also at reconciling things opposed to one another in the field of dogma. And as in former times some questioned whether the traditional apologetics of the Church did not constitute an obstacle rather than a help to the winning of souls for Christ, so today some are presumptive enough to question seriously whether theology and theological methods, such as with the approval of ecclesiastical authority are found in our schools, should not only be perfected, but also completely reformed, in order to promote the more efficacious propagation of the kingdom of Christ everywhere throughout the world among men of every culture and religious opinion.[/LEFT]

[LEFT]12. Now if these only aimed at adapting ecclesiastical teaching and methods to modern conditions and requirements, through the introduction of some new explanations, there would be scarcely any reason for alarm. But some through enthusiasm for an imprudent “eirenism” seem to consider as an obstacle to the restoration of fraternal union, things founded on the laws and principles given by Christ and likewise on institutions founded by Him, or which are the defense and support of the integrity of the faith, and the removal of which would bring about the union of all, but only to their destruction.[/LEFT]

When it comes to the "Future for Progressive Christianity in America.

Think wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Matthew 7: 15
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.”%between%

My Bishop Thomas John Paprocki calls them heretics :wink:

I’ve read GK Chesterton’s thoughts on “progressives” and he asks, “what are they progressing to?”. Perhaps we should also be asking what are they “progressing” from?

A few years ago I went to speak with a minister associated with the United Church of Canada. For those who aren’t in the know, the UCC is maybe the most progressive Christian church in the world (certainly in Canada). She was a very nice, patient and kind woman. She also didn’t like the Lord’s Prayer, didn’t know what to teach about death, judgement, heaven and hell, and couldn’t really give an answer for how they justify those progressive teachings which were clearly opposed by scripture.

I think that last observation has been many of our experience with Progressive Christianity. It seems like a bunch of kind hearted people do things for good reasons without a warrant in Scripture or Tradition. I can respect Progressive Christians for their good intentions and concern for their fellow man, but from what I’ve seen (and I would be happy to be proven wrong) it seems most Progressive Christians are being a tad intellectually dishonest.

Couldn’t agree more. I think conservative Christianity is a PR nightmare. But I will say with my conservative Catholic friends, especially the holier ones, its very obvious that God and Catholicism are a central part of their life. For people intrigued or attracted to their life, their life will point to Jesus and His Church. In case of my progressive Christian acquaintance I’m not sure that the same is true. So whereas progressive Christianity fails on both an institutional and individual level, it would seem conservative only has a problem at the institutional level.

I am a big believer in ecumenism, and I believe that everyone should be working together as much as possible. I’m not so sure what Progressive and Orthodox Christians can do though. We both believe in Jesus, we both believe that some sort of institutional Church can be helpful, but the way we understand Scripture, Traditional, Morality and God seem strangely far apart.

I come from a town where ecumenism works to feed and house the needy and sometimes to pray together. Maybe that works because both the people and their pastors have the talent to do two things at the same time. Serving others and worshipping God.

Belonging to this or that Christian church is not an issue…except on Sundays. :wink:

Yes and it always will. It’s our choice to stay with it or try to tear it down. We would be the losers in the long run. Plenty of powerful people have tried to “take down” the Catholic Church over the last 2,000 some years and haven’t done it yet. So don’t hold your breath!!! It will be standing strong when others have faded into the sunset. God Bless, Memaw

You are correct, but not totally correct as to what is happening in the trenches. I am holding back a wonderful rant about the “fly in the ointment” symbol in an internet article.

I will not derail this thread. However, here is another venue in the Spirituality Forum which may be interesting. Thread is “Being spiritually strong regarding stealth attacks against our Faith.”

My guess is that something similar is happening in a few non-Catholic religions. All are welcomed to this thread. :smiley:

You’re right, Memaw. I’m reading a book, Will the Real Heretics Stand Up?, and the author in the first part of it spends time describing early Christians and Roman Society. The Romans could not understand why they didn’t do the things that they did - virtually what our society is turning towards - and they did not like the Christians for that. As Christians we need to stay true to Christ’s teachings and share Him like the early Christians did.

God bless!!




I see so many people talking about the ‘other’. Are they devout enough? Do they obey all the rules? Do they believe as I do? How could God love them if they aren’t doing what I think they are supposed to?

Isn’t it time to stop vilifying the other? Let’s practice our faith and love for Christ as we are called to do so, and stop looking over our shoulder, making judgements.

I am one of those progressive Christians, I guess, tho I tend not to use that label. I go to church often, participate in the Mass, say my prayers, take care of my neighbor, feed the poor, honor those who are praying down the street. I also support my women priest friends, as well as all the gay and lesbian couples who are married, many with children. Sometimes I bang my head when I hear nonsensical comments in the name of God. But these days, I imagine we’re all doing that.

I’m not your enemy. Really and truly.

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