Just a note because I receive this question quite often from fellow clergy, students, and friends. How can someone who is an ordained Priest, theology professor holding to orthodox Trinitarian Christianity also be politically aligned with the progressive movement? Aren’t the two things incommensurable?
Actually, no they are not incompatible, but there are definitely certain tensions that arise. This is the case for anyone who is involved in the political process. No candidate or party is equal to, or totally commensurate with the teachings and precepts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Theologically I am Pro-Children, and so I have a real problem with the progressive movement’s unqualified support (and often times bizarre glee) for abortion ‘rights.’ I don’t share that view, but yet I still resonate with the general trajectory of the progressive movement in the United States. But what do I mean by that? Well, in saying that I support the progressive movement within American politics, I am not thereby aligning my entire life with the word ‘progressive.’ Folks have a hard time wrapping their head around that sometimes. I get it. For a very long time the modus operandi of this country has been that if you are an ‘evangelical’ you are thereby ‘politically conservative.’ Yet, why should this be? The kingdom of God is not a political party, it is an eschatological reality breaking into the present to renew and reconcile all things for the glory of God. One could be a member of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, and the list goes on. Those parties are not theological schools of thought, they are political organizations aiming to enact policies, legislation, and elect governmental officials to instantiate those policies. To the degree that they function as vessels to instantiate the policies and laws we think are most beneficial to furthering the cause of Jesus in the world, we participate. Some folks feel that the situation is so convoluted and unworkable that they opt out of politics altogether. I think this is an option; but I don’t think it is the best option. It certainly isn’t a requirement of the Scriptures.
Some of us feel that the teachings of Jesus Christ and the ethical precepts of the kingdom of God best line up with the Republicans, but others (like myself) do not. Free Market ideas are certainly defensible from the Bible, but they are not the obvious outworking of a biblical exegesis such that someone holding to more progressive economic ideas is thereby out of bounds or not Christian. ‘Progressive’ also has nothing to do with my own views theologically. It is a political statement only. And, it’s really important to grasp that. If you want to know what I believe theologically look at my Statement of Faith on this website. Without being overly rigid, my theological views could best be described as ‘Conservative,’ ‘Post-Conservative,’ ‘evangelical’ and in other senses ‘Pseudo-Barthian’ (on the doctrine of election, for example) and a broader sense ‘Anglican.’
What I mean by being politically ‘progressive’ is not a wholesale grab for everything on the ‘left’ but a propensity to be convinced that certain ideas that are best grouped under the ‘progressive’ category seem to me to line up most accurately with the implications of the Gospel, teaching, and life of Jesus Christ. I believe that as an agent of reconciliation in the world, the way of the cross and the person/teachings of Christ can have a great impact by adopting many of these ideas. This is patterned after the cruciform, others-centered love of Jesus Christ. It is a response to the question: what does the love of God look like in a modern Democratic society? Does it look like healthcare as a product? Does it look like massive student loan debt? Does it look like unrestricted markets? Does it look like persecuting Muslims? Perhaps you think it does, and you are free to think, vote, and live according to that assessment. But please, don’t impose that one perspective on me by claiming that it is the only ‘biblical’ and ‘moral’ way of responding to the various governmental issues of the day as a Christian; it’s not.
For politically progressive-minded people, most of these ideas we hold to are marked by an economic theory which aims to further revolutionize the economic structure of the United States, making it more like most other developed countries on planet earth. For example, by ‘progressive’ I mean: I’m for the implementation of universal healthcare (Medicare for All), for increasing Social Security, for making education available and affordable for every person in the United States, for an increase in the minimum wage so that not one of our brothers and sisters in this country is working for a starvation wage while someone else’s pockets are lined, for aggressive policies that address the crisis in climate change working toward sustainable and clean energy, for a peaceful non-preemptive approach to war, for the end of capital punishment in this country, and a commitment to socially-just, Christ-like responses to the issues of immigration, racial bigotry, racial profiling, and discrimination of any sort.
I felt a need, since I have been blogging quite frequently on these issues as of late, to make that clarification. My view is that one can be an orthodox, serious, biblically-faithful Christian and hold to any number of political views. Our goal needs to be to have the cruciform courage to be able to speak about these views, but to have a desire to develop a disposition of grace toward all. We can accomplish much across denominational lines, across political lines, and across all of the other lines that so often divide us. But, to do so, we need to live out the intentionally gracious Gospel reality that sees the world as something God has created, and something God wants to redeem through us as active participants. How that is done is manifold and complex, and we mess it up all the time. That it will be done, is as sure as the crucified and resurrected God who declared: “Behold! I am making all things new.” He does this, however, not through passive complacency but through cruciform presence and participation in the reconciliation of all things both through the Church and in the public sphere of political realities. This is a part of our call as people of the cross in a world that is on a trajectory to realizing that through Jesus Christ there is a “new creation” for the life of the world.