Progressive NOT Permissive Church

Sigh. I know it is satire and humor, but I get pretty annoyed by the tired "Progressive" is a code word for "morally lax and permissive church" meme.

For instance, this episode is up for an Emmy (What? They have regional Emmys? Really?) from the Steve and Kathy Gray show (background here)

Here's the basic sentiments about what "Progressive" means from the video:

  • We don't worry about God, we worry about you!
  • We'll make the religion to meet your needs.
  • It's never your fault.
  • We'll change things just for you.
  • It's all about you.
  • It's about feeling good about you.
  • Marijuana, violent video games are cool

See, I don't get this meme.  Practically every one of those things could be leveled at megachurches like Osteen's Lakewood Church or Warren's Saddleback church who craft worship to be less language-offensive, less liturgical, less depth of theology so that they meet the felt needs of the congregation in a surface way.

In response to the above:

  • Progressive churches deal with questions about whether God really worries about the things we think God worries about.
  • Progressive churches critique church tradition and expressions to see how it can better meet the needs of people long kept on the sidelines of the church.
  • Progressive churches emphasize societal responsibility alongside personal responsibility for fault.
  • Progressive churches realize care for individuals may challenge sacrosanct issues via inclusive language.
  • Progressive churches don't do Halo tournaments or "end justifies the means" ministries.

I just don't get it.

The only thing I can think of is that "Progressive" is code for "sexual permissiveness" regarding gay issues and abortion.  That's all I've got.

Funny video? Yeah, sure. Ridiculous caricature of Progressivism? Absolutely. But caricatures should over-emphasize a true feature of a topic and I just don't see this outside of sexual permissiveness.  So is that all it is about?

Someone please tell me how all these accusations come from anything other than moral permisiveness on sexual issues and I would love to have the conversation.



stupidgreen September 10, 2010 at 9:19 AM  

Jeremy, you are right that "progressive does not equal permissive" in the abstract, but I do think that there are aspects of progressive church that do not adequately explain how a recognition of another's personhood is part of an individual's relationship with God. There is a sense within some popular progressive movements that religion is theology is customizable, ignoring key tenets of the bible (John 14:6, for one) in the interest of promoting the value of another's tradition. That isn't to say that the video is right (because it isn't), but I wouldn't say that the caricature of the "custom religion" is that far fetched.

I do wonder, however, what the response would be if that video were about snake handlers instead. I think the response would be far more acerbic.

Donnie September 10, 2010 at 10:33 AM  


Many of us would consider "inclusive language" to prove the point of the clip. I have no problem with changing verses to say "the children of god" instead of "the sons of god" because Jesus' words are for everybody. But I do have trouble when progressives advocate changing references to God. That is heresy and I don't see the advantages of it.

And yes, the pro-abortion, pro-gay agenda is a deal breaker for many of us, all other things being equal.

But even worse is, as stated above, SOME (not all, but some) progressive Christians try to deny key scripture like John 14:6. The one I've seen more than a few times "I'm a Christian universalist." Well, OK, but if everybody goes to heaven in the end, why be Christian? Do they truly believe that, or are they just trying to be nice to the non-Christians out there?

I'm not saying YOU or most progressive Christians believe this, only giving reasons why the video exists. A lot of it IS unfair to some progressives, but for some progressives some of it is dead on as well.

Andrew Burd-Harris September 10, 2010 at 11:47 AM  

My guess is they have never actually been part of a Christian community that could be labeled progressive. Most progressive churches are not making money hand over fist or have Dave pews, let alone farmers who prostitute their daughters to a traveling sales person. It really doesn't even make sense. Thanks for sharing.

Pumice September 10, 2010 at 10:01 PM  

I have not heard the use of "progressive" in regard to churches. I guess now I will start seeing it everywhere. I almost did not watch the video, but when I did your comments made much more sense.

This type of humor uses exaggeration to make the point. One of the problems the church is having is trying to be "user friendly." When we are traveling we find many churches afraid to use the "s" word. They seem to think if they talk about sin they will drive people away. Using words like "progressive" are often used to fool people into thinking you are something you are not. Notice that people who have been called liberals are also calling themselves progressives now.

Churches may not give blessing to pimping farmers, but they often tend to make people believe that sin is not a problem.

Grace and Peace.

Warren September 11, 2010 at 4:10 PM  

I want to comment, but I've written too much -- see my facebook note :)

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