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At Canterbury MSU we say we are a Progressive Christian community, but what does that mean? Progressive Christianity is often recognized for its distinct approach to faith and scripture, diverging from mainstream evangelical and conservative traditions. It embodies a spectrum of spiritualities that acknowledge the complexity and diversity of human experience in the pursuit of following Jesus.

Progressive Christianity recognizes that faith is not a monolith. The movement celebrates the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ individuals, recognizes the value of diverse leadership, and holds that Christianity is a profound path to God, but not an exclusive one. This embodiment of openness and inclusivity is a hallmark of its community that is rooted in love and joy.

In exploring what Progressive Christianity stands for, we cannot overlook its deep roots in the teachings of Jesus. From the Great Commandments to Jesus’ approach to societal ‘outsiders’, the belief system emphasizes love, peace, and justice as the core of the Christian life. Moreover, it fosters a culture where doubt and exploration are not only permitted but encouraged as integral components of spiritual growth. The following article delves into these principles, illuminating how Progressive Christianity is reshaping the religious landscape.

Diversity of Progressive Christianity

Progressive Christianity represents a Christian movement rooted in a dynamic approach to tradition, drawing on the 18th century Enlightenment and refreshed in various forms throughout the 20th century. Unlike some branches of the Evangelical church, which may adhere closely to historic doctrines and a literal interpretation of scripture, progressive Christians often engage with their Christian life and questions of faith in a more interpretive, metaphorical, and experiential manner.

This Christian movement embraces a broad spectrum of beliefs and practices, recognizing that there is not one definitive path of life for all followers of Jesus. Reflective of the wider diversity found in society, progressive Christianity is not monolithic but is characterized by its openness to exploratory and reformed theology.

Moreover, the literature produced within this movement ranges from Christian books reexamining the core beliefs of faith to those advocating for social justice issues. As such, the reading material finds an audience not only within traditional church settings but also among individuals exploring questions of faith outside conventional religious spaces.

Progressive Christians are found outside the mainline denominations of Christianity but also within the Episcopal Church, The United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the American Baptist Church, the Unitarian Universalists, among the historic Peace Churches: Quakers, Mennonites, and Church of the Brethren, as well as among many other bodies, communities, and churches.

Not a single way of being a progressive Christian

The practice of progressive Christianity is not bound to a single expression or creed, which speaks to the movement’s very ethos of exploration and inclusivity. Progressive Christians might derive their theology from a variety of sources, not only biblical texts but also through insights from other religious traditions, the natural and social sciences, and personal mystical experiences.

In disentangling from rigid dogma, many progressive Christians reassess historic doctrines, such as bodily or physical resurrection, understanding these concepts in metaphorical or symbolic terms rather than as literal historical events. On the other hand progressive Christianity does not exclude belief in the these events as historical. This openness allows for a plurality of beliefs that can coexist within the movement, thereby enabling individuals to navigate their path of life with a sense of spiritual and intellectual integrity.

Inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people

A central tenet of progressive Christianity is the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people within the full life of the church. Contrary to some sects within the broader Christian community that either marginalize or outright exclude LGBTQIA+ individuals, progressive Christianity affirms their identities and seeks their full participation in church life, including marriage, ordination, and lay leadership roles.

The movement actively questions and dismantles traditional interpretations of scripture that have been used to justify exclusion. In doing so, progressive Christianity strives to reflect a more compassionate and just reflection of the divine love that transcends human categories and prejudices.

Valuing the leadership of all people

Closely linked to the value of inclusivity is progressive Christianity’s emphasis on valuing the leadership of all people. This approach destabilizes traditional power dynamics within the church and affirms that leadership qualities are not confined by gender, sexual orientation, race, or socioeconomic status.

Progressive Christianity often encourages shared leadership models and grassroots organization, which is in contrast with hierarchical structures commonly found in other Christian denominations. Therefore, it is not unusual to find a diverse array of voices and perspectives leading congregations, initiatives, and dialogue within the movement.

Not One Way

Progressive Christians commonly recognize that their path is not the only way to be faithful to God. This humility allows them to respect and learn from other religious paths and philosophical perspectives, fostering interfaith dialogue and cooperation.

The emphasis is on living a life reflective of Jesus’ teachings, centered on love, justice, and compassion, rather than on holding an exclusive claim to truth or salvation. Such a perspective not only enriches the individual’s spiritual journey but also contributes to a more harmonious and inclusive global community.

Biblical Foundation of Progressive Christianity

Progressive Christianity, while diverse in its expression, finds a common ground in the rich soil of the Bible. Its adherents seek to interpret biblical texts through a contemporary lens, focusing on the overarching messages of love, grace, and justice. Instead of viewing Scripture as a static rulebook, they consider it a living document, inviting ongoing dialogue and discernment in light of current knowledge and understanding.

In this context, the Bible is not merely a historical artifact but a source of inspiration and guidance for engaging with modern social and ethical issues. Progressive Christians often reference the prophetic books of the Old Testament, which emphasize social justice and compassion for the marginalized, along with the teachings of Jesus found in the New Testament. They see these texts as calling believers to be agents of change, challenging injustices, and embodying a faith that reflects God’s love in action.

Progressive Christian Beliefs Are Rooted in Jesus

Central to Progressive Christianity is the figure of Jesus of Nazareth, whose life and teachings provide the foundational compass for faith and practice. This movement emphasizes Jesus’ message of inclusivity, peace, and social justice, as opposed to strictly adhering to dogmas or institutional church positions.

Progressive Christians look to Jesus’ radical acts of welcoming the outcast, feeding the hungry, and challenging the societal norms of His time as examples to follow. They believe that Jesus’ emphasis on empathy and compassion transcends religious boundaries and offers a vision for a more equitable and loving world. This leads to an active faith, where the call to serve others is a natural outflow of one’s relationship with Christ.

Jesus’ Great Commandments

The Great Commandments to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, (Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-37) form the ethical heart of Progressive Christianity. These commandments, as recited by Jesus in the Gospels, encapsulate the essence of Christian conduct and are, as Jesus said, the summation of the Law and the Prophets.

This dual commandment serves as both a spiritual guide and a moral imperative, urging believers to engage with the world compassionately and justly. Progressive Christians take seriously the call to love neighbors, which includes advocating for societal transformations that uplift the marginalized and promote the common good. The full embrace of this teaching means not only personal piety but also a commitment to societal engagement that reflects Jesus’ radical inclusivity and love.

Key Aspects of Progressive Christian Biblical Interpretation:

  • The Bible is viewed as a living document, open to contemporary interpretation.
  • Emphasis on love, grace, and social justice as central biblical messages.
  • A focus on Jesus’ life and teachings as foundational to Christian faith and practice.
  • Active engagement in modern social and ethical issues as a reflection of biblical values.
  • The Great Commandments as the cornerstone of Christian ethical conduct.
  • A call to love and serve others, rooted in Jesus’ message of inclusivity and peace.

Jesus valued women, outsiders, immigrants

Jesus’ Ministry and Marginalized Groups:

  • Jesus Valued Women: In a time when women were often relegated to the background, Jesus affirmed their worth by engaging with them as disciples and key figures in His ministry. (Luke 8:1-3) In the story of Jesus with Mary & Martha, Mary is treated as a disciple, learning at Jesus’ feet. (Luke 10:38-42, to highlight just one of many examples).
  • Embraced Outsiders: Jesus reached out to those considered outsiders in society, teaching that the kingdom of God is open to all, not just the elite or pure (Mark 2:15-17).
  • Welcomed Immigrants: Parables such as the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) underline Jesus’ message of love and hospitality towards those from different lands and cultures.

Progressive Christianity continues to draw from these profound aspects of Jesus’ example, striving to apply these principles to modern questions of faith and in living a Christian life that reflects His love and inclusivity.

Loving Yourself

Loving yourself in Progressive Christianity means valuing who God made us to be. It means recognizing and accepting our inherent worth and dignity as beloved children of God. Progressive Christians believe in the importance of self-care and nurturing our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Progressive Christians reject the idea that love for oneself is entirely selfish or sinful. Instead, they understand that loving oneself is necessary to be able to truly love and care for others. This self-love is not driven by ego or narcissism, but rather by a deep understanding of our worthiness and our interconnectedness with all of creation.

Progressive Christians also emphasize the importance of personal growth and self-improvement. They believe that we are constantly evolving and have the capacity for change and transformation. This includes shedding harmful beliefs and behaviors, and embracing new ways of living that align with the teachings of Jesus.

Loving Others

Progressive Christianity places a strong emphasis on social justice and addressing systemic issues of inequality and oppression. It recognizes that Jesus’ ministry was not only about personal salvation, but also about challenging unjust social structures and working towards a more just and equitable society. This focus resonates deeply with both the Social Gospel Movement and Liberation theology. Progressive Christianity stands in line with the convictions of these paths of Christian life.

Progressive Christians are actively engaged in issues such as poverty, environmental justice, immigration, healthcare, and other pressing social concerns. They believe that following Jesus means actively working for positive change and standing up for those who are marginalized or oppressed.

Stewardship of Creation

Progressive theology recognizes the sacredness of creation and a responsibility to care for the Earth. Humans are not separate from the natural world, but rather, we are interconnected and interdependent with all of creation.

We believe that God calls us to be stewards of creation, taking care of the earth and all its resources. This includes advocating for environmental justice, promoting sustainable living practices, and supporting initiatives to combat climate change.

Progressive Christians affirm the value of scientific knowledge and see no conflict between faith and science. We believe that studying and understanding the natural world can deepen our appreciation for God’s creation and help us make informed decisions about its stewardship.

Doubt, questions, exploration, and discussion of faith

At the heart of Progressive Christianity is an open approach to Christian life that deeply values doubt, questions, exploration, and discussion of faith. We see questions of faith not as threats to our belief system, but as opportunities to deepen and enrich our spiritual path of life.

Progressive Christian writers and thought leaders encourage casual Christians, spiritual but not religious seekers, and devout Christians alike to engage with our beliefs in new and dynamic ways, fostering a Christianity that is always changing and growing and that is responsive to contemporary society.

Embracing Uncertainty in Faith

Progressive Christians don’t believe that we have to have everything figured out. God is with us in the questioning and discernment. Christian faith only grows as we seek to understand and trust God more. And trust grows in doubt, not certainty.

This understanding acknowledges the complexity and the evolving nature of spirituality. Instead of strict adherence to historic doctrines, Progressive Christianity allows for an exploration of beliefs, where doubt and uncertainty are not seen as weakness but as an integral part of faith’s depth.

You are Welcome Here!

Wherever you are in your faith journey – even if you’re not sure you have one – you are welcome here. There are some things we believe deeply about who God is in Jesus Christ. There is even more than we are unsure of. We welcome your questions, doubts, and uncertainties. We think all traditions have something to teach, so if you are Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Pagan, Atheist, or something else, we welcome you into community and dialogue. God made us dazzlingly diverse and wondrous. We hope you’ll share your particular wondrousness with us!