Why Progressive Christians Are Ineffective and Unpersuasive
One of the most fascinating speeches in the Bible happens in Acts 5, with Jewish Pharisee Gamaliel addressing the Sanhedrin. He warns them that if the message being preached by the Apostles of Jesus were of man, it would fail. But if it is from God, it can't be stopped.
It was of God, and it wasn't stopped.
I find that passage particularly relevant today within American Christendom. There is a reason why liberal Christian movements like those championed by Jim Wallis, Rachel Held Evans, Shane Claiborne, and others are so ineffective and unpersuasive in American culture. Rather than seeking to glorify and build the Kingdom of God, they regularly appropriate the language of Scripture to advocate for earthly, largely political causes that never address the principal need of humanity: salvation from sin.
For instance, preaching the words of Scripture when it comes to our nation's policy toward refugees is admirable (provided it is done in context) only if you don't ignore, downplay, or reject the counsel of Scripture when it comes to policy regarding abortion, marriage, and human sexuality. So-called progressive Christians have long chastised their conservative brethren for cherry-picking Scripture to support certain political causes. And to the extent that conservatives have done that, it has been to our detriment.
One need only walk through the graveyard of the "Religious Right" for confirmation of that reality. The Religious Right fell apart not because it sought to apply the truth of the Bible to politics. It was when it tied the message of the Gospel to a political agenda. Before long, the Republican Party became an idol, and its success was seen as the most effective way to advance righteousness in the land. The Religious Right ceased to be about God, and thus it ceased to be.
But the same is happening with the Progressive Christianity of Wallis, Evans, Claiborne, Brian McLaren, and Tony Campolo that so desperately wants to be a formidable political force in America. In an effort to become such, they use the Bible as a weapon not against the sin and unrighteousness that plagues humanity, but against those who don't share their politics.
Loving like Jesus means caring about what He cared about, wanting what He wanted, acting like He acted. And any rational reading of Scripture reveals that Jesus always cared first about the spiritual health of the individual, second about their physical health. Healing the physical was His way of demonstrating He had authority to heal the spiritual – which was far more important.
Progressive Christians who focus only on physical poverty while ignoring spiritual poverty are not contending for the faith. They are a political movement that finds themselves in a flesh-driven struggle for power rather than a spirit-driven struggle for Kingdom-building. They mistake seeking social "justice" for the poor with seeking eternal justification for the sinner. That is a tragic confusion.
Take Sojourners Magazine, headed by Jim Wallis (and historically associated with the shocking promotion of misery-spreading communism in Central America), which recently ran a piece describing how American Christianity had failed because it "look[s] nothing like Jesus."
Now, on the surface, one need only view the opulent auditoriums and crystal palaces of some of the country's largest churches to recognize that there is certainly some truth to that assessment. But at the same time, the progressive Christians at Sojourners are promoting that narrative, they are simultaneously running glowing accounts and magnanimous reporting about the "Women's March" on Washington, D.C. the day after the inauguration.
This was a gathering that specifically barred many Christians, atheists, Jews, men, women, and minorities for their biblically consistent view that abortion dehumanizes innocent children. Is that the inclusivity of Jesus that Sojourners touts so often? And speaking of looking "nothing like Jesus," does the Wallis operation contend any of the following points?
- March organizer Linda Sarsour, who infamously attacked a fierce defender of Islamic women seeking freedom, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ali suffered through Islamic female genital mutilation as a five-year-old, but Women's March organizer Sarsour growled that she would take Ali's "vagina away."
- Grotesque signs stating "P---- Power," "Viva la Vulva," "P---- Grabs Back," "Abort Mike Pence."
- Placards depicting Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin engaged in perverse sexual acts.
- The caustic rhetoric and militant feminism of Ashley Judd that manifested in a profane and coarse rant that was antithetical to the biblical admonition of Ephesians 5.
- Giant models of bloody tampons.
- Posters adorned with explicitly anti-Biblical statements like "I didn't come from your rib – you came from my vagina."
- Featured speakers like Donna Hylton, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the kidnapping, anal assault with a three-foot steel pole, torture, and eventual murder of a 62-year-old man.
Is this what progressive Christianity sees as the face of Christ?
Condemning the vulgarity of President Trump is meaningful Christian conduct (I did it in strong terms right here). Appealing to decency and respect for women is a powerful witness to the truth of Scripture. But lauding condemnation done with equal and in some cases more disgusting vulgarity destroys that witness. Yet that is what the Christian left did, as evidenced on the pages of Sojourners and this Biblically offensive Facebook post from Rachel Evans:
Seeing hundreds of thousands of pink pussy hats today reminded me of Luke 12:3: 'Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.' Our new president is feelin' that one today.
The passage she cites is actually Jesus warning His disciples about hypocrisy – the very offense Evans commits in a post meant to condemn Trump's crudeness while applauding it in others.
This is the enduring problem with these liberal Christian movements. Whether flying under the banner of social justice or emergent church, the Christian left is nothing more than what they hated in the Religious Right: political activists selectively hijacking particular words of the Divine in vanity and political approbation.
Until that changes, they will remain a movement of man, not of the cross. Gamaliel tells us how that story ends.
Peter Heck is a speaker, author, and teacher. Follow him @peterheck, email email@example.com, or visit www.peterheck.com.