Neither “Progressive” nor “Christian”

Earlier this year the Common Dreams conference drew together people from Australia, North America and the South Pacific to Melbourne, to explore ways that ”progressive religion” can contribute positively to the common good.

I’ve just listened to a two part series on “Progressive Christianity” based around interviews with keynote speakers and participants.

The interviews are candid and provide important insights into final stages of decline and decay in the lifecycle of a movement.

Note the denial of the very core of the Christian faith. Note the willingness of denominations to tolerate clergy who deny the faith. Note the self interest that keeps clergy within denominational systems even while they undermine them.

On Christianity’s lack of originality . . .

In the last 20 years, there’s just been an explosion of information about how Christianity really got started and all the changes that were made. And for the first time, people are learning that there’s nothing in the Christian tradition, not the Virgin birth, not the death on the Cross, not the three-day later Resurrection, not the Ascension, not any of those things that we have laid upon Jesus, are unique to Jesus. They have existed in mythologies in Egypt and other areas as much as 500 years before Jesus.

Reverend Fred Plumer President of The Center for Progressive Christianity in Washington

On taking Jesus down from the cross . . .

In simple language I think what I would like to see is us let Jesus become the human that he was – albeit we might say an enlightened teacher, prophetic teacher, a wise teacher, a wisdom teacher, but essentially taken back down from the cross – and eliminate the need to worship as opposed to becoming a follower. I had a great vision while I was in seminary, literally of a picture in my mind of having a conversation with Jesus and having him say to me ‘Take me off the cross, so that you can follow me, you cannot follow me if you’re worshipping me.’ I don’t know where that came from, or what the effect was but that’s really the heart and soul of the Progressive movement, at a theological, Christological level.

Fred Plumer

On the doctrine of the Atonement (Christ dying for our sins) . . .

I really do think that’s been a curse to the faith.

Fred Plumer

On the nature of mission . . .

A lot of us who are interested in Progressive Christianity are white, middle class Western people and that we really need the voices of people who are marginalised and excluded, to join that progressive conversation, and that we need to examine some of the ways in which we perpetuate other people’s oppression, and I think the voices of gay and lesbian people are one way that that comes into the conversation. ,

Reverend Dr Margaret Mayman, senior minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Wellington, New Zealand

On the historic Christian faith . . .

I’d be happy to abandon the Apostles’ Creed.

The Very Reverend Jeremy Greaves, Dean of the Anglican Cathedral in Darwin

On why “Progressive Christians” are white, middle class and greying . . .

I remember Jack (Bishop Shelby) Spong saying last time around, when I was clearly the youngest person at the conference, that it doesn’t surprise him that young people are absent form this sort of event because so many of these questions are questions that for so many people in their 20s or even 30s, aren’t on the horizon yet, and so I’m not sure what it looks like. I don’t think that Progressive or this part of the church will ever be full of young people, but I think it certainly has a future, but I’m not sure what that looks like.

Jeremy Greaves

On quietly leaving traditional Christianity behind . . .

For so many of us in ministry, we’re locked into a model where the people who sit in the pews pay our salaries, pay our way. I have a wife and three small children to support and so the challenge of being too prophetic and changing too many things too quickly is that there won’t be enough people left in the short term to help me survive financially, and that’s a brutal and very difficult challenge.

Jeremy Greaves

On the fear that induces silence . . .

For so many of my colleagues in their 60s, which the majority, certainly in the Anglican church clergy are, they can probably get away with doing the same thing for another three or four years, and I have probably 30 years of ministry ahead, and that won’t work. And so the real challenge . . . is knowing that we need to be somewhere else, but for me it’s the fear that comes with that and perhaps lacking the courage sometimes to go quite as far as we perhaps need to go.

Jeremy Greaves

Full text and audio of the interviews.

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