Unpublished: The Wounds of Progressive Christians

Jana and I were once members of a new church plant when I was in graduate school. This was a church associated with our tradition but was more progressive, for that time and place at least. What happened was that a lot of people who had been hurt by our churches were attracted to this new church given it's progressive nature. That's a good thing, people were looking for healing. But it also brought with it a lot of anger, hurt and dysfunction. That church no longer exists.

One of the lessons Jana and I learned during that time is that it's hard to build a church upon a foundation of anger, resentment and hurt. It's hard to build a church around an identity that basically says, "We're not like those other churches."

It's often been noted that progressive theology is inherently reactionary, the moon to the evangelical sun.

But if that's the intellectual side of the equation, the hurt and anger is the emotional side.

--an unpublished post about the emotional woundedness that runs through progressive Christianity

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18 thoughts on “Unpublished: The Wounds of Progressive Christians”

  1. Richard, you said: "It's often been noted that progressive theology is inherently reactionary, the moon to the evangelical sun".

    Yes, for those of us who grew up in a legalistic atmosphere, it most certainly began that way. What I see within our tradition is a tendency among so-called progressive churches to reach a certain level on which one no longer has to believe that other similar conservative churches are the enemy, while remaining angry at those of our tradition who taught us they were. To be quite specific, there many in the CoC who felt very, very liberated to be able to simply embrace the Independent Christian Church and the Baptist Church as Christian. That was the kind of prison that legalism had been for them, and I understand it. However, they do not progress any further, leaving them in a reactionary state toward the church.

    No, one never forgets from where he or she came. But that memory can be transformed from a spot of anger to being a plain of education if we remain hungry to be more than we are at the moment, if we approach the moment with eyes wide open; it is then that the universe opens up. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said, "Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you", Saying 5. It keeps the travel through life upward and exciting; sometimes frightening, but exciting.

  2. Thanks for this. There's a lot of problems with that sentence I wrote. The word "inherently" is a poor choice. What you are describing is a lot better. Progressive theology often, but not always, begins as a reaction to a conservative past. But progressive theology isn't inherently reactionary. I can be, emotionally speaking, for many, but that's emotionally speaking, not theologically speaking.

  3. In past years people often moved from conservative churches to more liberal ones, finding conservative theology and practices to restrictive. It would seem more often today that people are moving straight out from conservative to "none." Many mainline churches have served and can serve as homes for the hurting, but we have to have a positive message, not just a message that we're not like them!

  4. I think one of the things I'm gesturing to in the post is that the fault isn't with the mainline. It's hard to be post-evangelical in a mainline church not because the mainline isn't awesome, but because being post-evangelical still makes evangelicalism the touchstone of one's identity, even as you start attending mainline churches. And it's hard to maintain a vibrant faith if it's still defining itself by what it rejects. I don't know if that's a problem the mainline can fix as it's a deep identity issue that post-evangelicals have to wrestle with.

    That is to say, the problem is more psychological and emotional than ecclesial or theological.

  5. You know the story of the shipwrecked Welshman, Dai Davies, who managed to swim to a small island a few miles from where the ship sank.. He was finally rescued 10 years later. The landing party was amazed at the way Dai had not only survived but even flourished, building a small town to remind him of his home in the valleys. There was a vegetable shop, a butchers, a bakery, and a real estate agency too. But the members of the landing party were perplexed, for Dai had built not one but two chapels. "Why two?" they asked. "You see that one?" said Dai, pointing to one of the edifices. "That's the one I don't belong to."

  6. Richard, thank you for a thoughtful critique of progressive Christianity. I suppose it's also true that many religious movements begin in reaction of the establishment, the 'Protest'ant Reformation, the Carl F.H. Henry of the Fundamentalists of the 1920s, etc.
    It's personal to me, because I've been told by more conservative friends, with an understanding tone, and a tsk, that "Joy, I understand why you're a feminist and believe in gay marriage. Maybe if I had your spiritually abusive background, I would come to the same conclusions."
    Which used to drive me crazy. But I cannot deny that my past has made me who I am. Yet as others have commented here, if my faith rests in reaction, it does no one any good, and no love can flourish.

  7. I think it's hard for love, peace and joy to flourish if it's rooted in woundedness. That said, it's often our wounds that make us compassionate, sensitive to the wounds of others. People who have never been hurt can tend toward callousness.

    All that to say, it's complicated. :-)

  8. I don't see anything wrong with starting a church that "fails". Churches are creative places that need to flourish in the missional context in which they are established. And there's no formula that works for everyone everywhere. All churches start with a mix of anger, joy, peace, ambition, impatience. Like families, they won't all look the same. If you spend time with people who work in the creative and tech fields, it's common to have 90% of your efforts fail and that's nothing to be ashamed of. The point is to pick up the pieces and try again or start worshiping in an established church. I applaud any hurt who wounded person who keeps on trying!

  9. :-) There's a bit more to the story about Dai Davies on a pdf posted by the Llancarfansociety.

    According to this, Dai and his cousin, Ianto, were struggling with their businesses and decided to travel to the Welsh Colony in Patagonia, where they hoped to set up a thriving business with horses and wagons. They and their wives were shipwrecked and settled on an uninhabited island, where they were spotted by some HM warships about 20 years later.

    The smaller chapel was called 'Zion' and the larger chapel 'Bethel'. When asked why there were two chapels: "Ianto gestured dismissively across the road and replied: 'That's the one they go to.' " There is a disclaimer in the pdf at the end of this story: 'PC or not, this is a deeply moral tale.'

    I'm not sure what the moral is, but here's my take on it: there were only four of them on the island and their familial conflicts were transferred to their 'religion'. I think this is also true of some wounded people who hope that a new church might solve deeply-rooted problems in themselves and their family relationships.

  10. Richard, this is true. My own journey into a post-evangelical reality came gradually and as a graduate of Fuller I did so in the context of an evangelicalism that engaged with the mainline. Of course, getting fired by a Christian Church/Churches of Christ college for being too liberal could have caused me a bit of harm, but I was embraced by my mainline colleagues (I was already ordained Disciples at the time).

  11. I grew up in the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement this past Sunday I was confirmed in the Episcopal church. When I left the IFB movement it took sometime for me to learn not to identify myself by that which I am not. I imagine that is not easy for everyone, but for me the issue boiled down to what kind of person do I want to be defined as, and i certainly did not want to be beholden to an identity that was no longer apart of my day to day life.

  12. Over 23 years (2) successive progressive congregations, for me, went sadly -- many souls short circuited-- after much growth inside, the way described here by Toni Stern: "

    "...there's something wrong here, there can be no denying, one of us is changing or maybe we just stopped trying. But it's too late baby now it's too late though we really did try to make it. Something inside has died and I can't hide and I just can't fake it. Oh no no no no no!

    It used to be so easy living here with you. You were light and breezy and I knew just what to do. Now you look so unhappy and I feel like a fool.

    There'll be good times again for me and you. But we just can't stay together don't you feel it too, Still I'm glad for what we had and how I once loved you.

    But it's too late baby now it's too late, though we really did try to make it. Something inside has died and I can't hide and I JUST CANT FAKE IT.

  13. golly! I think you've hit on a truth that transfers to a lot of situations on the christian blogs regarding thosr pesky trolls that keep an argument going as long as someone is willing to be triggered by their tactics. the wound from dysfunktional families males zombies out of ppl that carries on in a pattern that universally keeps one in a role defined by dysfunction:
    One is either a victim or a victimizer.

  14. Yes! I think all the ppl one leaves behind stay w one either for good if they've been a blessing or bad if they've traumatized you. In the instance where one is traumatized the wound stays in control & negativly influences one's decisions, I think, utill one finds a loving community that will support healing.

  15. I would also add 'rescuer' to the roles you have described. I'm aware of, and interested in, 'The Drama Triangle' - easy to be caught up in it unawares, and difficult to disengage from it!

  16. indeed! it's a crisis i think that may be resolved but how?

  17. In my experience both prayer and counselling can comfort, strengthen and guide.

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