Advice for Progressives in Conservative Churches

In my recent posts about progressive Christianity and our longing for a tribe, a close knit faith community, I discussed why it can be hard for progressives to build, maintain and grow a church.

One solution here, that a lot of progressives take, is to worship with a community that is more conservative than you are.

There's an art form to pulling this off. So let me offer some recommendations.

First, by "more conservative than you are" I don't mean a conservative church. That may not be tenable. What you are looking for is something that might be described as "moderate." If you can't find a local progressive church, find the most moderate church you can. 

Second, your bond to the church can't be based on agreement. Obviously. But that's hard for many of us since our default--among both progressives and conservatives--is to think that "being a Christian" means being right, possessing all the correct ideas. More and more it seems that Christianity is becoming an issue-based religion, an ideology, having the right views on a suite of issues, progressive or conservative.

If you can't let this go then you'll spend all your time at church thinking, "That's wrong, that's wrong, that's wrong..." Maybe it is all wrong, but as Jesus said, people will know we are Christians by our love. You have to build your relationship with the church on something more than intellectual assent. Don't just sit in the pews spinning theological plates in your head. My recommendation would be to throw yourself into a ministry you are passionate about. Make that service and the people in that ministry your tether to the faith community.

Third, try not to be a theological snowflake. You're worshiping in a more conservative context, so some people are going to hold and proclaim traditional, conservative beliefs. Don't fall to pieces if someone mentions hell or penal substitutionary atonement or a problematic theodicy.

Of course, every situation is different. Some churches are toxic. And you have to be wise about how you share your progressive beliefs. It's all very complex and delicate. Still, my main point is that if you choose to worship with a more conservative church you need to have some thick skin, theologically speaking. You can't be fragile or brittle every time you hear something you disagree with. Again, it's related to the point above, you have to build the relationship on more than theological agreement.

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