Post-Progressive Christianity: Part 6, Love

The moral default of progressive Christianity is liberal humanism. That is to say, progressive Christianity prizes tolerance and inclusion. Progressive Christianity generally adopts a non-judgmental posture toward the world. By and large, in contrast to evangelical and conservative Christianity, the ethic of progressive Christianity tends toward the permissive.

As a post-progressive Christian, I highly prize tolerance. Where many evangelical Christians see liberal humanism as a great enemy, I tend to see it as one of the great moral advances in human history. It's hard not to read a book like Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of our Nature and not come to the conclusion that the liberal values of the Enlightenment have had a salutary effect upon human moral development. Tolerance toward our neighbors and acceptance of their differences, especially in an increasingly pluralistic world, are vital aspects for creating a more just and peaceful world.

And yet, tolerance is a far cry from the sacrificial, cruciform love that sits at the heart of the Christian ethical vision. Christian notions of agape demand a bit more than "I'm okay and you're okay."

There are many contrasts I could make between love and tolerance, but let me focus on one in particular. Specifically, the Christian vision of love involves love for our enemies. Jesus, from the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6.27-29, 35-36):
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.

Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked."
That's a wee bit more than tolerance! And few of us, progressive or conservative, are eager to sign up for that sort of lifestyle. This is why I described Christian love as cruciform. Christian love is cross-shaped. And few of us are eager to carry the cross. I know I'm not.

All that to say, progressive Christians, because they preach inclusion and tolerance, tend to see themselves as lovers in contrast to their more judgmental evangelical counterparts. And in the eyes of the world, yes, progressive Christians are more tolerant and inclusive, more likely to welcome the "sinners" who are shunned by evangelical churches.

And yet, when it comes to cruciform love, loving our enemies, progressive Christians are no more loving than evangelical Christians. That's a hard thing to say, but are progressive Christians doing a better job at loving the people they consider wicked? As we are all well aware, there is an intolerance associated with tolerance, and this intolerance has left its mark upon how love is expressed with progressive Christianity, although many try valiantly to resist this influence. The sad irony is that an ideal of tolerance simply creates a new definition of "evil." And once that "evil" group is identified, it becomes really hard to love them. In fact, it's downright immoral to love them. Spend ten minutes on progressive Christian Twitter and you'll see what I'm talking about. Tolerance also tends toward demonization and dehumanization. In the end, even humanists are haters.

So, the contrast...

I AM A PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN because I believe the inclusion and tolerance preached by liberal humanism has been one of the great moral advances in human history, values that should be embraced and preached within the Christian community. Humanism is our friend, not our enemy.

I AM A POST-PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN because I believe that the Christian ethic of love involves much more than tolerance, and that progressive Christianity and liberal humanists struggle to love as much as everyone struggles. We're all haters. The call to be kind to the evil and wicked, for both progressives and evangelicals, is a message that remains as hard, foolish, seemingly immoral, and counter-cultural as when Jesus first taught it. Consequently, no progressive Christian can preach cruciform love on social media without being mobbed. If Jesus were on Twitter, he'd be crucified.

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