When I tell people I’m a Christian, a lot of people have a certain set of assumptions about me.
They assume that I hate gay people, that I’m all for shaming and stoning anyone who has sex before marriage, that I love Donald Trump, that I’m an arch-political conservative, that I mainly associate with white people. They assume that I love capitalism and defend drastic wealth inequality, and they assume that I’m a self-righteous stickler for anyone who does wrong,
None of these are true. I believe that I am chief among sinners and that I’m in no place to judge someone else for sinning even though I make a lot of mistakes myself. I am an evangelical, but I am also progressive. I believe that God does not support mass incarceration, nor does He support people not having adequate health insurance.
Scripture backs up these claims. With regard to mass incarceration, God did not intend for people to remain, prisoners, especially for those that are part of His kingdom. In Luke 4:18, Jesus tells us that “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives…to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” The book of Romans goes back and forth, continuously, about embracing the Spirit over the Law, which isn’t to say that the Law doesn’t matter, but that grace should abound.
Mass incarceration flies in the face of biblical values. Jesus, in Luke 10:27, urges us to “love the Lord your God…and your neighbor as yourself,” and how do we love our neighbors who are treated unequally and inequitably by draconian laws that lead to mass incarceration? I wrote a long time ago about minimum sentencing laws of crack cocaine possession that disproportionately affected African-Americans in the 1980s — in 1986, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act mandated a minimum five-year sentence for people in possession of a small amount of crack cocaine. Laws like the Anti-Drug Abuse Act and the War on Drugs has led us to increase our federal prison population by 500 percent over the last 30 years.
These trends have led to the United States having 5 percent of the world’s population — but 25 percent of the prison population. How do we love our neighbors as ourselves if we’re sending so many of them to prisons for minor sins? As we are all one body of Christ, Hebrews 13:3 urges us to “remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” That means that we shouldn’t be so quick to mistreat our brothers and sisters because of their mistakes — but rather that we should show the gift of mercy and grace.
For those that say that this is world marred in sin, that God’s kingdom is the kingdom above, and not on Earth, remember the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:10: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
Remember that the New Deal relied heavily on the Gospel. I believe that Capitalism, as it stands to promote unfettered greed, defies Christian principles. There is no reason why a lack of a social safety net for our most vulnerable citizens would be considered Christian. Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and having an economic system that enables drastic wealth inequality and unfettered suffering in the forms of homelessness and poverty afflict our most vulnerable citizens is not Christian.Acts 2:44–25 tells us that early Christians behaved communally:
“And all who believed together and had things in common. And were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
Similarly, Christianity bolsters progressive values in health care. There should be no reason why approximately 44 million people don’t have health insurance when the Early Church nurtured and took care of the sick, regardless of whether they were pagan or Christian.
In addition, with regard to sexuality, I will acknowledge that some aspects of conservative Christian culture are correct. Sex before marriage is a sin as sexual immorality. And that means that homosexuality is not a sin. As homosexuality is just attraction, and attraction is just temptation, the temptation is vastly different from practice in itself. Temptation is dangerous, yes, because temptation can lead to sin.
But there is no reason why the sin of sex before marriage should be completely demonized by the church above a lot of other sins. We sin every time we judge of self-righteousness, which I argue is a much more terrible sin than sex before marriage. We even sin of gluttony every time we go to an all-you-can-eat buffet like Golden Corral and overconsume of food that would be much better used going to hungry people.
Let it be noted that in Matthew 23, Jesus spends an entire verse of the Bible chastising the Pharisees for their self-righteousness, for judging others for not following the law and preaching but not practicing the law. In Matthew 23:13, Jesus says “woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.”
Self-righteousness is the worst sin, as Jesus noted. I am a Calvinist and Presbyterian, so I acknowledge that we are all sinners saved by grace. We need to go to bed each night acknowledging the various ways that we don’t love God and love our neighbor.
I will admit that I am much more conflicted on the question of abortion. What I know is that no woman I know who has gotten an abortion did it just so she could get an abortion. Abortion is often a last-resort option that brings about a lifetime of emotional angst, guilt and shame, something I could never understand.
Scripture does not fervently support pro-life or pro-choice stances. In Exodus 21:22–25, God’s law dictates that a pregnant woman who is injured and loses a fetus needs financial compensation, suggesting that a fetus is property, not a person. Genesis 2:7 dictates that breath is the basis for human life. A developing fetus does not inhale amniotic fluid until weeks 10 to 11 of pregnancy, so after 10 to 11 weeks, an abortion may be considered a sin.
But even though an abortion of a breathing fetus is a sin, why do we demonize abortion like we demonize sex before marriage? Why are we acting like one sin is the pathway to hell when we are all equally as bad sinners?
Grace is the biggest gift from God, and God gave us grace when Christ died on the cross. Grace is radical love and acceptance even when we don’t deserve it, and I have always seen progressivism as a pathway to grace. That doesn’t mean shouting at your opponents and making yourself elevated and superior to them as is often derided in PC culture. But giving drastic forgiveness, giving the benefit of the doubt, and giving people second chances and safety nets, are the essence of what it means to be a Christian.
That’s why progressivism and Christianity, to me, are very intertwined. Jesus was never Democrat or Republican, progressive or libertarian. Christians will always have drastic differences in their belief of the right political or economic system. Progressivism is an ideal, which, when executed ideally, puts in place a kingdom that looks more a lot like God’s kingdom on Earth.
That isn’t to say that ideals reflect reality, but the stereotype of the conservative, homophobic, Trump-loving Christian is far from what the Gospel dictates for Christians who are supposed to love their neighbor. As such, progressivism and Christianity are intertwined, and it’s time to start recognizing that.