Saturday, November 11, 2006

Jesus Is a Progressive

Many people have told me that a progressive Christian is a contradiction in terms, and I think it might be important to examine the validity of that statement. We Christians rely on the Bible as, at least, a first source for theological issues, (how's that for equivocating?) and it where our accusers claim to get their opinions. So, let us take a brief (very brief, Jim Wallis of Sojourners reports that while in Seminary, he and a group of friend removed all of the “progressive” bits out of a Bible and there wasn't enough material to keep the book together) tour through the Bible. Please note that my contention is not that critics can't find objectionable passages in the Bible, but that Christians cannot find justification for their present greedy, bellicose doctrines. The Bible advocates and allows some pretty rotten things but, in most cases, provides evidence that this is not how a believer should live, or believe.

Starting in Leviticus, the Israelites are instructed to not fully harvest their fields, so that the poor among them (which they are commanded not to have, but God is a smart dude) might gather food from them (Leviticus 19:9, 23:22). Also, in Leviticus, God commands positive environmental practices (25:4,5; 26:34,35) good labor relations (23:39) and in Exodus He condemns hording (chapter 16, Jesus said much later “give us this day our DAILY bread”) and again fair labor conditions (20:8,10-11). In Ezekiel 16:49,50 God explains that He destroyed Sodom for inhospitality and a lack of compassion, and brutal behavior, not homosexuality; “" 'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” And the beat goes on.

In the New Testament, though we could start anywhere, let's see what Mary had to say (in part) when she learned she was to have a baby; “He did powerfully with His arm, He scattered abroad the proud in the thought of their heart, He brought down the mighty from thrones, And He exalted the lowly, The hungry He did fill with good, And the rich He sent away empty,” (Luke 1:51,53). And Jesus read this passage when beginning His ministry “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18,19; Isaiah 61:1,2) and when asked by John's disciples if He were the Messiah or should they seek another, well let Him tell you "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Luke 7:22). In Matthew 23:31,46 it is not good doctrine or “sexual purity” that separates the lambs from the goats, but social justice. And finally (but again, not at all exhaustedly), in Revelation, Jesus speaks to the Church in Laodicea “You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” Revelation 3:17,18) The in Laodicea was reputed by Hal Lindsey as the “tribulation church” and it sure does resemble the church today, with wealth being the measure of godliness.

I think it is pretty clear from even this brief look at scripture that it is, at least not contradictory to be progressive and Christian. Maybe even an opposite conclusion could be derived. And this is forgetting the whole letter of James, who couldn't get out two sentences without reverting back to his message of humility and social justice (there is literally so much and it is so scattered through out his letter that I invite you to read it yourself). What do you think?

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