For progressive Christians, it’s difficult to feel welcome in some churches, and it’s worse when a well-known minister labels progressives ‘Godless.’
I have great admiration for the Rev. Billy Graham, who just turned 98. I heard the elder Graham speak at Williams-Brice Coliseum in Columbia back in the 1980s. If I hadn’t already been a Christian at that point, I certainly would have been after that night.
I’m sorry to say that I haven’t been able to muster the same respect for Graham’s son.
Franklin, like many others on the Religious Right, fought tooth and nail against Hillary Clinton but inexplicably felt no compunction whatsoever in supporting Donald Trump wholeheartedly no matter what horribly demeaning, sexist things might come out of that candidate’s mouth.
Less than a week before the election, Franklin posted on Facebook about his experience in early voting when a woman walked up to him and asked if he would like a list of “Progressive” candidates, an offer he was only too pleased to reject. Then he said this:
You know, the word Progressive is just a way to try to make secular and godlessness sound better and more up-to-date. I told this lady that Progressives are for the most part atheists—and they’re not going to stand for God’s laws and for His direction in our country.
So those of us who consider ourselves “progressive” seem to be, in Franklin’s worldview, “Godless.”
It’s so wrong on so many levels.
There’s a progressive movement within the church, as I’m sure Graham is well aware.
What he’s apparently not aware of, or what he and many other Christians seem too willing to ignore, is the fact that Progressive Christianity seeks a deeper understanding of God through focusing on the words of God and Jesus Christ over the words of those who say they are speaking for them.
I’d hope that even Graham would agree that words attributed to Jesus Christ are more important than words attributed to others who claim to speak on Christ’s behalf.
Progressive Christianity focuses on Christ’s own words. But the problem with progressive Christianity for men like Graham is that it often questions long-held traditional views of the church, not for the sake of questioning but for a deeper evaluation of whether those views actually are true to Christ’s instruction.
But any challenge to those traditional views is something that folks like Graham latch onto with steadfast determination and declare anyone who doesn’t follow as “heretics” or worse.
Consider this from the Wikipedia listing on progressive Christianity:
Progressive Christianity is a form of Christianity which is characterized by a willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity, a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and the oppressed, and environmental stewardship of the Earth. Progressive Christians have a deep belief in the centrality of the instruction to “love one another” (John 15:17) within the teachings of Jesus Christ. This leads to a focus on promoting values such as compassion, justice, mercy, tolerance, often through political activism.
Those who oppose progressive Christianity have no problem using political activism for their side.
Some of the ideas of progressive Christianity are, admittedly, inconsistent with some traditional Biblical principles.
But the goal isn’t to shake things up just because they have nothing better to do: it’s to promote a better understanding of God and what He wants for our lives.
How is that Godless?
It’s a shame there must be division within the church.
But it’s an even bigger shame when leaders in the church choose such intentionally-divisive language to promote further turmoil.
The body of Christ deserves better.