Shuck and Jive

Monday, November 13, 2006

Progressive Christianity

This ad appeared in several newspapers to promote the Jesus Seminar on the Road and our congregation. The JSOR featuring Hal Taussig and Perry Kea discussed faith communities of the first and twenty-first centuries. Hal Taussig has written a number of books including his latest, A New Spiritual Home: Progressive Christianity at the Grass Roots.

This book was the product of research of the progressive movement in the United States. Through the process he identified five characteristics of progressive congregations and found over 1,000 congregations that fit this model. He describes many of these congregations in detail. In an appendix he lists 1,000 of these congregations. He is careful to say that the five characteristics are descriptive rather than presciptive. He doesn't say what a progressive church should be. He also says that these congregations are largely unaware of each other. Often each thinks it is the only one! The impetus for this book was to show that there are many and that the movement is growing and it has no leadership. It is emerging from the grass roots as his book title suggests. Dr. Taussig shared in more depth this movement at the JSOR, explained these five characteristics and provided examples.

The five characteristics he identifies are as follows:

  • Creative, expressive worship. This includes worship that is becoming less clergy focused and includes more congregational participation. This may include guided meditations, extended periods of silence, dance, sharing of joys and concerns, a variety of rituals and readings from other traditions including marginalized aspects of Christianity.
  • Intellectual curiosity. Progressive Christianity demonstrates an openness to new ideas and to scholarly research. You will find progressive congregations hosting book studies on the historical Jesus, feminist theology, early Christian communities, and so forth. These insights are used to inform worship and practice.
  • Gender-bended. Progressive congregations are specificially open and affirming to all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender-identity and proud that they have taken that step. They are also fully supportive of women in the full life of the church and include insights from the various feminist theologies including inclusive language for God.
  • Deep Ecumenicity. Progressive congregations do not view other religions as false. You will find in these churches study groups to learn and appreciate the insights of other religions, incorporating some of their prayers and rituals into worship. Some may include yoga meditation as a ministry of the congregation.
  • An emphasis on social justice, particularly, eco-justice. Progressive congregations have a deep concern for the environment as well as other social justice issues, speak of them, and advocate for changes in public policy.

Dr. Taussig also provides a critique of the progressive movement. Despite claims to be inclusive, this movement is made up of congregations that are mostly white and middle-class. This movement has not appealed for the most part to African-American Christians or to the poor. Race and class are huge barriers within our society at large that few congregations (of any theological stripe) can seem to cross.

I often think it would be good to enact this symbolically by celebrating communion at a round table that is cracked with sharp jagged edges. It would remind us that racism and classism hold power over us even as we seek wholeness and peace. We have a long way to go.

Dr. Taussig also mentioned The Center for Progressive Christianity which is more prescriptive than descriptive. They have a thorough web page with a library, on-line discussion forums, a list of affiliates, a calendar of events and much more.

Their symbol is the eight-pointed star symbolizing the eight points. Many progressive congregations have affiliated with the TCPC. On the right of this blog I have included a section entitled "Progressive Presbyterian Congregations" who are listed on the TCPC website and have functioning web pages. If you know of other Presbyterian congregations that fit Dr. Taussig's description, or that you think embrace the progressive movement, I would be happy to include them.

Below are TCPC's Eight Points.

By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who…

1. Have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus;

2. Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us;

3. Understand the sharing of bread and wine in Jesus's name to be a representation of an ancient vision of God's feast for all peoples;

4. Invite all people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable (including but not limited to):

believers and agnostics,
conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
women and men,
those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
those of all races and cultures,
those of all classes and abilities,
those who hope for a better world and those who have lost hope;

5. Know that the way we behave toward one another and toward other people is the fullest expression of what we believe;

6. Find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty - more value in questioning than in absolutes;

7. Form ourselves into communities dedicated to equipping one another for the work we feel called to do: striving for peace and justice among all people, protecting and restoring the integrity of all God's creation, and bringing hope to those Jesus called the least of his sisters and brothers; and

8. Recognize that being followers of Jesus is costly, and entails selfless love, conscientious resistance to evil, and renunciation of privilege.

When I speak of the JSOR next time, I will speak of we learned about the various Christian communities in the first century.


  1. Amen. Know that you are not alone despite the attacks that you have received lately from other evangelical fundamentalist (close-minded bigots) lurking as bloggers.

    Our church has also endure such attacks because of our stance on homosexuality, which you can find in our paper On Inclusiveness.

    May God continue to bless your ministry.

    Patriarch Anthony I

  2. Thank you for your good words and support! I have read your impressive article and scanned you web page. Blessings on you and your ministry and on the building of St. Peter's!