Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Progressive Christianity: A New Avenue for Faith


There are many surveys showing a decline in church membership among mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. There has also been a similar trend among Catholics, to such an extent that if "former Catholic" were a denomination, it would be the second largest in the country. It is a trend that has been going on for some time in spite of countless efforts by denominations to foster church growth. Even so, we are seeing numerous examples of new expressions of faith that may be indicators of what is in store as we find our way in a post-Christian society. The "emergent church," the Wild Goose Festival, the CANA Initiative, and Progressive Christianity are just a few examples of different ways that people of faith are coalescing to find different ways to celebrate and demonstrate their faith.

What Is Progressive Christianity?

Fred Plumer
Last September, Fred Plumer, a minister in the United Church of Christ, gave the Fall SPAFER* Lectures.  The topic of his lectures was “Progressive Christianity – What Is It?” While Plumer cited statistics indicating a wholesale decline in church membership throughout the Western World, the refreshing thing was that he came with no program to implement for jump-starting congregations. Instead of programs, he offered insights into a meaningful way of life based upon the teachings of Jesus.

His “new paradigm” of progressive Christian spirituality is based on an old paradigm of the early Jesus movement which was, Plumer said, “a Gnostic-type of movement.” Progressive Christianity assumes things change, offers a path rather than a belief system, is more interested in love than fear and is more interested in the common good than in personal salvation.  The emphasis is upon the wisdom path in which one follows Jesus rather than worships Jesus, practicing rather than preaching, learning to live in gratitude for life, and discovering inner wisdom.

Alongside the declining numbers in mainline Christian Churches, Plumer cited a growing hunger for spirituality. By following “the Jesus path,” Progressive Christianity offers a spirituality rather than an institution. On the Jesus path, “the primary goal is to discover that we are all sons and daughters of the Father/ Creator/ Sacred Unity.” Plumer spoke of a spirituality that can trust the path, living without fear. It is a path in which we do not judge another, forgive even the unforgivable, live with a generous heart and celebrate with joy.

We learn to experience the Sacred Unity by nurturing deep compassion for others, by practicing non-judgment and forgiveness, and by learning to see the divinity in all of life.  Plumer advocated reviving Christian practices of time spent in silence and reflection, finding space that removes us from the chatter, and finding community.

Fred Plumer highlighted Eight Points of Progressive Christianity which are also found on their website at www.progressivechristianity.org :

By calling ourselves progressive Christians, we mean we are Christians who…
1. Believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life;
2. Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;
3. Seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to
- Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
- Believers and agnostics,
- Women and men,
- Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
- Those of all classes and abilities;

4. Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe;

5. Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes;

6. Strive for peace and justice among all people;

7. Strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth;

8. Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.

Fred Plumer at the Fall 2013 SPAFER Lectures
Photo by Jim High

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*SPAFER (Southern Progressive Alliance for Exploring Religion) sponsors academic lectures twice a year to hear scholars and leaders in the field of religion. Past speakers have included Marcus Borg, Martin Mary, Barbara Brown Taylor, Wayne Flynt, and John Dominic Crossan, among others. This year (May 2 & 3) Thomas Moore will be speaking on "A Religion of One's Own," and later in the year, Brian McLaren will be the featured speaker. We have been fortunate to hear from a range of speakers from academia as well as from the field of faith practice. (Refer to the SPAFER website for details of upcoming events, including Thomas Moore)


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