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What Does a Progressive, Biblically-Oriented Christian Believe?


When I talk to “spiritual, but not religious” people (and in the Pacific Northwest where I live, there is a great many of such folks), I often am told that yes, they believe Jesus was a great teacher, but not really the divine Son of God. Naturally, as a practicing Christian and an ordained pastor, I disagree with the latter sentiment (Jesus being the Son of God) for obvious reasons, but honestly, in some ways, I also disagree with the former.

In his play “Freud’s Last Session,” Armand Nicholi’s C.S. Lewis says that to reduce Jesus to a great teacher was patronizing. While Lewis is referring to Christ as the one being patronized (and I happen to agree with that sentiment), I think it is also the Bible, the living Word of God, that is likewise patronized. Not to take anything away from Christ Himself, but the Bible contains plenty of ethical advice that is as true today as it was then—and not just for conservative Christians, but for progressive Christians as well.

What follows, then, is an exercise in the powers of proof-texting—of taking individual verses of Scripture out of context to support an opinion. My point in this exercise is not to butcher Scripture itself—something that proof texting inherently does—but to illustrate two distinct arguments:

First, that despite popular stereotypes, the Bible, and Christianity itself, does not belong to any one political faction.

Second, that if any of my more conservative brethren would try to explain away any of these verses by discussing context, translation, literary motifs, and the like, I would respectfully and gently suggest that such responsible exegesis is similarly due the next time, say, Leviticus 18:22 or 20:13 is cited in opposition to marriage equality.

The following verses are only a sampling of what the Bible has to teach us. On balance, Scripture is, I believe, more concerned with right relationship with God and issues of social justice than with anything else. I have striven to highlight verses that are perhaps lesser known than the more famous verses about equality—I imagine most of us are familiar with the idiom of a camel passing through the eye of a needle, and how Jesus says that it is easier for that to happen than for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, this list should by no means be considered exhaustive—indeed, it does not utilize any verses from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Rather, this post represents only a tip of the proverbial iceberg.

With all of this having been said, I present to you the Bible on the following 12 hot-button issues. All quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version.

Socialism:

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” -Acts 4:32, 34-35

Immigration:

“You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” -Exodus 22:21, 23:9

“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” -Leviticus 19:34

Women Teaching Religion:

“Many Samaritans from that city believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony.” -John 4:39

“I commend you to our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require of you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.” –Romans 16:1-2

Diversity:

“For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” -Isaiah 56:7

“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call upon him.” –Romans 10:12

“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one spirit.” -1 Corinthians 12:13

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” –Galatians 3:28

Judicial Prejudice:

“Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?” -James 2:6

Torture:

“Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” -Hebrews 13:3

Retributive Punishment:

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” –Romans 12:19

Environmentalism:

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” -Genesis 2:15

Predatory Lending:

“If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them.” -Exodus 22:25

The Rich Becoming Richer:

“Even so, he (the king) must not acquire many horses for himself…and he must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself.” -Deuteronomy 17:16-17

“The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” –James 5:4

The Sin of Sodom:

“This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” –Ezekiel 16:49

Inequality as a Universal Harm

“Again I saw all the oppressions that are practised under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them.” -Ecclesiastes 4:1

Edit: This post was edited to reflect that the Gospel of John is quoted, but not Matthew, Mark, or Luke.  The post originally stated that it “does not utilize any verses from the Gospels.” -E.A.

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