A Primer on Progressive Faith and Politics

As we enter the 2016 election year and primary voting gets under way in the next few weeks, it's important to consider the relationship between progressive faith and politics.

From the tradition I work out of, and with a name like "progressive Christians," it's not surprising that many people assume that means Christians who are Democrats, likely even those who "feel the Bern." Not so! Progressive faith is rooted in a theological commitment.

We believe that salvation is first and foremost a this-worldly, collective change from the problems of this life more than an individualistic afterlife after-party. Whether you call it the Social Gospel or something else, it means that our faith is meant to address the domination and oppression that communities experience as death-dealing. It means offering liberation and healing not just post-mortem, but right here, right now.

We believe that the truest calling of being church or living out Jesus' way of compassion and justice means being in solidarity with oppressed communities. Learning from them and supporting their struggles are holy activities. This obviously has strong social, and by extension political, implications. Ending poverty, fighting militarism, dismantling white supremacy (Martin Luther King's classic trifecta), as well as protecting the planet, affirming LGBT rights, and standing with religious communities being discriminated against (like Muslims) is the calling of every progressive person of faith.

What that doesn't mean is that progressive Christians are shills for the Democratic Party. You can be a counter-cultural Green, a political independent, or a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (like Cornel West). Others prioritize expressing their civic engagement beyond voting through protesting party rallies like Black Lives Matters activists. I know an anti-racism trainer who is a born and raised Republican who votes in their primaries (let's call this transformation from within). It's even possible to feel an affinity for extra-American political parties, such as Greece's Syriza Party or Podemos of Spain.

The key insight of progressive faith, whether Christian or otherwise, is a healthy skepticism of any one political figure acting as a messianic savior. Even a politician who prioritized all the issues and policies we advocate is not the solution to our world's problems, because we know that strong social movements are what push our political system to address issues elected officials would sooner avoid. Some politicians are more open to being pushed, and some are more resistant. But the vast majority of long-lasting change happens when there is sufficient popular pressure to do the impossible, thanks to our moral imagination, whether through leading uprisings like the People Power Revolution that helped end the Philippines' political dictatorship in the 1980s, pushing against political inertia through the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, or challenging our economic system to move away from obscene income inequality and wealth disparities going forward.

Progressive faith trusts that the world can be healed from much that ails it, another system of living together is possible, and we have to fight and struggle together in love to help birth that coming Commonwealth into Divine existence.

Just don't expect any person to single-handedly save the world. Except maybe Jon Snow.


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