Before the Democrats in New Hampshire voted, the candidates argued about who was the most progressive. Bernie Sanders reminded his opponent that the root of the word is progress and Hillary Clinton wondered aloud if there are any real progressives left.
No politico lives up to the ideal. Everyone has some fault, including these two candidates who argued for 15 minutes in a public debate about their own stance on so-called progressive values.
I must admit that I’m really tired of this fight.
Watching these two presidential hopefuls duke it out on the national stage, I felt the battle scars of so many years trying to push forward on issues within both national and church politics. The United Church of Christ is a so-called progressive church, so most of the churches I have served have had to wrestle with that fact.
Some of the members of the churches I have served have been so proud when the national office took a stance on health care, marriage equality, immigration or climate change. Others were horrified and left. They refused to take part in such a progressive church while the other side was frustrated that the denomination wouldn’t take more of a stance.
One candidate mentioned in the debate that they want to “stick to the issues,” and maybe that’s the only way forward. But I wonder what it means to be progressive right now. Is it different when a politician makes this claim from the podium than it is when a pastor proclaims it from the pulpit? Are we talking about the same thing? Are we defining this term in the same way?
I’m no longer sure. Pastoring churches all over the country with people politically and theologically all over the map, I am not sure that I can agree with the phrase “sticking to the issues.” I am not sure that it’s about the issues. Maybe it’s true for presidential hopefuls.
Maybe progressive politics really is all about the issues, but I’m not sure that a progressive faith can be so narrowly defined by a checklist of causes.
Progressive faith is all about change. It’s about how we welcome new ideas and new possibilities, whether those are thoughts about who Jesus Christ is or what the best dish is to bring to a potluck. It’s how we change and how we welcome that change.
Progressive faith is the church that isn’t afraid to welcome the Muslim on Sunday morning. It’s the church that continues to talk about racism so much that its elders encourage members and friends to give up racism for Lent. Progressive faith is the church that is constantly being revitalized, not because membership is down, but because they are curious and they choose to practice curiosity together. It’s the church that realizes that this isn’t the way we’ve always done things but we’re open to what God might be doing now. We’re willing to try something new. We’ll welcome this change and see what God will reveal as we take this risk together. Progressive faith doesn’t get bogged down in issues but welcomes the opportunity to learn and grow with God.
Progressive faith is not about issues.
Progressive politics can fight over those.
The Rev. Elsa A. Peters is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who has served churches in New York City, Maine and Washington. She believes in the power of community, that poverty can end in our lifetime and that everyone needs a little more love. Follow along in her adventures in ministry at http://revelsaanderspeters.com. You can also find her on Facebook at /elsa.a.peters.