A message to other “progressive Christians”
Over the last couple weeks God has really been convicting me of having allowed sin to creep into my life through social justice circles. But I also am getting the sense these problems are widely present in “progressive”/social justice-themed Christian spaces.
I want to share the following things I am starting to learn, because I’m guessing there are others out there who need to hear the same things.
1. We need to get off our high horses.
We are not better than others simply because we have the language of social justice at our disposal. Nor are we in any way more “enlightened.” We do not know or understand everything about our world. We just happen to have access to a particular framework and mindset that helps us understand certain systemic issues really well.
2. On that note: we need to realize that “social justice” is not for everyone.
Sure, the dismantling of systemic oppression really does benefit virtually everyone on the planet. But not every person will find liberation and mission in the principles and terminology of “social justice” as we define it, and that’s fine. Not every problem fits neatly into the framework of privilege/oppression (though many do!) and not everyone is called by God to activism (though many of us are!).
I learned this the hard way when I was trying to help a friend going through a hard time. I thought that I could help her out by helping her understand some of what she was experiencing from a social justice lens. But that was not what she needed at the moment— she needed me to listen to her where she was at.
3. Marginalization is no excuse for sin.
Sure, with privilege comes power, which can and does corrupt us. Privilege can also cause our sins to have greater impact, since we have the entire weight of the world backing them.
But, in Paul’s words, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Privilege does not excuse sin, but neither does marginalization. We have all sinned against one another, and we have all personally crucified Jesus with our sin. There is literally no point in comparing my sin with anyone else’s, and there is no excusing it no matter what circumstances I was in or what oppressive systems I was suffering from.
4. People are more than the sum of their identities.
In social justice circles, we rightly talk about how people’s social identities so strongly shape their experience in the world and their relationship to systems of power and oppression.
It is absolutely important that we do this. After all, the devil longs for nothing more than to sow division among people, and does so through power structures that divide people by identity. If we want to bring about the kingdom of God, we first have to dismantle the devil’s power structures — and to do that, we have to understand how they work!
But we also have to remember that God sees us as more than just the sum of our identities and experiences: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). God absolutely understands how human-constructed identities impact our lives (after all, Jesus became flesh!) but God also sees beyond them.
There is enormous value in examining how people’s social identities impact our experience here on earth. We have to see race if we wish to dismantle racism — colorblindness doesn’t cut it. But we must make sure we don’t see others as merely the sum of their identities, though, lest we start viewing other people the same way the enemy does.
5. We can learn something from all Christians.
It is tempting (and I am guilty of this too) to say we are better than particular groups of Christians with whom we disagree — particularly those that preach misogyny, racism, homophobia, etc. Or if we don’t actually say this, we at least believe that we are on better theological footing.
The fact is, none of us have a perfectly correct theology. It is of course our responsibility to call out bad (or downright oppressive) theology when we see it, but we should also be prepared for other Christians (and not just our inner circle) to find holes in ours. We should point out when other Christians are straying from the Lord, but only if we’re open to hearing the same.
We certainly do not have to listen to every Christian — there are some, like my former youth group leader, who preach such damaging theological garbage that the best thing we can do is plug our ears. (And we should be wary of Christian groups that have strayed so far from the Jesus of the gospel that they may as well be worshipping a false God — although we ourselves need to be aware that the same accusation could be lobbed back at us.)
We have every right to stay away from Christians who are actively hurting us or harming our relationship with Jesus. But we should remember that any disagreements we have are superficial compared to our agreement over who is Lord, and we are all walking the same faith journey. And despite our differences, we can all teach each other something about Jesus.
6. On that note: We need to be prepared to be wrong.
I am sure that when I get to heaven, one of the first things that will happen is God will show me a print-out of all the stuff I’ve written on tumblr that is flat out wrong. None of us has all the answers. We need to acknowledge this and be humble.
I hope this is helpful and meaningful to people! These are all things I struggle with, and I am happy to pray for you if there are any of these you feel you need to work on in your own life.