Faith in Action

| 5/5/2008 10:41:43 AM

 The Good Samaritan
The progressive Christian movement isn’t simply the lefty counterpart to the higher-profile Christian right. So what exactly is it?

A pastor I know wears a T-shirt identifying him as a “proud member of the Christian left.” I asked where he bought it. “It’s hard to find a shirt like this,” he replied. “I made it myself.”

There were no such shirts for sale April 11-13 at the downtown Minneapolis Hyatt, but the place was crawling with liberal Christians. Five hundred people attended a conference on faith and politics, hosted by the Plymouth Center for Progressive Christian Faith, a project of Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church. The weekend’s three keynotes and several smaller sessions focused on the growing progressive alternative to the Christian right.

The vast majority of conference-goers were mainline Protestants, members of the historic denominations that now comprise the moderate-to-liberal sector of the U.S. church. It’s a distinct group from evangelical Protestants, politically progressive or otherwise: Among other things, mainline Protestants read scripture more critically and are less likely to define their beliefs in opposition to other faiths or to the wider culture.

In other words, these Christians are relatively liberal in their theology as well as in their politics. Words such as “liberal” and “left,” however, were in short supply—one of several ambiguities the weekend highlighted.

The Rev. Anne S. Howard directs the Beatitudes Society, which works with seminarians. In her session, Howard underscored the need to eschew political partisanship—a point echoed in the keynote by Jim Wallis, president of the social-activism organization Sojourners. (Full disclosure: I interned at Sojourners magazine.)