“The denunciation of injustice implies the rejection of the use of Christianity to legitimize the established order”–Gustavo Gutierrez
I am a progressive Christian. I passionately support social activism as a left-leaning individual. And yet, the Christian Left continues to be an area of personal struggle.
The Christian Left or progressive Christians are people politically dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. As a group, they seek change that is morally sound. In contrast with conservative Christians, we progressives are less concerned with preserving the status quo and tend to not revere tradition or authority.
I see the necessity for young Christians to oppose systems that are untrustworthy or unreliable. We focus on social justice issues and cultural reformation. However, the Left (used broadly) has scarred my family history.
From 1958-1961, the Great Leap Forward was an economic and social movement in communist China meant to spur collectivism and equality among citizens. My great grandparents and everyone in my grandfather’s family, except one, died. They starved to death eating dirt during government sanctioned industrialization. They were members of the Si Chun people, farmers and commoners.
My grandfather never got a chance to say goodbye to his family. The Communist party apprehended him at age 17. The party forced him into the military. As a reaction against the Communist party, he joined the KMT (Kuomintang) after his military ‘service.’ In 1949, he fled to Taiwan due to persecution. My grandfather never saw his one remaining family member in China again.
While this harrowing history exists, my immediate family and I have moved to the US and lived here for 13 years. My politics is more influenced by American concerns now. As an American who has experienced the harms of the Right here, the Left in context has become appealing despite my history.
Learn from Wrongs, Revise the Present
There is a disconnect between the Left my parents described while raising me and the Left I encountered on my own. When I bring up Marx, they think communism. When I talk about change, they encourage me to focus on getting a job. When I mention liberal, they remind me that we’re “Christians.”
Christian Millennials like me across the board continue to lean left despite understanding that it failed before. We look back, yet do not let it hold us in the past. We attempt to learn from the wrongs to revise our present.
In 2013, the Public Religion Research Institute and The Brookings Institution released a study stated that “Religious progressives are significantly younger than religious conservatives…While Millennials comprise about one-third (34 percent) of the religious progress coalition, they make up only 16 percent of the religious conservative coalition.”
They are also more likely to be a person of color.
The biggest reason Christian Millennials are more liberal is because of the traditionalist Right. In many cases, they are outrageously out of touch with the world. Too many of them are in reality pro-segregation, against interracial marriage, young earth creationists, and support biblical literalism.
That, plus the current Republican nominee Donald Trump, makes Christian Millennials question how morally aligned conservatives are with biblical principles. After all, Jesus would never say “grab her by the p***y” or advocate for racial segregation.
Issues of race, gender, and economics are at the forefronts of this generation’s mind. Young Christians understand the importance of being socially conscious.
Who Are the Christian Left?
According to the Huffington Post, members of the Christian Left “tend to focus on behaviors that Jesus focused on while he was here in body–things like hypocrisy, organized oppression, exorbitant greed, self-righteousness, judgmentalism, selfishness, abuse of power, violence, etc.”
Wheaton College (Illinois) student Peyton Smith, a self-identified member of progressive Christianity, agrees.
“Progressive Christianity is the view that the central concern of Christianity is social justice, that Christ’s resurrection is not central merely because it overcame sin, but because it overturned the social order which put the Sadducees over the poor and the commoners,” said Smith.
Wheaton College, dubbed the “Harvard of the evangelicals,” recognizes left leaning Christians exist on campus.
For example, this year Students Activity Office approved KISS Club (Kritiques of Illegitimate Social Systems) in order to foster conversations and critiques.
Their constitution states, “For the purpose of growing in understanding of our participation in unjust social systems that Christ opposes, we wish to: Promote understanding of loving, thoughtful dialogues engaging critical theories, liberation theologies, and other left-leaning forms of thought on campus, both among proponents and opponents of these ways of thinking and living.”
James Sharpe, a member of KISS, says that progressive Christianity is, “appealing because it gives me the freedom to interpret and apply Christian truths contextually. It allows me to bring Christianity to bear on relevant current issues.”
These sentiments expand beyond Wheaton College, too.
The Necessity of Activism
Geez Magazine, a left-leaning Christian platform that started 6 years ago focuses on issues relevant to Christian Millennials. Its About Page says “We’ve set up camp in the outback of the spiritual commons. A bustling spot for the over-churched, out-churched, un-churched and maybe even un-churchable.”
In the article “Cultural Activism,” writer Jennifer Verson voices a common economic concern among Millennials, “Capitalism does its best to make us feel helpless…Cultural activism is necessary to give us all the mental and physical tools we need to free our bodies and our minds. We don’t just rehearse the revolution, we practice it everyday.”
Revolution, culture, activism–these are the words on the lips of budding Christian Left. They are relevant, bridging the moral differences between the religious and nonreligious.
Smith elaborates on this, “I think that politically young people are moving to the left out of a reaction to the comedy show called the modern day Republican party. Growing up with such absurdity representing conservatives will likely influence our generation for a lifetime.”
Ways to Go
Nevertheless, progressive Christianity is in its budding phase. According to the Pew Research Center, as of September 2016, 35 percent of the Republican Party are still white evangelicals, with a whopping 83 percent of Republicans identifying as “Christian” in the broad term.
Wheaton College, despite its openness to internal dialogue, has not publicly exhibited social consciousness. Dr. Hawkins, the first African American tenured professor at Wheaton, separated from the college because of a Facebook post theologically expressing solidarity with Muslims experiencing persecution in America. The 2016 Board of Trustees’ Review Report denies allegations pertaining to racial or gender discrimination during her dismissal.
This case caught national attention and was a litmus test of evangelicalism across this country. It also, unfortunately, proved Christianity (even educated ones) continues falling behind in current social affairs.
As a woman of color, Dr. Hawkins’ case discouraged me. As a progressive Christian, the traditionalist Right scares me. My personal history has warned me of the possible dangers of the Left. My current life has taught me that the Right is just as dangerous.