Progressive Church: Radical or Rational? [2of4]

If you remember from yesterday’s post, Nate Silver of 538 differentiated between two kinds of progressives. Check out the graph here, then come back.  ((waits)) Welcome back!  So, as you can see, there’s two broad paintbrush strokes of progressivism divided into rationals who strive toward incremental change and radicals who strive toward significant upheavals.

We are tempted to go piecemeal and point out line by line how this may be faulty or accurate.  But for this second of four series, let’s focus on why this is important: it helps people cease “us v. them” mentalities as it forces us to stop naming “other” groups as one unit.  In this situation, people who do not consider themselves to be “progressive” can look at the list and better understand the variety of progressives there are.  A commentor on the original post elaborates:

Excellent thoughts, Nate, and would suggest that your list of traits differentiating ‘rational progressives’ from ‘radical progressives’ has an even more pragmatic use: Conservatives have used the broad brush stroke of what you’ve defined as ‘radical progressive’ to define ALL liberals and ALL progressives, as well as pretty much EVERYONE who is not them!

I would also say the same thing for people who consider themselves to be liberal/progressive: they also often paint conservatives as all one brush stroke!  So being able to show a continuum between two different “sides” can show that there are tensions in both sides also.

If you look at the graph, you will see the tension, as Pastor Dan states, is between idealists and pragmatists.  I think the basic tension in any label is between those who envision the goals of their cause and hold others to those goals, and those who would compromise for a piece of the goal or a subgoal.

The Church, then, is rarely a single unit, but is a place where the conflict of ideas takes place: liberal, conservative, progressive in idealist, pragmatic, and mixed forms.  There will be those who will not let go of the dream at all costs, and those who will allow concessions for the greater whole.  There are times when being pragmatic and allowing the slow drip of progressivism is the way to go…and there are times when progressives cannot back down on the fundamentals.  And there are times to realize that even progressive churches are conservative when we hit touchy areas where the wounds are still raw…

Even in churches that have become more and more echo-chambers, there is a great diversity between those who are willing to bend and those who are in it all-in.  I think that malleability v. unyielding tension is present in any church regardless of how homogeneous they may self-identify.

Thoughts or comments?  This post would be much better if I had a “diversity of conservatism” chart as well so it doesn’t feel so one-sided.  Anyone who knows of one, leave it in the comments!

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Comments

  1. Matt Shafer says

    It strikes me that the historical and ongoing tension between pacifism and just war theory in the Church is a perfect example of the “conflict of ideas” that you talk about.

    I don’t know of a similar chart for conservatism, but I suspect that it would involve the same dichotomy: pragmatism vs. idealism. The only difference is that conservatives obviously embrace a separate set of ideals (and pragmatic goals) from those of progressives.

  2. Matt Algren says

    I think both radical and rational are necessary in the life of the Church. With programming decisions (hymns v. new songs, degree of formality in worship, holy day service scheduling, Sunday School curriculum, communion style) I think the rational approach makes a lot of sense.

    At the same time, I don’t think moving by halting babysteps is okay on issues of social justice. That was one of the problems in the Church during the 20th Century Civil Rights movement when the Church Fathers wanted to take small steps toward inclusion so as to not offend the people in the pews. It was a huge error, and one that I think we’re still paying for. Ditto on the ordination of women.

    I guess what it boils down to is whether an issue is worth losing people over. With programming issues, it’s probably best to move slowly so as not to upset the apple cart. But the Church isn’t supposed to hurt people, and when Church policies do that, you can’t move fast enough to knock them down, and damn the consequences.

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