The Anxiety of Being a Progressive Christian
A progressive Christian swims along well with the cultural currents, but there’s an anxiety that comes along with it.
I was interviewing a couple to get marriage advice for an article a few months ago. The wife said something she’d learned which was incredibly helpful for her: “Marriage is hard. Divorce is hard. Choose your hard.” In a culture leaping headlong into progressive post-Christianity, it’s true that there can be anxiety that comes with sticking to historic Christianity. But the wife’s advice applies here too: Historic Christianity produces anxiety. Progressive Christianity produces anxiety. Choose your anxiety.
Historic Christianity produces anxiety. Progressive Christianity produces anxiety. Choose your anxiety.
Before we get to the anxiety that comes with being a progressive Christian, I’d like to tell three stories. The first is about Louis XIV, the French monarch whose reign unhappily coincided with the French Revolution. The second is about Joy Behar, comedian and longstanding co-host of The View. The third is about a conversation I recently had with a campus minister whose ministry is getting thrown under the bus by the progressive campus ministry at the same college.
In each story, you will get a snapshot of what it’s like to hang with the crowd on the right side of history—but only by a thread. Each example is of someone enjoying the favor of flowing with the cultural tide, but the favor is fragile. In the conclusion, we’ll zoom in to how this fragile favor fuels the progressive Christian’s anxiety.
King Louis XVI
The French Revolution from 1789-1799 aimed to level everybody to the equal status of Citizen. In this, it meant to abolish the aristocracy, state religion, and monarchy. Yet, for the first three of those Revolutionary years, King Louis XVI was still king. How did Louis manage to stay in the favor of the revolutionaries for that long into the Revolution? Well, he was indecisive and desired very much to be loved by the people, so he went along to get along with the revolutionaries as best as he could. He submitted to the newly formed constitution and became a constitutional monarch.
Louis even submitted to wearing the “liberty cap.” What was the “liberty cap”? Revolutionaries began wearing a red “liberty” cap (the bonnet rouge), and soon it was the fashionable thing to wear for anyone wanting to show solidarity with the movement. During public executions during the “Reign of Terror” (1793-1794), women would sit beside the guillotines and knit liberty caps. When Louis was still king, revolutionaries stormed his palace, with one insurgent approaching him and holding out a liberty cap perched atop a sword. Louis dutifully took the cap, put it on, and the crowd cheered.
“Louis dutifully took the cap, put it on, and the crowd cheered.”
But the favor Louis enjoyed with the revolutionaries was frighteningly fragile. In their eyes, he was still the oppressor, and in January of 1793, they guillotined him, followed in October by his wife.
Joy Behar has been with The View, a talk show of women discussing hot topics, since its inception in 1997. The comedian is known for leftist views and provocative statements (as one example, she called Donald Trump “The Great Gasbag” in the title of her 2017 book). She is also known as an “LGBT advocate” by GLAAD (originally Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation”). GLAAD praised Behar’s interview of Chaz Bono (author of Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man) with an article called “Joy Behar: Job Very Well Done!” And in 2010, GLAAD awarded Behar its top award for excellence in media.
But when you’re a cisgender, heterosexual woman living in the Hamptons, any favor you win from culture for being on the woke side of history is fragile. Joy Behar recently said during The View, in what looked like another moment of unmitigated LGBTQ solidarity, “I’d like to suggest to everybody out there, come out to your family this Thanksgiving. Just come out. See what happens.” When pressed for clarification, she explained, “You should be yourself. This is my philosophy in life….You come out. Be yourself. Don’t let anybody tell you what you have to be in this life.”
“You come out. Be yourself. Don’t let anybody tell you what you have to be in this life.”
Yet her words brought on shocker headlines such as “Fans stunned by Joy Behar’s controversial advice on ‘The View’”; “The real reason Joy Behar is facing a huge backlash”; and “Behar hit with searing backlash for urging people to come out at Thanksgiving.” Her misstep? According to one tweet, “How dare you take a very important and sensitive moment in someone who is part of the LGBTQIA Community & turn it into a joke? Some have been shunned from their family because of it. Not a joke. Be ashamed.” The verdict by one viewer: “I just want to know why The View still has Joy Behar on the show, it’s time to put her away.” Wow, that was a quick transformation from award-winning LGBTQ ally to LGBTQ enemy. A fragile favor indeed.
Two Campus Ministries
I was conversing with the director of a campus ministry whose beliefs are founded in historic Christianity. The ministry is not loud or obnoxious when it comes to teaching the Bible’s view on sexuality, but they stay solid on these biblical beliefs nonetheless. When I asked if they’d been getting much backlash for their beliefs, he told me it was mainly coming from the progressive Christian campus ministry located at the same college. The progressives were trying to turn people against them by making them appear cultish—although they were only trying to hold to biblical beliefs.
I was sorry to hear this, but as I told him, this was no surprise. The progressive Christians are hanging with the crowd on the right side of history—but only by a thread. After all, these progressives still have Christian in their name, and progressive culture lumps Christianity in with that-which-must-be-overthrown. A post-Christian culture conditions people to see Christianity as oppressive, repressive, imperialistic, etc.
“Progressive Christians are going to have to prove that they are woke enough.”
Since the cultural favor they receive is fragile, progressive Christians are going to have to prove that they are woke enough. So, how do you prove yourself among a crowd of oppression-hunting peers? You prove yourself to be an oppression hunter too by rooting out and calling out oppressors. That’s why the progressive Christian campus ministry will probably be the historic Christian campus ministry’s worst slanderer. The progressive Christians’ cultural favor is already hanging by a thread.
A Fragile Favor
All that to say this: You can wear the liberty cap. You can receive the GLAAD award. You can wave the rainbow flag outside your campus house. But each step you take down this road makes you less a member of the club and more a trophy in the case. Members are welcomed; trophies are owned. And knowing that you’re owned by a fickle overlord who’s watching your every move gives a lot of anxiety.
In fact, knowing you’re being owned by a fickle overlord makes you miss putting your trust in and finding your identity in a gracious and good God.